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Memoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; online

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artists for such a play. They told me that in England
they would cut down many parts and adapt the pro-
duction not only to the ability and number of players
of the different companies, but also to the taste and
requirements of the public, which had not always a right
conception of the times, places and conditions under
which the Shakespearean theatre had its growth.

"That I should cripple Shakespeare and commit such
a sacrilege! It was impossible! We Italians, never would
dare to mutilate our classics; think if I should dare to
mutilate the work of your great poet. ... " They


replied that they did it without any scruple and with the
intention of rendering it comprehensible to all. To
speak truly, their logic was not far wrong, but that was
not sufficient to convince me. Then they proposed to
assume themselves all responsibility, and sure enough,
upon my return to London, in the month of June, 1857, we
began to rehearse " Macbeth," at Covent Garden. It had
been arranged for our company by Mr. Clarke, and trans-
lated into most beautiful Italian verse by Giulio Carcano.
The renowned Mr. Harris put it on the stage according
to English traditions. The representation of the part of
Lady Macbeth, which afterw^ard became one of my
favourite roles, preoccupied me greatly, as I knew only
too well what kind of comparisons would be made. The
remembrance of the marvellous creation of that character
as given by the famous Mrs. Siddons and the traditional
criticisms of the press, might have rendered the public
very severe and difficult to please.

I used all my ability of interpretation to reveal and
transmit the most minute intentions of the author. To
the English audience, it seemed that I had really in-
carnated that perfidious but great character of Lady
Macbeth, in a way that surpassed all expectations.

We had to repeat the drama for several evenings, always
producing a most profound impression upon the minds
of the audience, particiilarly in the grand sleep-walking
scene. So thoroughly had I entered into the nature of
Lady Macbeth, that during the entire scene my pupils
were motionless in their orbit, causing me to shed tears.
To this enforced immobility of the eye, I owe the weaken-
ing of my eyesight. From the analytical study which
I shall give of this diabolical character, the reader can
form for himself an idea of how much its interpretation
cost me (particularly in the final culminating scene), in
my endeavour to get the right intonation of the voice
and the true expression of the physiognomy.

On November the 7th I went to Warsaw. I can easily
afifirm that my performances in that city resulted very
successfully, but I must admit that such results were
facilitated by the sympathy of the elegant and kind ladies
of Polish societv. There I was favoured also with





A noted French novelist and poet (1811-1872). In one of his " Revues
Dramatiques" in the "Moniteur" he wrote: " Le genre humain ne peut que
gagner a entendre la Ristori ..."


delicate attentions from the Governor, from the Prince
Gorgiakoff, as well as from the Princess, his wife. Such
kind manifestations encouraged me to return there
in 1858.

At the beginning of 1857 I visited, for the first time, the
beautiful city of Naples, where on the evening of June
14th, at the Regio Teatro del Fondo, I began with
"Medea," a short series of my performances.

What an enthusiastic public I found! Little by little as
there was established between us a kind of magnetic
current, I was transported with delight at their admiration.

It was with great difficulty that I received from the
rigorous Bourbons, the permission to perform "Phaedra"
by Racine. I held it as certain, that in spite of the many
mutilations, the many beautiful things of the drama must
produce a vivid impression. The result could not have
been more satisfactory. During my short season of
fifteen performances, I was compelled to repeat "Phae-
dra" five times, a thing that happened very seldom at
that time. The last performance was given for my
special benefit. Several days ahead all the seats had been
sold. A large part of the ladies of the best society, had,
owing to the lack of boxes, secured orchestra chairs; a
thing which is not very customary for ladies to do in
Italy. A "cantata" composed for the occasion had been
prepared in my honour. The theatre was like a garden,
such was the abundance of flowers, which were sent to
me, and what an inspiration it gave to my artistic tem-
perament! . . . However, this splendid remembrance
was associated with a most unfortunate incident.

During the great scene of the fourth act, when, owing
to jealous rage, Phaedra breaks into such a pitch of
delirium, I had so thoroughly entered the part, just there,
that instead of moving backward while saying: "among
martyrs my soul expires," I advanced toward the foot-
lights and fell over! A loud shout came from the audience!
A young gentleman who was occupying a seat very near
the stage, noticing that the actress playing the part of
(Enone was remaining stupidly motionless with fright,
rose from his seat and pushed me backward, thus saving
me from a great danger. He could not, however, prevent


my being badly hurt from that fall. One of the glass
globes of the footlights, which broke under the weight of
my right arm, caused a deep wound. This unfortunate
incident makes me think of an old Italian adage that:
"All that comes to harm does not happen to hurt," for
if the Neapolitan Government had not had the strange
idea of enforcing the use of oil in the place of gas, (*)
fearing political attempts at mischief, my accident would
have been much more severe.

The stage was soon invaded by a crowd of people
anxious to know how badly I was hurt. Among the
first who came to me, was the Count of Siracusa, brother
of King Ferdinand, who had with him the Court physician.
When my wound was dressed, those around me said, that
I was the victim of this deplorable accident owing to the
presence in the audience of a well-known jettatore (a man
with the evil eye) . The Count of Siracusa, who was fully
convinced of the fact, took from his watch-chain a fal-
con's claw set in gold, and offered it to me saying: "I
have killed this beast myself, carry this with you as a
charm against all the jettatore of the future." And
I always carry this remembrance with me.

The audience left the theatre, the victims of the most
vivid emotion.

I was taken to the hotel, and for two long months I had
to carry my arm in a sling. This did not prevent me,
however, owing to certain engagements I had made,
from playing though I had to take care to moderate the
movements of my arm. The ill-fated accident left a wide

I went to Madrid, in Spain, the same year, giving a
series of performances at the theatre called " Zarzuela."

On the 1 6th of September I commenced my season with
"Medea." Owing to the natural enthusiasm of the
Madrilenians, I obtained all that an actress may aspire to.
The house was always crowded. Queen Isabelle, a woman
gifted with true artistic sentiment, always attended
my performances, sat in her royal box, did not miss a

♦The Neapolitan Government, in consequence of an explosion
which had happened on a war vessel, had suppressed the use of gas in
all public buildings.


gesture, nor a glance of the actors and broke on every
occasion, into enthusiastic exclamations.

A few evenings later when I was obliged to repeat
"Medea," a most touching incident happened to me,
and the remembrance of it I have carried in my mind
and in my heart.

I went to the theatre at the usual hour. In front of the
dressing-rooms there was a nice reception hall. While
my maid was getting my wardrobe ready, a most inter-
esting conversation was started between the other actors
and myself about the magnificent and interesting his-
torical wonders we had seen during the few days of our
sojourn in Madrid and about the traditions and customs
of that proud country, which astonish so much anyone
who visits it for the first time.

" By the way" I said, "what was the meaning of that
ringing of a bell through the streets to-day, by a man
belonging to some religious fraternity?" I was answered
that it was in order to collect some alms for the suffering
soul of a man sentenced to death, by name Nicolas
Chapado. The unfortunate fellow was a soldier, who, in
an impulse of wrath, had drawn his sword against his
sergeant, who had struck him. Furthermore, I learned
that his sister who was ignorant of the affair happened to
be in the street and seeing the member of the Fraternity
of Saint John the Baptist gathering up alms, she asked
for the name of the poor fellow condemned to be shot the
next day. " Nicolas Chapado," she was told. Hearing
that name she fell, as if dead, to the ground. That story
filled me with the greatest sadness.

"My Lord!" I exclaimed, "while we are here standing
filled with merriment, triumphing and receiving applause,
that unfortunate fellow counts the minutes which still
remain for him on earth!" With my heart full of pity I
went to my dressing-room. Soon after, two persons
asked to speak to me. " The lady is dressing," they were
told. Seeing that it was useless to insist, they told my
husband the motive which brought them there. It was
regarding that unhappy fellow Chapado, whom they
were trying to save.

My husband moved to pity, came to me and without


any preamble said : " You know that a man is sentenced
to death and must be shot in the morning? " " I know it,"
I replied. " Well, they tell me that his life lies in your
hands, and that if you wish it, he will be pardoned!"
. . . At these words, I turned pale and a cold sweat
broke out all over me. "Know," he added, "that a
deputation came a few moments ago to tell me so; they
will soon be back for the answer. The poor soldier is a
splendid young man, he has a fine record of eleven years of
military life. He is the victim of an impulse of anger, as
the sergeant hated him and struck him unjustly in the
presence of his companions. Chapado did nothing more
than to place his hand on the guard of his sword and
that was enough to cause him to be condemned to death.
The life of that man depends upon the Queen. They
tell me that she loves you very much, and if you ask her
for a pardon, she will not deny you." "But the Queen
will think me foolish," I answered, frightened. "What
am I, beside all those who have already uselessly asked
her? My solicitation will be of no avail! I shall never
dare! . . . "In the meanwhile the deputation
came back, repeating to me what I already knew. I trem-
bled! ... I could not speak, so great was my
trepidation. However, I promised to do my best. But
immediately I stumbled against a great difficulty. Gen-
eral Narvaez, Duke of Valencia and President of the
Ministr>^ was generally feared owing to his excessive
severity ; this explained the request that I should make a
direct attempt, unknown to him, to the Queen. " I can
never do that" I answered them. I was recommended
to the General and found in him a frank, loyal, amiable
and distinguished gentleman; so it was to him first that
I should make my request. The right road was always
my choice for my action.

" But you are going to lose that poor man," they said
to me. "Is he not already lost?" I answered, "nothing
worse can happen to him. Let me be." These people
shrugged their shoulders and, shaking their heads, took
leave of me, convinced in advance of my failure.

Most happily the President of the Ministry was at the
theatre. I asked if he would kindly come to see me for a

Hn^raved by Inipleniercier & Co., Paris

One of the greatest French novelists of her sex of the XIX Century.
She felt a great fascination toward Madame Ristori's art and in some of
her writings called her " F"emme Divine! "


moment. The Duke of Valencia, courteous as ever,
hastened to comply with my request. As soon as I found
myself alone with him, I invited him to sit down. The
Duke was struck by my looks and voice which betrayed
the emotion that had taken possession of me.

" General, you have told me once, that you would not
refuse any request of mine owing to the esteem with
which you were pleased to honour me. Encouraged by
that I ask for the pardon of the poor soldier! I am a
stranger here, and have been only a short time in Madrid
but owing to the interest of all the citizens and to my
feeling for the young man, I am ready to argue that he
deserves to live. It was suggested that I go direct to
the Queen, without consulting you, but I am convinced
that you, the first one whom I approach, will give me your
merciful support, so that my words may the more easily
reach the heart of her Majesty. I am aware of the great
esteem which she has for you and of the faith she has
placed in you, owing to your faithfulness to her person,
and to the value of your counsel, which has saved the
country from many dangers."

"My good lady," answered the Duke, "it is impos-
sible. ... I am sorry, but it is necessary to make an
example. The revolutions begin almost always with the
army ; not long ago, we had some similar cases . . .
we used clemency, you see the result. It is necessary
to make an example! The whole Municipality just called
on the Queen to ask for mercy, and I have advised her
not to yield, not to allow herself to be moved. After
this, how could I advise you differently? "

I did not lose courage, I persisted in my entreaties with
all the enthusiasm which makes one eloquent. Finally
I was able to move the Duke. "Ah, my lady!" he ex-
claimed, "I yield to your prayer! . . , Listen to me.
I will have somebody ask her Majesty to grant you an
audience, which she will do immediately. You will be
received between the acts. Throw yourself at her knees

. . . speak in the cause of the unfortunate young
man with the same emphasis you just used with me.
Supplicate the Queen. She loves you very much, but
she will be perplexed and will answer that the Minister


of the Council would be opposed to it, send for me then,
I shall come . . . and . . . hope. I can say-
nothing more!"

Emotion which was almost choking me, prevented my
replying to these words. I grasped his hand with trans-
port and followed his advice.

As soon as the General had left, they all crowded around
me with pressing questions. What has he said? Does
he consent? Has he refused? "Silence, for mercy's
sake, leave me, I cannot say anything . . . wait
. . . wait!"

After the first act the Queen granted me the audience
that I had requested, and escorted by one of my man-
agers. Signor Barbieri, a distinguished musician, I as-
cended the royal box. I was asked to wait a few minutes
in the adjoining room. All of a sudden we heard con-
fused voices, some one crying and people running. I
learned later that an enemy of Nar\'aez, a member of
the Court, had tried in order to antagonise the Duke,
to brusquely introduce the sister of poor Chapado into
the royal box, but owing to the arrival of Narvaez him-
self, the attempt had failed. Meanwhile, the Queen,
agitated by the cries she had heard, began to feel faint,
since she was about to become a mother. Alfonso
XII. was bom only a month later. As soon as she
recovered, she asked to have me shown in. I was soon
ushered into her presence, the good Queen asked to be
excused for having kept me waiting, and for her emotion.
All the ministers surrounded her. Without losing any
time, I threw myself at her knees, I kissed the hand she
had extended to me and exclaimed: "Your Majesty,
I ask mercy for Chapado! Be moved by our prayers. He
has erred, it is true, but in this one instance deign to judge
kindly this unfortunate man. He acted after a bloody
assault, unjustly made upon him in the presence of his
companions. Grant life to a devout subject, who is
brave and ready to shed his blood for his queen! If my
humble merits have ever had the good fortune to win
Your Majesty's sympathy, grant me the pardon which
I beg with pleading hands!"

The Queen, much moved, replied : " Be calm, Madame,


I would like to, but the President of the Ministry assures
me. ... "I interrupted her, saying: "If Your
Majesty will deign to express to him the impulses of your
generous heart, he is human, and certainly will not have
the courage to oppose your wish." At that moment,
Narvaez stepped for^vard and bowed his head in assent.
Then the Queen grasping my hands, lifted me up. " Well,
my lady, yes. . . . We pardon him!"

Hearing the noise made by the audience, which was
anxious to have the performance resumed, and with my
heart full with joy, I took leave of her Majesty.

"What different kind of tragedies are played to-night!
At last there is one with a happy ending," she said to me;
then ordering a pen brought to her, she signed the pardon.
One of the adjutants ran with it to the condemned man.

The crowd was waiting for me at the foot of the stairs,
the news having been spread of my audience with the
Queen. I did not walk down the stairs, I flew, crying:
"The pardon is granted! . . . the pardon is
granted! ... "

Upon my reappearance, a storm of applause broke
forth ! in the enthusiasm of the audience, the name of the
Queen was mingled with mine. By gestures I tried to
indicate that to her Majesty the thanks were due ; while
she, always thoughtful of me, cried: "No, no, it is to
her, it is to her! ..."

I owe to the Queen one of the most memorable nights
of my existence. The pen which signed the pardon for
the brave and honest young man, and which was later
given to me, will be to my children a holy remembrance
of a great joy experienced by their mother!

But though the life of the soldier was spared, still, in
order not to deviate from the military laws, he was sen-
tenced to life imprisonment in one of the prisons of Alcala.
The task though hard seemed nothing in the face of a
life saved! I begged a commutation of the sentence, and
it was reduced to six years.

In one of my trips to Madrid, I expressed my wish to
know the unfortunate fellow. The letters that he had
written me, without ever having seen me, showed him to
be a good-hearted man, with a keen sense of honour, and


of the most sincere gratitude. I asked for permission to
go and see him in his prison, which was not far from
Madrid; and the Governor granted it to me.

On reaching the place with my husband, an old
friend of ours and I, were shown into the receiving-room
of the prison. Nicolas Chapado was soon brought to me.
He was clad in a convict's suit, and came in with his
head bowed and holding his cap convulsively in his hands.
He threw himself at my feet, kissing my clothes in his joy,
though his emotion prevented his saying a word.

Ever}'one was moved. I could not repeat what senti-
ments of gratitude he at last expressed to me, or how
deeply I appreciated his thankfulness! ... I
learned, later on, that owing to his irreproachable con-
duct, he had secured the good-will both of his guardians
and of his fellow-prisoners, and that he had been pro-
moted to the grade of watchman in some workshop.
They all loved him and obeyed him, and the sergeant
who had been the cause of his misfortune, having fallen
seriously ill, had when at the point of death, asked to
see him and had besought his pardon for the harm he had
unjustly done him. This Chapado did not hesitate for
a moment to grant. Before I left I promised to use all
my influence to obtain his complete pardon.

As soon as the news of my visit was known in the prison,
everyone wished to see me, and as I came down the large
stairway, with the warden at one side and Chapado at
the other, all the convicts kneeled down respectfully,
uncovering their heads. I cannot tell the extent of my
emotion, or how, upon beholding that touching picture,
my eyes filled with tears!

Later I obtained the release of Chapado, and every
time I was in Madrid, he ran to see me, and whenever I
furnished him with the means to come and hear me in
some of my plays, he proved a most enthusiastic ap-
plauder. I was told, between the acts, and in consequence
of some outbursts of applause in the audience, that when
they implored him to be quiet, he insisted upon relating
to his neighbours his lugubrious story. He told it also
to those who did not care to hear it. " But do you not
remember that I was in the 'ardent chapel' with the


spiritual confessor beside me, begging me to recommend
my soul to God! ... It was she who implored and
obtained my pardon from the Queen Isabelle! ... I
love her as a mother. ... I could die for her!
. . . " And he would conclude these impetuous out-
bursts by crying as loud as he could: " Long live Ristori!
. . . . Long live Ristori! . . . long live the
Queen! . . . " at the risk of being taken for a lunatic!
And what letters he would write, when I was away, all
filled with kind, poetic and almost Oriental thoughts. He
called me: " Mi madre querida!" My darling mother!



After having again visited Vienna, Buda -Pest and Italy
during the month of April of the same year, I returned to
Paris. Every time I had to make a new appearance be-
fore the Parisians — such a pleasant and congenial public —
I endeavoured to prepare some new play which should
interest the habitues of my dear theatre Ventadour.

The preceding year my friend Montanelli, a man of
superior culture, who owing to the strenuous part he had
taken in our political movements, was patiently dragging
along his life in exile, conceived the idea of writing for
me a drama in three acts. He took his inspiration from
a very tragic argument from Plutarch, called "Camma."
Camma was a priestess of Diana, renowned for her rare
beauty. As the reader knows, her husband, Sinatus was
treacherously murdered by Synorus, Prince of Galitia,
in order that he might marry the widow, of whom he was
madly enamoured.

Camma, discovering that Synorus is the murderer of
her husband pretends to yield to his wishes and leads
him to the temple for the celebration of their nuptials.
The rite is to be solemnised by both drinking, one after
the other, from the same cup.

Camma being a priestess, the high priest proposes that
she prepare the nuptial cup. She, taking advantage of
her privilege, puts poison in it. The first to bring the
cup to his lips is the ill-fated Synorus, w^ho is im-
mediately taken with agonising pain, and dies soon
after, but not until Camma has revealed to him her
premeditated vengeance. Despising life, Camma also
drinks the poisoned cup, and dies happy in the



certainty that she will be reunited in Elysium, to
her beloved Sinatus.

Regarding this tragic end I must tell of a comic
incident. In preparing the tragedy Signor Montanelli
used to send to me, by instalments, the parts already
written in order to have my judgment and approval, I
found the death scene of Camma, my part — was too long
as it caused me to talk too much. Filled with this idea,
I wished to communicate it to my friend as quickly as
possible and in great haste telegraphed him as follows:

" You forgot that I am anxious to die, and in the presence of
the corpse of the victim, with whom I have shared the poison,
I can not speak eternally."

One can readily imagine how a telegram like this,
addressed to a person well known to be prominently iden-
tified with the political events of the time, surprised and
aroused the suspicion of the clerk of the telegraph-office.
He hurried to transmit the telegram to the chief of
police, and played a most ridiculous part afterwards
when the matter was explained.

On the evening of April 23, 1857, the first performance
of the tragedy took place, achieving a splendid success.

In the year 1858, I signed a contract with the principal
theatres of Holland. My first performance was given in

Remembering that the Dutch bore the reputation of
being a phlegmatic people, not easy to enthuse, I antici-
pated merely a respectful reception, nothing more. What

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Online LibraryAdelaide RistoriMemoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; → online text (page 5 of 22)