Adelaide Ristori.

Memoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; online

. (page 3 of 22)
Online LibraryAdelaide RistoriMemoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; → online text (page 3 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


my plan, which he approved immediately. We came to
the conclusion that the Royal Sardinian Company was
a worthy representative of Italian art.

The principal artists were the celebrated Ernesto Rossi,
Gaetano Gattinelli, Bellotti-Bon, Mesdames Cultini-
Mancini, Righetti, Boccomini, and others. The purpose
of trying to compete with the French actors, whose per-
fection in playing the drama is not equalled by those of
any other nation, was very remote from my mind. I
wished merely to demonstrate to those rabid Gallophiles,



20 MEMOIRS OF ADELAIDE RISTORI

who praised to the skies the merits of the French actors,
to the detriment of the ItaHan, that in Italy also, we
know what real art is, as well as how to interpret
it worthily.

We held counsel with our intimate friend Signor
Alessandro IMalvano, whose intelligence we could trust.
He found our project an excellent one. Being thus
encouraged by him, we spoke to our leading man, Signor
Righetti. Upon hearing us he was aghast, and not only
began by calling my ideas chimerical, but ended by
opposing absolutely the project which was to bring to reali-
sation "the fancy of my phantasy," as he called it. He
enumerated the risks, the unavoidable losses we might
meet, the probability of our artistic failure. Signor
Malvano then stepped in, declaring himself to be per-
suaded of the success and ready to assume all its responsi-
bilities, adding: "If there should be any loss, I will
stand it; if any profit, it will be yours."

Besides my salary, I was to receive a percentage of the
gross receipts. At last in order to put an end to the
hesitation and fears, we proposed to him that, in case
the company should sustain a loss, I should share with
him my part of the profits. This proposition and the
convincing arguments, with which we were inspired by
our good faith in the success of our undertaking, won
Signor Righetti to our side.

My engagement was to expire shortly. In Italy the
engagements of dramatic actors begin with the first day
of the Carnival season and end with the last day of Lent.

The necessary preparations were made; and we de-
cided to start the first of the coming month of May, in
the year 1855, and it was at the same time announced in
Paris that we would give our first performance on the
2 2d of the same month. We agreed upon the various
plays to be performed. Our first care was to select pro-
ductions which would not cause comparison with those
played by the French actors. We knew that tragedy was
the field upon which we could best muster ourselves, and
we feared no comparison with the Italian dramas.

We chose for the first performance the tragedy of
Silvio Pellico, " Francesca da Rimini," and a farce in one



AMENITIES OF DRAMATIC CAREER 21

act called "I Gelosi Fortunati," by the Roman author
Signor Giraud. I also was taking a part in that short
play, representing a young bride very much in love and
very jealous of her husband. The passing from the
tragic to the comic in the same evening, we reckoned,
would make an impression upon the French audience.

Prior to leaving home, I was supplied with some letters
of introduction, among which I had one to the critic Jules
Janin and to Signor Angelo Fiorentino, who contributed
so much to the success of our undertaking.

We left Italy with our hearts filled with great hopes.
The trip began auspiciously. We saw for the first time
that handsome and picturesque section of France. The
swollen and impetuous torrents excited our admiration.
Their winding through the fields and forests gave to the
country a grand aspect, almost terrifying.

A small number of our friends joined us, owing their
love for dramatic art to certain friendly ties, which com-
ing down from father to son, bound them to the artists
of the Royal Company. In their youthful enthusiasm,
they wished to share with us all the anxieties, all the joys,
of the risky undertaking, with every hope of witnessing
our triumph.

We arrived in Paris by night. My apartment had been
secured in advance. It was situated in the Rue Richelieu,
No. 36, near the Molière fountain. Since then, every
time I pass that house, the most pleasant remembrances
awaken in me.

The rest of the troupe found accommodations in two
modest hotels located near the "Theatre Italien."

Together with my husband and our friends, I started
immediately to see the famous boulevards. At the sight
of that throng of people, some busy and some idle, ges-
ticulating nervously, or walking indifferently, I was
astounded ! To find myself in this universal centre fright-
ened me! We entered the "Cafe Véron," in order not to
miss anything of that spectacle so new to us — and ordered
some chocolate to be served outside on the boulevard.
Thus we could enjoy the most interesting phan-
tasmography. So great was the impression of that
animated life, that not hearing, in the midst of that



22 MEMOIRS OF ADELAIDE RISTORI

Babylon, a single word of our language, I was filled with
a sense of deep sadness.

We returned home without saying a word. I did not
dare to speak, either to my husband, or to my friends, of
the discouragement which I felt, and as one may easily
guess, I passed a very restless night.

The following days I was somewhat distracted by the
preparations for our first performance. I found some
comfort in the faith in our attempt, which was evinced
by the numberless Italian political exiles, then in Paris.
Alas! the greater number of these people will never read
these Memoirs! Manin, Montanelli, Musolino, Carini, the
editor of the Revue Franco-Italienne, who became later
a general in our army. Dall' Ongaro, Ballanti, Toffoli, an
old colleague of Tommaseo, Dr. Maestri-Federici, Sirtori,
Angelo Fiorentino, the General Galletti, as well as others
who deserv'ed much from their country, exist no more,
. . . Allow me to place a wreath of friendship upon
their tombs!

Together with our young Turinese friends we desired
to attend some of the theatres. We were all very anxious
to hear the famous tragedienne IMadame Rachel, who
had filled the world with her fame. With great regret,
we learned that she was no longer playing in Paris at
that time. She had previously taken a leave of absence
for a trip to the United States. The Parisians were
angry at her, and she resided out of the city.

Not being able to see Rachel, who was the main object
of our curiosity, we had to satisfy ourselves with a per-
formance of the "Comédie Frangaise," so celebrated for
the care it took in staging its productions, deserving the
first place in Europe. Even without the great tragedienne,
a visit to the Comédie, was the "desideratum" of every
tourist who came to Paris. We had no time to lose, in
order to give ourselves the pleasure of attending a per-
formance at the "Maison de Molière," as our season was
to begin on the 2 2d and it was already the 17th. We saw
on the programme the name of Mile. Augustine Brohan,
greatly renowned for her animation and comic talent.
She was playing that evening one of her favourite crea-
tions, "Le Caprice," by Alfred de Musset. Though very




FOUNTAIN OF MOLIÈRE IN PARIS
House on the right, where Madame Ristori lived in 1855



AMENITIES OF DRAMATIC CAREER 23

much worried about our coming debut, still we wished to
attend that performance, but we had not had the time
to engage our tickets ahead. A few moments before the
performance was to begin, we walked leisurely to the
ticket office and asked: "Une loge? "Une loge!"
exclaimed the employee, looking at us curiously. " Une
loge pour ce soir? Vous n'etes pas presses! Pourquoi
n'etes-vous pas venus huit jours plus tard?" However
he had pity for our embarrassment and generously offered
us tickets for "le paradisi" My husband hesitated, but
our young friends with their customary good humour,
were ready to accept. For my part, I was not very willing
to make my first appearance in the House of Molière in
that way. Still, we had no choice. . . . After con-
sulting each other a moment, we laughingly ascended
the five stories and took triumphant possession of our
seats, in the upper gallery. From that height, we could
applaud with the usual Italian enthusiasm. Mile. Bro-
han's exquisite way of playing gave us all great pleasure,
and I took away the impression of a perfect evening.

Previous to beginning my performance, I took my
letter of introduction to Mr. and Mrs. Jules Janin. As
the latter was closely bound by friendly ties with Mme,
Rachel, I asked of him the favour of an introduction. I
was anxious to know personally so great a celebrity and
also to ask of her, as a fellow tragedienne, her moral
support in my attempt. My ardent desire could not be
granted. Mme. Rachel was in her villa. I wished to
write her, but was dissuaded by Mr. Janin and by others,
who assured me that the famous artist was about to come
to the city, and thus I would have every opportunity to
meet her. With a nervous and impressionable character
like that of Mme. Rachel, such a step from me, might
have caused the opposite of my desired purpose. Writing
her without the formality of an introduction, was almost
dealing with her as an equal, and she had good reason to
consider herself in an exceptionally privileged position.
It was like trying to teach her a lesson in manners, what
the laws of hospitality would have suggested to the
mistress of the house to do for a stranger, who was about
to cross her threshold.



24 MEMOIRS OF ADELAIDE RISTORI

I allowed myself to be convinced by those arguments,
though they seemed to be rather subtle and puerile, and
later in my life, I repented my docility.

On the appointed night, we began our series of per-
formances as previously announced. The impression
we produced upon the French audience was rather a
satisfaction to our pride. The press was unanimously
favourable, and we obtained the approbation of the
greatest number of renowned critics. The famous scene
in the 3d act, in which Paolo and Francesca reveal their
love to each other, was much applauded, and Francesca 's
death, which does not offer to the artists so good an
opportunity to draw great dramatic effects as to excite
strong emotions in the audience, inspired the great Dumas
to write a very flattering article for my benefit.

The impartial appreciation of the press was due to
such critics as Alexandre Dumas, who afterward became
such a good friend of mine, Jules Janin, Théophile Gautier,
Jules de Premory, Paul de St. Victor, Leon Gozlan, Merry,
Theodore Anne, and many others, who all were very kind
to me.

Some among the devotees of Rachel timidly granted
that I had facility in tragedy and agreed that I possessed,
to a greater extent than Rachel, flexibility of voice, but
claimed that I lacked the necessary vigour to interpret
properly violent passions. They affirmed that I lacked
plastic classicism of movements in my poses, the carriage
of a goddess, which the great Rachel possessed as she
crossed the stage wrapped in the pehluni.

I might have bowed my head under that judgment
and acknowledged that nature had denied me those gifts,
which the sympathy, indulgence, and loving interest of my
countrymen had recognised in me, but a verdict, so
quickly pronounced, was somewhat suspicious. To men-
tion energy, strength, and violence in connection with
the sweet and pathetic character of Francesca, was non-
sense. It revealed their deliberate intention of opposing
me at any cost and of prejudicing the public at once,
without giving time to reflect or compare, or even the
chance to express liberally its own opinion. That veidict
might have excited my pride, rather than have awakened




ALlRi;i) ])K AU'SSET L\ I85-t
French poet. Great admirer of Madame Ristori, to whom he dedi-
cated a poem calling her " La Force unie a la Beauté "



AMENITIES OF DRAMATIC CAREER 25

in me the honest sentiment of modesty, but pride was
not indeed my failing. Those precocious criticisms vexed
me, because they showed me that my appearance upon
the French stage, was, by some people, ill-interpreted.

Whenever I had a chance, I told both my most intimate
friends and most severe critics, that I never had the
presumption to come to Paris for the purpose of com-
peting with their own sublime actress. My object was
more modest and more generous. I only wished to show
that in Italy also, the dramatic art — ^which has for cen-
turies been its pride, and its glory — was still alive and
considered a passionate and superior cult. As to my-
self, let them wait until they had seen me act the various
parts of my repertoire, and given proof of my ability.
Then if they insisted upon making comparisons, which I
could not control and was unable to avoid, let them show
their impartiaHty and serenity of mind, reserving their
criticisms for a part that afforded a reasonable foundation
for justifiable comparison. The tragedy of "Myrrha,"
might, for instance, be compared with that of "Phaedra."
This analytic comparison forms one of the principal studies
comprised in these pages.

The third performance, including a double bill, viz. :
"Un Curioso Accidente" and "La Locandiera," both of
the immortal Goldoni, we produced on the 26th. The
role of Mirandolina was one of my favourites. In inter-
preting that character, I have endeavoured to adopt the
Goldonian style. One should understand the coquettish
of that school, as it is very different from the present.
The colouring must absolutely bend toward the conven-
tional naturalness, which creates the principal impression
of the Goldonian characters. The " cunning " Locandiera,
is not like the "Flatterer" of Nota, a "Celimene" of our
own times; and the character of Mme. Aramante, in the
"False Confidenze" of Mariveau, has nothing to do with
a flirt of the modem French school. The role of Mir-
andolina was one of the chief roles which gladdened my
artistic career, owing to the passion that I experienced
in playing the above-mentioned comedy of Goldoni.

I should like to have the actress who performs it now,
take notice of my remarks. I venture to make this



26 MEMOIRS OF ADELAIDE RISTORI

suggestion not out of vanity, but with the desire to see
this art interpreted according to the times and the
different school to which it belongs.

The Locandiera was very much liked by the Parisians,
although the comic style in a foreign language was not
of easy comprehension.

We then resolved to produce "Myrrha" by Alfieri, but
owing to a lack of time, it had not been sufficiently
announced to stir up the curiosity of the public. However,
the house was more crowded than ever before, and all
the representatives of the press were present. This
tragedy, revealing the pure and severe Italian style, with
distinct Greek form, gave me an opportunity to demon-
strate my artistic ability and the profound psychological
study I had made of the part. It also proved that our
Italian school knows how to ally the Greek plasticism
with the natural spontaneity in reading the lines, while
being entirely freed from academic conventionalities.
It must be granted that academic teaching does not lack
praiseworthy qualities, but we argue that in its portrayal
of passion, one should not bear in mind the extent and
the rules for raising an arm or a finger. Provided that
the gestures are noble and not discordant with the ex-
pressed sentiment, one can allow the actor all his spon-
taneity. Hesitation and conventionality are apt,
according to my humble opinion, to hide the truth.

One of the greatest of the living examples of this school
of realism is my illustrious fellow artist, Signor Tommaso
Salvini, with whom, for a number of years, I had the
fortune to share the fatigues and the honours of the pro-
fession, which I also shared with Ernesto Rossi. The
former was and is still admired. His rare dramatic
merits have nothing of the conventional, but owe their
power to that spontaneity which is the most convincing
revelation of art. The wealth of plasticity which Salvini
possesses, is in him a natural gift. Salvini is the true
exponent of the Italian dramatic art.

Returning to my performance of "Myrrha," I will say
its success surpassed all our expectations. At the end
of the fourth act — which is so masterly conceived by the
great Alfieri — the entire audience seemed to be delirious.




ADELAIDE RISTORI AS SUOR TERESA



AMENITIES OF DRAMATIC CAREER 27

The foyer of the theatre was invaded by celebrated
literary authorities and artists of all kind. Alexandre
Dumas was kissing my mantle and my hands. Janin,
Legouvé, Scribe, Théophile Gautier, and many other
actors and playivrights joined their enthusiasm to that of
my compatriots, reaching almost a paroxysm !

In the fifth act, during the famous scene between Myrrha
and Cinyras, her father (the latter part being interpreted
with exceptional ability by Rossi), the audience never
stopped their applause, their shouts and their admiration.

The tremendous success of that tragedy in Paris, com-
pensated me with usury, for my hard and strenuous study
in learning to interpret, in a worthy manner, that most
difficult part of Myrrha.

From the short analysis that I make further on one can
easily imagine how difficult a task it was!



CHAPTER III

MY SUCCESS IN THE TRAGEDY OF " MYRRHA " — I ATTEND A
PERFORMANCE OF MADAME RACHEL — THE ARTISTIC
VALUE OF THIS GREAT TRAGEDIENNE — NEW ATTEMPTS
BY MUTUAL FRIENDS TO BRING ME NEAR TO MADAME
RACHEL

The evening on which we performed the tragedy of
"Myrrha,"we won the sympathy of those also who had
not shown themselves very favourable to us after hearing
the "Francesca da Rimini."

In order to give the other actors of our company a
chance to distinguish themselves, we soon afterward
produced some of the plays in w^hich they could display
their special talents.

On the 31st, we produced "II Burbero Benefico," by
Goldoni, and " Il Niente di Male," by F. A. Bon. On the
2d of June, "La Suona trice d'Arpa," by David Chiassone
and " Mio Cugino " by Angelo Brofferio.

The day on which we were to play "II Burbero Bene-
fico," I w^as informed to my great surprise and regret, that
Madame Rachel had not only returned to the city, but
had purchased a box for the performance of that evening.
I felt very much grieved about it! If, after the uproar
aroused by the papers, it was the intention of the great
Parisian artist to come over to criticise me, she certainly
had chosen a poor performance upon which to base her
criticism! "II Burbero Benefico" is certainly one of the
best plays of Goldoni, but the role of the leading lady
finds itself relegated to a secondary place, almost to a
shadow, in order to bring out more conspicuously the
personality and the character of the leading man. In
interpreting the role of Mme. Delancour, I could not
fully bring into evidence my artistic qualities ; I could not
display the amount of my intelligence, as I might have
done in interpreting the very difficult part of "Myrrha."

28



DEBUT BEFORE THE PARISIANS 29

The step that Madame Rachel had taken caused me
still another embarrassment. . . , Her having, un-
beknown to me, rented a box at our theatre, revealed
clearly her wish to keep herself aloof and to maintain her
incognito. Could I, within the limits of my dignity, put
myself forward and introduce myseF to her, ofTer her a
box, and thus in a certain way, deny her freedom of
judging me at her own pleasure? It was a matter of
delicacy, of decorum and, in the meantime, of artistic
pride. If I had wished to invite Rachel to attend one of
my performances, I should have preferred to have her
see me in the role of Myrrha, or Mary Stuart, or Francesca
da Rimini. But I did not wish to appear over-anxious.
It seemed as if she wanted to see me as an actress, before
greeting me as a guest.

The following day I ran into my friends Mr. and Mrs.'
Jules Janin, to whom I had expressed my regret at what
had happened. They quieted me and reassured me, and
added that if I had presented Mme. Rachel with a box
for my coming important performance, she would cer-
tainly not have refused the invitation. In the meanwhile
they would try to see her very soon, and arrange for a
dinner party to bring us together.

During that time, we were none too well satisfied with
the financial results of our undertaking, and Signor
Righetti, our leading man, did not spare me his reproaches,
nor did he show any scruples in making me responsible
for what he called his own ruin.

We were very much preoccupied with the thought of
preventing this sort of a failure. Our common friends
quieted and reassured us, by saying that if I were able to
get another large audience and repeat the success of
"Myrrha," we could easily draw still larger ones.

On Tuesday, June the 5th, "Myrrha" was repeated.
After the enthusiastic criticism of the press, the audience
filled the house, while the success of the performance
surpassed all expectations. After that night, they wished
for nothing but "Myrrha." The financial and artistic
success was now totally assured. The tragedy con-
tinued to be repeated until we produced " Mary Stuart."
The press unanimously followed the ovation of the



30 MEMOIRS OF ADELAIDE RISTORI

audience. Both the analysis and the appreciation
resulted in being rather unfavourable to Rachel. To this
significant verdict of the press, was added the accusation
that the celebrated tragedienne had received with in-
gratitude the great love that the Parisian audience had
always borne for her, adoring her as a Muse, as one of
their own creations. Whether such charges were justi-
fiable or not, I was unable to judge, but with such a state
of affairs, it was no longer tactful for me to invite her to
come and hear me. She might have supposed that I
wanted her to be a witness of my triumph. . . .
Thus, I abstained from inviting her, and won the appro-
bation of my friends, Janin, Ary Scheffer and others whom
I had consulted. On the other hand, Rachel's friends
who at first bade defiance to my success, now tried to
paralyse it, fearing that it might hurt Rachel and eclipse
the radiance of her aureole ... it was truly a mis-
take even to suppose it.

When, owing to the unexpected return of Rachel to
the stage, I had the opportunity of hearing her, on the
evening of June 6th, in the role of Camille in "Les
Horaces," my conviction was more than ever confirmed.

Mr. Arsene Houssaye had kindly offered me a box in the
name of the Comédie Franpaise, of which he was then the
general manager, so that I could attend that solemn
performance which coincided with the anniversary of the
death of the great Corneille.

As soon as Rachel made her appearance on the stage,
I understood at once the power of her fascination. She
looked like a Roman statue! her majestic carriage, her
regal bearing, the folds of her mantle, everything was
presented with admirable artistic skill. Perhaps the
critics might have taken exception to the stiffness of the
folds of her skirt, which were never disarranged. It is
easy for me, as a woman, to comprehend the reasons for
this. . . . Rachel was very thin and was using
every method to conceal it. But how admirably she
did do it! She possessed modulation of voice, to a high
degree — at times she was fascinating. In the
stupendous culminating scene, where we have the impre-
cation against Rome and the Romans, she uttered such



DEBUT BEFORE THE PARISIANS 31

accents of hatred, of rage, that the whole audience was
frightened. I had — without any hesitation — confirmed
the verdict passed by all Europe upon the eminent
qualities which had gained for Rachel her glorious fame.
She not only possessed genius for the stage, power of
forceful expression, nobility of features, reality and
nobility of pose ; she also knew how to enter into the life
of the character that she represented, and she held herself
in it from the beginning to the end of the play, without
neglecting any details, producing majestically all of its
great effects, and giving scrupulous attention even to
the least noticeable. It is only by attaining such
exactitude that one may be proclaimed a great artist.

I could only feel, hear and see her, and I paid tribute to
her with my most frantic applause. How well I appre-
ciated, after that evening, the impartial criticism which
declared that there existed between us no points of com-
parison derogatory to either one.

We were following two totally opposite ways; we had
two different manners of expression. She could inflame
an audience with her outbursts, though academic, so


1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryAdelaide RistoriMemoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; → online text (page 3 of 22)