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beautiful was her diction, so stately her acting. In the
most passionate situations, her expressions, her poses,
everything was regulated by the rules of the traditional
French school; nevertheless the power of her voice, the
fascination of her looks were such that one had to admire
and applaud her.

We Italians, in playing tragedy, do not admit that in
culminating points of passion, the body should remain
in repose; and in fact, when one is struck either with a
sudden grief or joy, is it not a natural instinct to carry
one's hands to the head ? Well then, in the Italian school,
we maintain that one of the principal objects in reciting
is to portray life and reality, what nature shows us.

What grieved me was the knowledge that every
attempt which had been made by my friends to bring me
near to Rachel had failed, and that it was owing to the
resolution of the fanatical admirers of the French trag-
dienne, to keep us apart one from the other. Unfor-
tunately one can always find over-zealous persons, ready
with untrue gossip, to restrain relations! These took


pleasure in leading people to make Rachel believe that
I spoke with envy of her. Others tried to tell me that
Rachel in her bursts of professional jealousy made
disparaging remarks about me ; they even went so far as
to endeavour to persuade me thatMme. Rachel, wishing to
attend a performance of "Myrrha,"had gone to the theatre
dressed in such a way that she could not be recognised;
and in order to avoid the remarks and comments of the
curious had kept herself in the rear of the "bagnoire";
that after the fourth act, which as I have already men-
tioned, was the culminating point of my role, when the
audience was bursting into applause, she, not being able
to restrain her rage, tore the book of the play which she
held in her hands, exclaiming: " Cette femme me fait
mal, je n'en peux plus (thiswoman hurts me, I can not stand
her any longer)," and resolutely left the theatre, in spite
of the attempts of the people who escorted her to hold her
back. I never placed any faith in such talk, and I tried
my best to calm the excitement of Rachel's friends by
proving to them that her great merit raised her above
the instability of public opinion, and that my success
could not belittle, in the least, the greatness of her talent.

My performances went on with the increasing favour
of the public. The outbursts of applause with which I
was greeted when I made my entrance upon the stage,
were as welcome to me as the profound silence which
followed. How great an inspiration is the silence of the
audience! When I happened to represent subjects of the
greatest importance before an audience accustomed to
accord to art a fervent worship, ready to assimilate the
passions which are reproduced, I might even say, an
audience whose heart beat with the very palpitations of
the character which moved it, all this intoxicated me,
caused me to feel my power redoubled, I would find
suddenly some inspiration, some effect, which I had never
studied, but which was more realistic, more vivid than

The predominating sensation was one of legitimate
pride, in the knowledge that I held within myself the
prolific inspiration of my art.

" Mary Stuart" of Schiller, translated into Italian with


RACHEL (ELISA RACHEL FELLX), IN 1856. (18^21-1858)


splendid verses by Andrea Maffei, concluded my suc-
cessful season in Paris. I alternated the series of the
performances of " Mary Stuart, " with "Pia de'Tolomei."
I cannot say that the latter met the success of either
"Mary Stuart" or "Myrrha," however, it succeeded in
impressing the public. Besides, in a literary way, it
afforded a special interest, as being inspired by the
famous verses of Dante. Our much-renowned tragedian,
Signor Carlo Marenco, knew how to lift the action of the
last act and bring it to such a climax that the heart-
rending impression of the final scene, would bring the
development of the subject to a supreme culmination.

The criticism, analysing the preceding acts, may have
been severe, but it was obliged to pay its tribute of tears
to her who says :

"I once was Pia, Sienna gave me life,
Maremma took it from me. That he knows,
Who me with jewell'd ring had first espous'd."

(Dante, Purgatory, Canto V, Verse 131.)

The death of Pia in the fifth act of the play, had cost
me great study, as I wished to reproduce faithfully the
spasms of the agony and the last death struggle of a young
woman, imprisoned at the request of an unjustly cruel
husband, in a castle surrounded by the pestiferous swamps
of the Maremma. Such an end troubled me. How was
I to express upon the stage, with perfect truth, the
lugubrious picture of a long agony? Just at this time, a
most extraordinary event caused me to witness, in spite
of myself, the last moments of an unfortunate woman who
was dying of malarial fever. This desolating scene
fixed itself so profoundly upon my mind, that while it
assisted me in reproducing faithfully the heart-rending
death of Pia, portrayed as a matter of fact the poor woman
I had seen die, and at every performance, the painful
scene thus recalled, would appear and trouble me pro-

After six performances of this tragedy we had to
reproduce " Myrrha " and " Mary Stuart." At this period,
one may say the Italian drama had become established
in Paris. The ones who sided with the great tragedienne
Rachel, could not console themselves; and the attacks


against me were kept up unceasingly. It was, therefore,
to my great astonishment that I received one day from
one of Rachel's partisans an invitation to a banquet in
the home of a literary man, where I should at last meet
Mme. Rachel. My husband, after having run over the
list of names of the invited guests, did not deem it ad-
visable for me to accept and we found a plausible pretext
to refuse the invitation.

Time was gliding along, and I no longer thought of
the possibility of meeting Mme. Rachel, when one morn-
ing they announced to me that Mme. Ode, the famous
dressmaker of the Empress Eugenie, wished to speak to
me on a matter of importance. I thought at first, that
it was regarding some of my costumes, she being also my

" I come on a mission from Mme. Rachel! "

"From Mme. Rachel?" I inquired surprised.

" Yes, Madame, and I hope you w411 render my mission
an easy one." Mme. Ode, noticing my astonishment
more and more, stated her errand without any further

"You must have heard," resumed Mme. Ode, "how
much Mme. Rachel feels the attacks to which she is a
victim, attacks which you have called forth. You per-
haps, are ignorant of the fact that they have tried to
embitter her against you, assuring her that you did not
speak of her with all the consideration that she deserves."

"It isn't true," I answered, "and I hoped that Mme.
Rachel had not believed such malignant insinuations, any
more than I did, though several unkind remarks which
she had made about me were repeated to me. I went
to hear her in "Les Horaces," and did not try to conceal
the enthusiasm that she awakened in me. I asked some
common friends to assure her of my admiration, and my
great desire to meet her personally, but all the attempts
that have been made to bring us together have been of
no avail! ... So let us speak no more about it."

" And if I were to tell you, my dear lady, that Rachel
expressed her desire to meet you?"

" If such is the case, let her come to me and she will be
received as a person so celebrated as she should be."


But noticing that my reply did not meet with the
approval of Mme. Ode, and that she was trying to make me
understand that it was for me to take the first step, I
felt it my duty to answer her: " I do not think it is my
part to make the effort made by my friends at my request,
when I first came to Paris, and was eagerly desirous of
meeting her. I repeat to you, let us not say anything
more about it."

" But if Mme. Rachel should offer you a box for her
play, would you accept it? "

" I would with the greatest pleasure, and would break
any other previous engagement, rather than deprive my-
self of such a joy,"

In fact, the following day I received a letter enclosing
an order for a box at the Comédie Frangaise, and a card
reading : " To Madame Ristori from her fellow-tragedienne
Rachel," a card which I still jealously preserve.

On the appointed night, I was seated in my box when
the performance was about to begin. They were playing
"Phaedra." My desire to see Rachel in that masterpiece
of Racine was indescribable, especially as that was one
of the roles of my repertory, and one which had necessi-
tated my most serious study. Although I had noticed
that the spectators kept their eyes upon me, it was not
on that account that my applause was lavished upon
Rachel. I found, her person very stately; her first
entrance on the stage magnificent. However, the pros-
tration which she showed seemed to me quite excessive,
and moreover, she neglected to portray clearly that this
prostration was only due to moral languour, which dis-
appears when its intensity is removed, and allows the
body to resume its vigour.

Entirely majestic and marvellous the scene of the
second act, with Hyppolitus, where Rachel, as Phaedra
reveals her passion to him. . . . but in that situation,
though contrary to her custom, she exaggerated perhaps
the impetus of too expressive realism. In the fourth act,
Rachel was purely sublime, and the admiration and
irresistible emotion she excited in me, were so great that
I felt truly moved. I only regret that I had to express
my enthusiasm simply in applause!


When the curtain fell, with my heart overflowing with
artistic sentiment, I wrote a few lines upon one of my
visiting cards, which I had sent to Rachel in her dressing-
room! After that I had no further relations with her.
The reader will see later on, what conception I myself
formed regarding the interpretation of that tragedy.





At the end of my stay in Paris, I had received several
proposals to devote myself entirely to the French theatre.
No one could have prevailed upon me to renounce play-
ing in Italian. I always expressed my absolute refusal,
alleging as a pretext, the great difficulty of acquiring
perfection in the French accent. It was then that
Minister Fould insisted upon my accepting the proposition,
in the name of the Emperor, offering me a year in Paris
at the expense of State, in order that I might overcome
this difficulty under the direction of distinguished pro-
fessors, and afterw^ard fill the place left vacant by Rachel,
at the Comédie Frangaise, which she was soon to leave.
I stuck to my refusal, not without thanking the Minister
for the honourable offer, and adding that a great artist,
could not renounce the applauses of the Parisians, who
in their turn, could not renounce their admiration for
their favourite actress. However, my refusal did not
anger the Minister at all, for with much good grace, he
granted me the favour I asked him, and that was to allow
me for three consecutive years, the use of the "Salle
Ventadour," in order to produce there, a series of Italian
dramatic performances.

In this way, not only had I the great satisfaction of
having reached the object upon which I had fixed my
mind, that is, appreciation of the Italian art by other
nations, but I also opened up a new source of profits for
the numerous Italian artists in both Europe and America,
and thus brought honour to our country.



It was with great regret that I left Paris where I had
had the opportunity to meet and associate with the most
distinguished members of French society, and with all
the lights of that great world of letters and arts. I
carried away with me the dearest remembrance of Lam-
artine, Georges Sand, Guizot, Mignet, Henry Martin, Ary
SchefTer, Halévy, Janin, Legouvé, Scribe, Théophile
Gautier, Regine, Samson, Mile. Georges, Mme. Allan,
Mmes. Madeleine and Augustine Brohan, and many
others the mention of whose names would take too

I had to say goodbye to all of these people, had to take
leave of that excellent Alexandre Dumas, who came
almost daily to our home, bringing with him his inex-
haustible wit. How many pleasant hours we spent

How delightful it was to hear him talk with his pro-
lific and prodigious vivacity! He told tales of travelling,
intimate anecdotes of his private life, pages that he had
torn from the memories which he scattered through his
books. We gazed at him in admiration, while listening
to him, and we took good care not to interrupt. I seem
to hear him even now, relating that one evening when
coming out from a perfoiTnance of " Myrrha," and walking
with measured steps through the Passage Choiseuil,
(he was then in the first stages of his enthusiasm over me)
he met an intimate friend of his —

" What do you think about it? " asked Dumas.

"About what?"

"About Mme. Ristori! Didn't you come out of the

"I never have heard her."

"Aren't you ashamed? and you dare to exist?" And
thus crushing his friend with an avalanche of caprice, he
brusquely left him there, saying: "I will never look at
you again until you have seen that woman ! ' '

Some days later when he again met the same friend,
at the corner of the Rue de Berlin, he smiled being still
filled with the same idea.

"Well, in what performance have you heard her?"

"Oh, leave me alone! One does not always have six

The great French romantic novelist. (1802-1870)



francs in one's pocket, and I am not reduced as yet to the
state of being a 'claquer.' "

" Do you want six francs? Here they are; and you will
applaud freely."

As the friend was walking away hurriedly and bored,
Dumas placed the little sum of six francs upon the edge
of the sidewalk near the curb crying: " If you don't want
them the first poor fellow who sees them will get them,"
and turned around the comer. But after walking a few
steps, the friend stopped and said to himself: "After all,
six francs are not a fortune! ... I can soon return
them to him; while if left there, anyone who sees them
will say: as some imbecile has placed them there, I will
take them! ..." And after this logical reflection,
he turned resolutely around. ... To his great
surprise, on the edge of the sidewalk, he found himself
face to face with Dumas, who had, on his side made the
same reflection. . . . Seeing each other, they both
broke into a hearty laugh and the stubborn friend prom-
ised that he would go to hear me play.

In telling us this funny adventure. Dumas himself
laughed, and promised to write it later on and call it:
" The Two Millionaires."

One day Dumas declared that he would challenge any
Italian cook to prepare macaroni in the Neapolitan style,
better than himself. Owing to our exclamation of
incredulity, he proposed to prove it the next day. We
were stopping then at the "Hotel de Bade," Boulevard
des Italiens. The preparations made by the chef of the
hotel, were known to all. The windows were filled with
guests and other curious people who had come to see the
celebrated author of the "Three Guardsmen," with the
white cap over his curly hair, and regulation white jacket
and apron, holding a frying pan in his hand, forgetting
the literary triumphs he had reaped, amid the cares which
encompassed him in the cooking of a dish of macaroni !

With this jolly reminiscence, I close the narrative of our
first trip to Paris.

Feeling both sad and triumphant I left Paris, after
having received there, what I may call " the baptism of
fame!" The French people had demonstrated to me that


for them there exists no limit in art. I shall always hold
in the depth of my heart a sense of profound "gratitude for
the generous reception which they gave to a foreigner.

Our company went afterward to Belgium, not without
having given a few performances during a long trip in the
North of France. At last, we went to Dresden and to
Berlin receiving everywhere the most flattering reception.

The following November, I returned to my dear country
to end my engagement with the Sardinian Company,
giving performances both in Milan and in Turin. Having
been asked to go to Vienna to play at the Karttheater,
an old Imperial theatre — I first made short stays at
Verona, Udine and Trieste. Seeing me again, the Italian
public scarcely knew how to show its gratefulness to me
for having succeeded in causing Italian art to be
appreciated in foreign countries.

I presented myself for the first time on the 14th of
February 1856 at the Austrian capital with a company
managed and directed by myself. My debut was made
in "Myrrha" of Altieri. A more enthusiastic reception
than the one which met me from the Viennese audience,
I could not have hoped for. For all of my performances,
the house was jammed with spectators, and some mem-
bers of the Court always honoured me with their presence.
I experienced a most touching emotion at the first per-
formance of "Mary Stuart," as I knew to what lofty
comparisons I should be subjected and also what enormous
publicity and importance had been given to that pro-
duction. My nerves were shaken and a sort of agitation
took possession of me.

At last, at the usual hour, I arrive at the theatre, I
enter my dressing-room, in full possession of all my wits,
and, with an ill-concealed nervousness, I prepare to dress.
The excessive heat of the stoves, of which there were a
great number in the theatre, begin to annoy me — to
make the blood rise to the head, and to inflame my vocal
organs. I feel as if my heart will burst, and fear some
serious consequence. Little by little my voice grows hoarse
— in time, it totally disappears. . . . Without re-
flecting, while my maid and the property-man hurry to
find the doctor of the theatre, I throw open the window


looking over an empty lot in the city, and, without mind-
ing the intense cold of the season — it was the 17th of
February — and neglecting the sad consequences which
might result from such imprudence, I open the vest I
have on, and expose my chest to the freezing temperature.
If a reaction can be produced it may restore my voice
and thus enable me to play the tragedy.

The doctor, surprising me in that attitude, believed
that I had lost my senses! — " My voice. Doctor, my voice,
for pity sake!" He answered that if I had the courage
to gargle my throat with a strong remedy, which he gave
in similar cases to famous singers, perhaps I could use
my voice sufficiently to play and would not have to send
the audience home.

"Give me poison, if necessary; if only I can play!"
If that remedy was not poison it was bitter enough to
have been.

I did not recover my voice entirely, but after a warning
to the audience to be indulgent, I was able to play " Mary
Stuart," and with an unhoped-for success.

This anecdote may prove how strong was my sense
of duty. I cannot describe how the audience frightened
me! Since my youth respect and fear for the public had
been inculcated in me, so that I accustomed myself never
to give in; and, for that very reason, I made a special
study of being ready to substitute immediately, with
other words, those which another actor might forget, so
that the performance would not appear poorly prepared.

One evening when I had to put into practice this maxim,
was when I was playing " Judith," a biblical tragedy which
had been written expressly for me by Paolo Giacometti.

In the culminating situation of the play, after Holo-
fernes's head has been cut off, his favourite slave, Arzaele,
discovers the murder of her lover, throws herself furiously
upon me, while I seize the head and fling her to the ground,
ending the scene with a great effect. Suddenly I was
informed from behind the wings, that the actress who
was going to play the part of Arzaele, had been taken
with an attack of convulsions and that she was unable
to appear. Immediately I turned to some of the other
actresses : " One of you put on the dress of Arzaele, place


a veil over your head, and run to me." My order was
executed with striking rapidity — notwithstanding that
the poor girl who was substituting did not know her part!
I did not lose my wits — with dexterity I drew her to me
. . . as if she were trying to kill me and found a way
for her little dialogue between us — May the Lord forgive
me for such lines! The audience did not notice anything
and the result was splendid.

Once when I was playing "Medea" I had to put to use
my familiarity with the stage. Whenever in a foreign
city I had to give a single performance, I always chose
this tragedy of Legouvé. As we had only one child in
our company, and two are needed in playing "Medea,"
the property-man or the leading man had to provide the
other child, who did not have to speak. I was often
obliged between the acts to instruct the latter about his

Once it happened that one of these children, not being
accustomed to the stage, became frightened when I ap-
peared from the mountain. Hearing the outburst of
applause with which I was received, seeing for the first
time the footlights and all the crowd in the theatre, he
began to whine, to move and try to free himself from my
arms! What force I had to make without losing control
of myself, or falling from the mountain to begin my part
endeavouring at the same time to make the little fellow
understand and be quiet as he had nothing to fear! Often,
either the mother, the sister or the father of one of these
little fellows would be forced to remain in the wings and
make signs or talk to him in a loud tone in order to quiet
and assure him that there wasn't any danger.

One evening I had a most unpleasant experience at
the end of the tragedy. At the crucial point, when I see
myself attacked by the Corinthians, I run in despair
across the stage, dragging my two children from one side
to another, mingling my cries with those of the people
pursuing me. At last, not finding any other escape, I
hasten to the steps of the altar of Saturn where I throw
the two children, pretending to kill them, then covering
them with my body, I remain motionless! The super-
numerary child began to scream and run away to the

alph(jnse de lamartine

A renowned French lyric poet (17QO-1868). Great admirer of Madame
Ristori's dramatic art. In 1855 he composed a poem dedicated to Madame
Ristori callino; her " La Gioire et L'Immortalile"


wings, without my being able to hold him back! And
the audience should have supposed him dead! . . .
Although the audience was impressed with this remark-
able tragic scene, it would not refrain from laughing at
the sight of that little dead body running away.

In the month of April 1856 I returned to Paris, as had
been arranged the previous year with Monsieur Legouvé.
We immediately started our preparations to produce
"Medea." In the analytic study of this play, which is
one among the six that I had selected from my repertoire,
the reader will find a narrative of the most minute,
interesting and curious circumstances relative to this
drama, be it as far as concerning my part, the mis-en-
scene, and regarding the tremendous success which it
met the evening of April 8 th.

From Paris we moved to London. On the 4th of June,
my first performance of "Medea" was given at the
Lyceum Theatre.

The English public was already favourably impressed
by the French, German and Belgian papers, and I was
received with immense enthusiasm. My audiences were
very large, favouring me with the most flattering demon-
stration of affection and esteem.

Several among the English literary people reproached
me for not including "Macbeth" in my repertoire, the
master work, according to my opinion, of the immortal
Shakespeare. I gave as an excuse, that a foreign company
could not very well produce such a play, for lack of the
necessary scenery and of the indispensable number of

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Online LibraryAdelaide RistoriMemoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; → online text (page 4 of 22)