Adelaide Ristori.

Memoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; online

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over the spine."

After reading that yellowed letter one feels the sincerity
which is embodied in a telegram from the same Legouvé
to Ristori in 1902 : " I was born in 1807. Only that date
can prevent me from coming to Rome for your

At that time when she was receiving the world's sincere
homage the French Ambassador, Barrère, visited her in
her palace, and the talk turned on Legouvé ....
"How much our great poet would give, Marquise," said
the Ambassador, " to be able to hear once more a verse
of 'Medea' given by you!"

"He shall have that pleasure done in a way he will
never forget," answered the artist.

"But how?"

"That will be between him and me," added the aged
Marquise. " I must go before long to Turin where there
is a telephone to Paris and it will be by telephone that I
will recite to my favourite author a verse of the sublime
tragedy to which I owe the greatest triumph of my life.
He is ninety-five years old; I am eighty. Neither of us
would have thought sixty years ago it would be possible
to exchange at so many miles distant such an original

After the first triumphs of Ristori abroad, when she
came back and played in one hundred cities of her own
country, she was received with delirious applause. She
was already well known and appreciated in Italy but
the cause of this enthusiasm was demonstrated in the
epigram dictated by Count Jacopo Sanvitale for a gold
medal given her inscribed " Honour to thee who honours
Italy and Art."


Everybody understood that she had been a herald and
pioneer, that foreigners had bowed their knees in acknowl-
edgment of the fact that a nation whose children showed
such a mastery of art well deserved to become free and
independent. The applause was interminable when in
" Giuditta," written especially for her by Paolo
Giacometti, Ristori declaimed the finishing hymn :

"II mio nome ai fanciulli imparate:
Sappian essi che santa è la guerra,
Se lo stranier minaccia la terra
Che per Patria il Signore ci die. "

(Teach to the children my name :
Let them know that war is holy.
If the stranger threatens the land
Which God gave us for our country.)

When she added :

Io, Giuditta, a guidarvi verrò!
(I, Judith, will lead you!)

from the galleries the people would applaud answering:
"Let it be to-morrow!" The crowd would follow her home
and she was compelled to appear at her balcony again and
again while they shouted " Viva the great Italian actress, ' '
with special stress on the word Italian. At that time
Italy was divided and every pretext was used to show
patriotism. This was disagreeable to the three abhorred
enemies of Italian unification, the Pope, the Bourbons,
and the Austrian Government, and Adelaide Ristori was
watched. It seemed as if Italy was about to break her
chains ; the actress might snap the first link.

In a performance which she gave at the Municipal Theatre
in Reggio d'Emilia on the 2d of November, 1858, the
appearance of Ristori as Giuditta was awaited not
only as a tribute to her art but because certain allusions
in the tragedy at that time were always the occasion for
patriotic demonstrations. At the moment when one of
these allusions was made and the audience enthusiastic it
was noticed that in a box were the members of a society
called " Friendship." Under the cover of an amusement
club they disseminated the most patriotic propaganda.
The applause from that box was the noisiest in all the
theatre. Next day their enthusiasm had not cooled.


They — twenty of them — passed the frontier and went to
enroll themselves in a regiment of Piedmont. Ristori had
inflamed their patriotism even more than usual.

Unlike many Italian actors, monochords who play
always upon the same string maintain their own person-
ality instead of getting into that of their characters, Ristori
exhibited the greatest versatility. She passed with ease
from tragedy to comedy, to drama, or even to farce.

If she was great in her classic repertoire, she was also
great in the "Adrienne Lecouvreur" of Scribe and Le-
gouvé, in the "Elizabeth of England," and "Maria
Antonietta " of Giacometti, in Camoletti's " Suor Teresa,"
Ferrari's " Marianna, " and Goldoni's " Pamela."

It has been said of her as of other great stars, she pre-
ferred poor actors to support her, but this is not true. It
is useless to mention names, but the programmes testify
that other stars played with Ristori, though none of them
could stand the comparison ; they paled before the sun.

The first season that Adelaide Ristori performed in
Pisa, in 1845, was marked by an act of great kindness on
her part. Luigi Alberti, a young man of the jeunesse
dorée who afterward became an actor, asked Ristori to
play a comedy written by him, " The Water Cure at
Lucca." It was a failure. The author was so much
grieved that Ristori offered to play another of his come-
dies. It met the same fate. " I do not wish to leave
Tuscany before I force the public to endorse you," she
said, and she produced yet another play, which succeeded.
The Florentine public applauded the gentle perseverance
of Ristori rather than the play.

To render homage to Ristori when she was electrifying
the public in Venice, Quirico Filopanti made this difficult
anagram upon her:

" Or si dee dir Talia."
( Now she must be called Thalia.)

And Costetti made another one:

" Ideal Riso d'Arte."
( Ideal smile of Art.)

A vein of humour was very manifest in Ristori 's char-
acter. An author once wrote a drama for her and


delivered it. Ristori found that after having taken a
dose of poison she had to deliver a speech too long about
another person whom she had poisoned, so a telegram
was sent to the author : " You forget that I too am in a hurry
to die, and that I cannot speak eternally in presence of
the corpse I have made; shorten the agony!" Another
incident will serve to show how entirely she was mistress
of herself and always far from stage fright:

It was her habit to have supper after a performance
and for that function Sardelle salad must never be
omitted. At Trieste the others preferred for their own
delectation the Sardelle of Lissa. One evening she was
reciting for the tenth time in the Theatre Armonia, now
Goldoni, "Maria Antonietta" of Giacometti. The place was
crowded and at every pause the public responded with
delirious applause. In the last act and indeed while the
Queen was hurling her famous invective against the
judges and all the women were in tears, Ristori foimd
means to get near her brother Caesar who was playing
with her and whisper to him between her most impas-
sioned words: "I charge you not to forget that Sardelle

Adelaide Ristori had noble instincts and was not only
a great artist but a perfect gentlewoman. She was a
patriot from her childhood. In 1849, being in Rome
with the Domeniconi Company and being compelled to
discontinue her performances on account of the état de
siege, she went on another stage: i. e., the Military Hos-
pital, to assist in nursing the wounded. On her tours
about the world, while honoured by the most eminent
men of all countries, even by reigning sovereigns, she was
known to be so fond of Italy that statesmen intrusted her
with delicate political missions of much importance ; and
she fulfilled these with courage, prudence, and zeal. Her
kind disposition and tender heart never knew what envy
meant. When she first went to France she wished to
have the famous Ernesto Rossi as a member of her com-
pany, and never afterward did she refuse to play with the
most illustrious artists. Her memorable first performance
of "Francesca da Rimini," in 1865, on the centenary of
Dante, with Rossi (Paolo), Salvini (Lanciotto), Piccinini


(Guido), would be impossible to reproduce with such a

To her fellow artists in need she was always generous;
even after she was disabled by age she kept in her company
Giammaria Borghi, who had been with her in the Royal
Campa gnia Sarda. On many occasions she helped
Giulio Buti, who accompanied her in every excur-
sion abroad, and what kindness did she not show
to Achille Majeroni? In 1867, he was in Florence
and as usual in dire poverty, literally starving. As soon
as Ristori returned from South America she learned the
condition to which the great Majeroni was reduced and
she engaged him immediately, paid off his indebtedness
and brought him back from death to life. Thus she did
with all who were in real need.

Bettoli tells of one evening at her house when Ristori
and her husband and also Giulia Grisi were present and
he was speaking of Felice Scifoni, the honest follower of
Mazzini, friend of Montanelli, who had been for years a
prisoner of the Pontifical Government at Civita Castellana,
and who had no food nor shelter. Ristori listened and
then changed the conversation after asking for the
address of Scifoni. A few days later Bettoli again found
himself at Ristori 's and he saw Scifoni seated between
Donna Bianca and Giorgio, the former fifteen, the latter
thirteen years of age, giving them lessons in literature
a nd history. For each lesson Ristori paid twenty francs —
an enormous fee in Italy to a teacher.

Her brother Henri impoverished by the dramatic
profession went into a railroad office ; her brother Caesar
from a character actor became a comic basso then a
teacher of elocution. Ristori had to take care of him
until his death. She brought up Adelaide Tessero, the
daughter of her sister Caroline, and this niece by following
her teaching and advice became a famous actress in Italy.
Ristori 's sister Annetta had to depend on her absolutely,
while Signora Carocci, the widow of Augusto Ristori,
became her companion and best-loved friend.

To dramatic authors she always extended generosity,
asking for their work more to help them than tlirough
any need of their plays.


Luigi Datti, from Corneto Tarquinia, wrote for her
"Erminia la Cantante"; Luigi Camoletti, from Novara,
" Suor Teresa Suarez." The latter play was made by her
a success as great as Salvini's " Morte Civile" by
Giacometti. Paolo Ferrari wrote " La Donna e lo
Scettico" and "Marianna, " Paolo Somma gave "Cassan-
dra," Montanelli translated "Medea" of Legouvé, and
adapted "Camma" from Plutarch; and Giacometti,
"Giuditta," "Maria Antonietta," "Renata di Francia."
To Giacometti for each play she gave 1,600 francs.

At the long course of performances she gave at Florence
in 1867, the crowds were so great that she had to change
theatres twice to accommodate them and it is told that
in "Maria Antonietta" the people became so wrought
up with emotion at the climax, when the unhappy Queen
tries to resist as they take her son from her when she is
going to the guillotine, that they burst into hysterical

During that time Ristori tried to produce some novel-
ties, and therefore ordered some plays from Giacometti,
Castelvecchio (Count Giulio Pullé), and Bettoli. Gia-
cometti wrote " La Donna e la Civetta," Castelvecchio
" Un Fiore, " Bettoli " Lavinia," — all failures but neverthe-
less the actress not only paid what she had agreed but
more, excusing herself by saying: "We need some com-
pensation since the public has been deaf."

The following is a list of the plays in which Ristori
shone :

Francesca da Rimini, by Silvio Pellico

La Locandiera, " Carlo Goldoni
Le gelosie di Zelinda Lindoro, " " "

Sposa Sagace, " " "

Pamela, " " "

Myrrha, " Vittorio Alfieri

La Suonatrice d'Arpa, " Davide Chiossone

Mary Stuart, " Frederick Schiller

Pia dei Tolomei, " Carlo Marenco

Phaedra, " Cornelius Racine

Medea, " E. Legouvé

Rosamunda, " Vittorio Alfieri

Macbeth, " Wm. Shakespeare

Lucrezia Borgia, " Victor Hugo

Maria Antonietta, " Paolo Giacometti

Camma, " Giuseppe Montanelli

Adrienne Lecouvreur, " Legouvé and Scribe


Giuditta, by Paolo Giacometti

Bianca Maria Visconti, " " "

Bidone Abbandonata, " Pietro Metastasio

Prosa, " Paolo Ferrari

Beatrice, " E. Levouvé

Cuore ed Arte, " Leone Fortis

La Donna e lo Scettico, " Paolo Ferrari

Marianna, " "

Debora, " Jacopo Mosenthal

Her personal letters to me give an idea of her busy
life and its varied interests :

"Paris, 26th September, 1885,
" My dear Friend:

"In acknowledging your last affectionate letters I
come with clasped hands to beg pardon for my delay in
answering. But in short, I will tell you the reason, which
is the same that has prevented me from reading your
' Peppino,' in spite of the great desire which I have to do

"You ask of me my memoirs — Great Heavens! Who
does not write memoirs nowadays? And if they do not
contain sensational facts and events their failure is com-
plete. What frightens me is what the people say when
a book is advertised as the memoirs of Tom, Dick, or
Harry! 'Oh, fine things!' that one will say (I hear the
saying and the laugh repeated). ' Here we are!' exclaims
another. Certainly in my memoirs I might have rather
interesting things to tell, but as these are related to per-
sons, some of whom are still living and prominent either
in politics or otherwise, I might offend the pride of a kind
nation, nor would it be decent nor delicate on my part to
dull in any way the memory of those who are dead. In-
stead, I am writing something else which seems to me
more appropriate, although it may cost me more trouble
in the putting together.

"You speak to me of coming back to America, of
establishing in Boston a Dramatic School of Acting,
leaving me to guess the satisfactory profit I should derive
from it. You with the soul of an artist in proposing this
to me know that you speak to the soul of an artist, and
you propose to that soul what might be its greatest


ambition, but in your enthusiasm you have forgotten
three people, and my social position! Aly husband, my chil-
dren , . . and the rest! A mere bagatelle, as you are
aware. Now having children to settle in life, having
a social position to sustain, how can you imagine that I
could take them away from their fatherland for three
years, dedicating myself solely to the life of an artist,
renouncing all else? And our relations, and the Roman
society, what would they say ? The very idea of it would
make those at home laugh as though I were fit for a mad-
house. Judge then if I spoke seriously. Open earth!

"If I were absolutely dependent on my profession,
through necessity the family might be obliged to sub-
mit to such a sacrifice of pride, habits, and affection ; but
this not being the case, any alluring, artistic perspective
has no strength nor value for one like me who has made
art out of one of the integral parts of her life.

"Understand me without more words; you have my
most cordial thanks for the interest you have in me and
my art, and we will not again refer to the subject.

"Pay no attention to the many corrections on the
previous page, for, though done purposely, this morning
I have not had a moment's peace to rewrite ; pass over the
form and interest yourself in the substance alone,

" In a few words I will tell you what I am doing. I
have thought that it would be interesting to give my
views on the interpretation of six of my different roles,
namely : 'Lady Macbeth, 'Myrrha,' by Alfieri, 'Phaedra,' by
Racine (by way of contrast), 'Elizabeth of England,'
and 'Mary Stuart' (always by contrast of character), and
Legouvé's 'Medea.' Already I have finished the first four;
I am now at Stuart. I tell why I represented those
personages as I did, the physical causes, also the moral
ones. I compare the different ways in which they were
conceived by the great ancient masters, Seneca and
Euripides, and have shown how Racine used their ideas
in order that his 'Phasdra' might be more appreciated.

" My essay on 'Lady Macbeth' has cost me a great deal
of labour to evolve in penetrating to its meanings and
evolving the causes which produced the legitimate
effects indicated by the author.


"The comparison between 'Myrrha' and 'Phaedra' has
also been difficult. The first is a pure virgin, a victim
of destiny, but the second, knowing the abominable
consequences certain to ensue from her fatal passion,
cannot resist the intoxication of love and throws herself
into it headlong, regardless of all else. The rest proceeds
from this idea.

" My intention is to have the book published in England
with Italian quotations and original text, and vice
versa in Italy ; in France with quotations in the different
languages, according to the nature of the composition;
in Italy with French or English text as the case may
be, at the bottom of the page; perhaps in Germany the
same. What do you think of my idea ? It may be useful
to artists and arouse general interest, but would appeal
chiefly to authors and to amateurs. Do you believe that
this book would receive a welcome in the United States
if I had it published there in English ? Would the sale be
profitable? Curiosity might help it, since it would bear
my name. What is your opinion of the publishers of
Boston? What are their conditions? Answer me point
by point all these questions thoughtfully, practically,
without letting yourself be influenced either by the Italian
elan, or by the friendship which you have for me, or by
artistic instinct.

" I shall remain in Paris until the loth of November,
then we will go to Rome to plant our roots for a new
summer. We have spent the summer months very
pleasantly between St. Moritz, Lake of Como, Lucerne,
and Alsace, where our friends have a magnificent castle.
The change of air has done me and my children a great
deal of good and the medical treatment has helped my
husband. We are all very well.

" In Paris there is nothing new., except that poverty
grows, and people fared better when they fared
worse! Nobody knows how it will end. As soon
as the work on my essay is finished I will read your
little book.

"Take better care of your health. Write me soon.
My regards to the Rotoli 's, a little kiss to the dear she-
cat — no, no, he-cat, Ristoro's son.


"Many thanks for her kind remembrance to Mrs.

" My husband, Georgio and Trojani salute you, as does
Bianca with me very cordially, and consider me always
your friend, Adelaide Ristori del Grillo."

"76 Via Monterone, Rome, 26th April, 1886.
"My very dear Friend:

" I shall not excuse my silence by saying that letters
which I wrote you must have been lost on the Oregon — ^it
would be too vulgar. I have not written because I have
not been able. Many times I had the desire to write
but you cannot imagine how much the publication of my
book occupies and preoccupies me. I get crazy with the
English translation because I wish it to express what /
mean to say and not to vent the British ideas. I have to
compare it with the French edition before passing it to
the copyist: I correct here and there what I have
written in my Artistic Studies, and in my Memoirs
. . . . Add to this the cares of a family, the boring
duties to society and, as if that were not enough, an
accursed fluxion in the eyes, and then condemn me for
my silence if you have the heart.

" Do not believe that I have not thought of the Biog-
graphies of Marini, Tessero, and Duse w^hich you asked
me for. The first two informed me that they had none
(proof of their carelessness!) I do not remember what
answer Duse gave me, but yesterday I wrote to her on the
subject again and will send you her answer.

"Costetti has only published one volume, entitled
'The Living Men of the Italian Stage who are Forgotten.'
This little book — well known to me — I send to-morrow,
and will ask if there are others. But beware, for they
say Costetti is a jeitatore. I don't know if it is true;
people say so!

" On the matter of the book I think I have spoken to
you at length. At any rate I enclose a little paragraph
they have sent me from Venice. Many other papers have
spoken of it. This notice has been reproduced in English,
German, Portuguese, and Spanish papers. The Italian
publisher said to me as soon as he saw my manuscript


that it might be 320 pages of print in octavo. Each
essay will be preceded by a picture of me in the costume
of the character I represent, and on the first page will be
printed another picture of me in ordinary dress, in all
seven pictures.

" There will be six essays, but the ones on Mary Stuart
and Elizabeth are to be preceded by two historical
preambles giving an account of the causes which
have inspired in me sympathy or antipathy. In
the essays upon Myrrha, Mary Stuart, Elizabeth, and
Medea there are many biographical sketches of a cer-
tain interest.

"I have interrupted this poor letter I know not how
many times ; I hope that I have not made of it a paté.

"We will not leave Rome before the middle of July.
Bianca, Giorgio and I to St. Moritz: Giulian to Neubad.
In September we go to Paris.

" We are all well and hope that you are also. Are you
not coming for a vacation in Italy? Has Salvini really
made good business in America this last season? His
performances with Booth must have been very successful,
I imagine.

" Is Rotoli still satisfied with Boston?

"Write me, and at length. Be always a constant
friend, as is to you,

Adelaide Ristori del Grillo.

"P. S. Many salutations from my family."

"Castellamare, 19th August, 1889.
"Dear Friend:

" I send this letter to your old address in Boston hoping
by chance it may still find you there.

" For the last six months I have gone through a world
of sorrow. First, the illness of my husband, then the very
painful illness of my poor brother-in-law — Trojani — which
ended in death. This has grieved all of us, for he was
everything to us, as we were everything to him in this
world. I have not left him till the moment I laid him
down in the coffin covered with flowers, and beside him I
put a souvenir of mine. Since that death my husband


has grown worse and worse; his nerves give him no rest,
and, unfortunately, he has hurt one of his feet, making
two sores not yet healed. Meanwhile, my brother-in-law,
Pio Capranica has fallen ill. You know he is the head of
the family, and you may imagine how Giuliano feels!
Finally, seeing how much the air and the excessive heat
enfeebled Pio, the doctors have decided to send him to
a more bracing climate. Escorted by the Doctor and by
the children — who are two examples of filial love — he left
for St. Moritz, where he arrived by short journeys and
now the news from him is very encouraging. My children
insisted that I should come here to recuperate from these
great emotions and fatigues, but on the 21st I shall join

" I come now to the motive of this letter. Elena
Va resi, the daughter of the celebrated baritone, herself
one of the best lyric prima donnas — after many indis-
positions can no longer continue her career and she has
decided to go to America to give lessons. With her
wonderful singing method it is impossible for her not to
succeed in making good pupils. She will start for Chicago
the ist of September. Some friends in that city have
advised her to go there, and they would get her a pro-
fessorship in the Conservatory. She desires to make
some distinguished acquaintances. Elena is a charming
young lady, of something more than thirty years, and
she has travelled a good deal in South America. She
asks of me introductions, but I, in the very short time that
I played in Chicago, had other things to do besides making
acquaintances. Warmly then, I beg you to procure me
among the many kind acquaintances you have made
some recommendations in behalf of Varesi. I will give
her your address so that she may send you hers, and you
can send her the letters. I have written to RotoH also
on the subject: he knows her well. Please do what you
can for her.

"When you answer, address letters to Paris,
48 Boul. Malesherbes.

" With a warm grasp of the hand.




"Rome, January 16, 1894.
" My dear Friend:

" Knowing my character and my way of doing, I hope
you have not judged my silence as unnatural. In fact
for a long time, on account of an accursed poison mush-
room, I have suffered with my stomach.

" I have a pile of letters waiting on my desk to which

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Online LibraryAdelaide RistoriMemoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; → online text (page 20 of 22)