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then was my amazement on seeing my audience light up
and become as demonstrative as a Southern people! My
astonishment had no bounds, when later, I learned that
the citizens were organising for one of my free nights, a
great public demonstration, which, the papers were
already announcing, was to take the form of a festival
tribute to dramatic art.

More than twenty thousand people, of all classes,
besides a large number of working corporations, artistic
societies, university clubs, all preceded by their respective
flags and musical bands, took part in the demonstra-
tion. At nine o'clock on the appointed night, under my
windows, the huge procession began to march cheering


enthusiastically. The scene was lighted by thousands of
torches, and fire works, intermingling the Italian and
Dutch colours, made a brilliant effect. It looked like
a bit of fairyland!

Unfortunately the crowding of such immense numbers
had its disagreeable consequences! Many were pre-
cipated into the canals, suffering nothing worse, however,
than an enforced cold bath. Such a spectacle can more
readily be imagined than described. To give you an idea
of its imposing character, I was informed that the king
had referred to it in the following terms: "It was not
enough for a revolution, but too much for a demon-

Leaving Amsterdam I completed the tour of this com-
mercial country of Holland, visiting its principal towns
and being ever^nvhere honoured with the most cordial
and flattering receptions.

When at The Hague, I was made the object of the most
grateful attentions by Queen Sophia, a cultured wor-
shipper of the fine arts. She gave repeated proofs of warm
interest in me every time we met and her manifestations
of kindness to me continued as long as she lived. His
Majesty the King, also often honoured me with his
presence at the theatre, and the last time I had the honour
of meeting him at Wiesbaden, it was his pleasure to
confer upon me the Order of Golden Medal, an Order
instituted in Holland for the purpose of ennobling the
disciples of the fine arts cults. It is, therefore, not to be
wondered at if I accepted with the greatest joy, the
invitation to visit that country again. I returned the
following year my mind still filled with sweet remem-
brances of the events I have briefly narrated above.

I shall not repeat myself by describing this second visit,
but I cannot refrain from mentioning another demon-
stration with which I was greeted, because of its unique
and striking character. Let me call your attention to
the fact that this period of my professional career, was
coincident with the warlike feats with which Italy was
then astonishing the world.

When I reached the city of Utrecht, the young students
of the University, rejoicing in the marvellous prestige


gained by King Victor Emanuel II. and Garibaldi, wished
to receive me, an Italian artist, with the same enthusiasm
with which they were exulting in the triumphant
development of our national struggle for independence.
It was, therefore, the whole population — the intelligent
learned youth of the renowned University of Utrecht —
that I found at the station waiting to receive me. It
was an impressive occasion, and I still recall the pleasure
I experienced, as I realised that such a flattering reception
was meant rather as homage to Italy than to my

The procession started from the station. The car-
riage, drawn by four horses, in which I was seated with
the rest of my family, was preceded by an advance-
guard of men on horseback, composed of the most dis-
tinguished students of the University. Other members
of my escort, rode alongside and behind my carriage.
In this manner I drove through the principal streets of
the city, which were crowded with spectators, on my way
to the hotel.

I gave a performance that same night and it is super-
fluous to tell how warmly I was greeted. After the per-
formance, I was honoured with a torch-light serenade,
which is so picturesque in Northern countries. In
commemoration of this event a beautiful engraving was
made, of which I was presented with the first copy.

During the first part of October, 1859, 1 went to Port-
ugal, where, between the cities of Lisbon and Oporto, I
gave a series of twenty-four performances.

I cannot put into words the impression made upon me
by the majestic and beautiful panorama of Lisbon and
the imposing shores of the river Tagus, seen from the
ocean, nor can I describe the scene. It would take a
mightier pen than mine to do it justice. My professional
success here was but a repetition of the honours I had
received in other countries.

What a lover of art was King Ferdinand with all the
actors! He showed his love of it by every possible mani-
festation of kindness to me. I still preserve a sketch
that he drew for me in my album. On every succeeding
visit to Lisbon, I received the high consideration of the


King and a greater measure of kindness from its people.
Even in 1878, when I again visited the capital of Portu-
gal I always found a most appreciative audience. From
the royal family, of which the Queen Pia of Savoy, is
such a great ornament, I received the highest expressions
of esteem.

While speaking of Portugal, I cannot pass unnoticed a
play I produced in the month of February of i860, in the
town of Coimbra, and of which I have the most amusing

As is well known, the principal university of Portugal
is in Coimbra. In the Athenaeum of the University,
there is a very pretty theatre-hall suited to the
requirements of the students. On some occasions
when the artists of a dramatic company have met with
the favour of the public at Lisbon, they have
been asked to stop at Coimbra and perform in this thea-
tre. The Board of the University, begged me to recite
"Medea." I consented with pleasure. It was my de-
sire to make an experiment on a public, with whose main
characteristic I had been struck so forcibly the previous
year, when going through Coimbra. The picturesque-
ness of the students' uniform made an impression upon
me. They wore a garment somewhat like a priest's
cassock buttoned up to the chin, short knee breeches,
a wide collar, a cap à la Dante, and a large black cloak
covered the entire body, making their dark complexions
and strongly marked features more striking. Their long
beards, almost always black, contributed to give a stronger
effect to their big black eyes.*

As I mentioned above, I was to play "Medea," the
production of which offered some scenic difficulties. One
of the fundamental rules of the University forbade the
employment of women as supernumeraries. How then

* This costvime, almost mediaeval in its quaintness, awakened my
curiosity as to its origin. I learned that King Don Diniz, in the year
1288, founded in Lisbon a school for the "General Study of Sciences."
This school was composed of branches of fine arts, of canonic right, of
civil right and also of medicine. In 1290 Pope Nicholas IV., consolidated
the school. In 1306 the king transferred it to Coimbra and constituted
it a university similar to those then existing all through the cultured
parts of Europe.


were we to represent the scenes in which the "Canephores"'
women are to appear! Here the students proposed a plan
worthy of their lively imagination. They volunteered
to disguise themselves as girls. Though the proposition
seemed somewhat strange, considering the whiskers of
the students which they would not be allowed to shave
off, still I had to accept it, recommending them, however
to cover their faces in the best possible manner, with a
thick veil.

On entering the theatre to get ready for the play, I
was received by the professors of the university, who
had kindly improvised for me a dressing-room, which
was elegantly furnished and supplied with all that was

Now we come to the performance. The hall was
crowded. The most fashionable ladies of the place filled
the boxes. I must confess that I felt uneasy, fearing that
at the most dramatic point, the tragedy might turn into
a farce! Fortunately that did not happen, though at
one moment I thought that my apprehensions would be
justified. In order to accustom myself to the appearance
of such original "Canephores," I had taken the precaution,
before beginning the play, to look at them closely, but I
could not foresee what happened afterwards. During
the most important scene between Medea and Creusa
in the first act, I chanced to turn my eyes to a box on the
proscenium. . . . What did I see? . . . theCane-
phore girls, who a short time before had appeared on the
stage wearing white veils and wreaths of roses, and whom
Creusa had sent to pray in the temple of Diana : smoking
with the greatest nonchalance long Havana cigars!
Though accustomed to comic scenes on the stage, yet at
the sight of that ridiculous group of masquerading
students, I had a very hard struggle to keep myself from
exploding with laughter. However, I mastered myself,
and as soon as I left the stage I sent a hurried message to
those new-style Canephores requesting them to keep to the
rear of the box.

From Portugal, by way of the sea and through Bel-
gium, I returned to France, stopping however, a few days
in Hanover, where I gave two performances.


The whole royal family lavished upon me protestations
of the most devoted friendship. King George was an
interesting person not only because of the cruel infirmity
which he had so heroically borne since the age of sixteen,
but also because he was still a brilliant talker, and not
at all blind concerning dramatic art. The cheerful
affability with which I was received by the royal family,
over whom a loving mother presided, is among my
dearest recollections.

From Hanover I went to Paris. This was in the month
of April, i860. On the first night of the 21st, the annual
performance at the Comédie Frangaise was about to be
given as a special benefit for the grand-niece of Racine,
Mademoiselle Trochu. For the occasion, the members
desired to get up a programme composed of different

For this reason my good friend Monsieur Legouvé
asked my cooperation. He suggested that I not only
give the fourth act of "Phaedra," but that I also recite
in French a poem of his own composition. The reader
will easily understand, that I was most willing to give
my support to the benefit by playing in Italian. I was
rather reluctant to consent to recite a French poem, in
consideration of the great difficulty to me of the pro-
nunciation of French, and the diffidence I should feel
in reciting it before a critical and cultured audience like
that of the Comédie Frangaise. Besides, I knew that
during the recitation I would be surrounded by the
greater number of actors belonging to the Comédie. The
thought frightened me. However, Legouvé insisted
and ended by persuading me to consent to recite his verses,
which he promised he would teach me to give with a
perfect pronunciation before the evening of the

I still hear the exultant cry of Legouvé when I yielded
to his entreaties ''La patrie est sauvée! La patrie est
sativée!" (The country is saved!) a cry which brought
out from the adjoining room my friends who were awaiting
the result of our conversation. Won to his wishes by
the encouragements of the poet, I began seriously to
study his poem. " Audaces fortuita jurat."


My bold attempt met with a happy result. The
audience received me as a favourite daughter of the house
of Molière. But what went to my heart and touched me
even deeper than the acclamations of the audience, were
the warm approbations of my fellow artists of the evening !

Here is the programme:

" 'Atalia'

Fourth act of 'Phaedra,' played by Mme Ristori.
A homage to Racine. Lines of Monsieur Legouvé,
recited by Mme. Ristori.
'Les Plaideurs'."

It was owing to that happy result, that another far
more important request was submitted to me. It was
not now a matter of my temporary assistance. Le-
gouvé had not yet relinquished his fixed idea to have
me play in French. A man of great resources, he put to
task all his powers of persuasion to win me to his pur-
pose. He made capital particularly of my professed
gratitude to the French nation, to the Emperor Napoleon
III. and to the heroic army, which returning victorious from
the battle-fields of Magenta and Solferino, had made its
triumphal entry into Paris. Many times, indeed, I had
expressed the desire to be able to satisfy my debt of
gratitude to the French people, whose approval and
applause, had opened to me the doors of all the European
theatres — "Here is the opportunity" — Legouvé would
say to me, " the effort that I ask you to make will be the
true evidence of your sentiments." The pleader won
his cause; but while yielding to his eloquence, I was not
unmindful that, in doing so I should also gratify the
Parisians who were eager to see me undertake the diffi-
cult task of playing in their own language.

Having thus conquered all my hesitations, I agreed to
undertake the learning of a drama in four acts which
Legouvé was writing for me, and in which a happy in-
spiration decided him to have me take the part of an
Italian woman, whose foreign pronunciation should in
no way mar the character.

The heroine of the drama is a young actress of high
reputation. Having been invited to go from one Court
to another she finally meets a young prince who falls


madly in love with her, and in spite of the barriers
opposed by his high position and rank in life, wishes
to marry her. The young actress understands his diffi-
culties and loves him in secret. However, her gratitude
to the mother of the young prince, whose kindness she
has often experienced, will not permit her to be the
cause of trouble in the family all of whom she regards as
her benefactors. She cannot lie by denying her love
for the prince, and not having the strength to resist his
wooing, she secretly quits the Court.

It was an actress who was to interpret the part of an
actress, the enthusiasms, the abandons, the disillusions of
which made it a complication of difficulties and contrasts.

I was ready to begin my study, and for the sake of
facilitating the carrying out of our plan, Legouvé
suggested joining me later, on the trip I was about to
undertake on the Rhine. It was a continual rehearsing
from morning to night. He took advantage of every
available moment to impress my part on me and help
me to conquer the difficulties of the French pronunciation.
He tried most arduously to minimise for me the peculiar
difficulty of enunciating the "rs," which we pronounce
closed in Italian, and which are to our language an element
of expression and energy.

By the end of our trip, my study of my part was com-
pleted and we settled on the following month of March
for the production of "Beatrix," which was to be given
at the Odèon.

Leaving Paris, I betook myself to Holland. I ran up
the Rhine through Livonia and Courland.

I went to St. Petersburg in the month of December
of the same year, and returned there in November, 1861.
I was in Moscow in the February of 1862.

My heart is filled with affectionate recollections of my
professional tour in Russia. The remembrance of the
warm reception of the people of that country, is still
vivid in my mind. Though the members of the Court
could not attend the theatre owing to a period of Court
mourning, the Emperor Alexander II. and the Empress
wished to hear me. They invited me to attend a soirée
at the Winter Palace. I recited before them the third


act of "Mary Stuart." I shall never forget the kind re-
ception they gave me. But I formed my criterion of the
enthusiasm of which the Northern peoples are capable,
by my reception at Moscow.

It is true that in the old Muscovite capital the young
element prevails, attracted there by the magnitude of
its University. Here also, as in Holland, the students
distinguished themselves, but by a different form of
enthusiasm. I appreciate highly and still keep as an
object of most precious ethical value, the gift they gave
me in the shape of a golden bracelet, in which is set an
amethyst symbolising the globe, upon which hangs
a glittering star . . . the planet of art! The greater
number of the students at the University not being rich,
this evidence of their appreciation was doubly cherished
by me.

On the morning of my departure from Moscow the
students, en masse, were waiting for me at the station.
On my arrival, they crowded around me, and as if by
enchantment, I was carried to the private car set apart
for me. The members of my family joined me as best
they could. Up to the moment of our departure, our
car was transformed into an autograph delivery-wagon.
Many hundred times I signed my name on flying pieces
of paper, in note-books, on newspaper clippings, and
other scraps! The whistle of the locomotive at last blew
the starting signal, and among the most exuberant
acclamations, the train moved out.

Dear remembrances! I wish as many manifestations of
devotion and affection and equally sweet remembrances
to all the actresses who will come after me!

From Moscow I travelled directly to Paris, there to
begin my rehearsals of " Beatrix." While these were
progressing, a liking for my part grew on me. I felt so
profoundly the reality of the character which had been
created and developed under my eyes, that when the
day of the first performance came, the 25th of March
1 86 1, it seemed to me as if I had only to play one of my
usual parts, and I was not troubled as to what the public
would think. An instinctive feeling assured me that it
would appreciate my daring effort and accept it as a


tribute of gratitude from an Italian woman. This very
thought was my salvation; in fact, I felt so certain of
myself, so tranquil, that I answered with a laugh the
exhortations of my fellow- actors to take courage. . . .
But once on the stage, the old Italian adage — "Altro
é parlar di morte, altro é morirei " (How different it is to
speak of death than it is to die,) came to my mind again.

Though I was generally familiar with the audiences
of the principal cities of Europe, at the sight of such a
throng of people, as that evening crowded the Odèon,
I felt frightened. The applause with which I was greeted
on my entrance, far from encouraging me, produced the
contrary effect, making me comprehend the exacting
expectations of the audience.

All the power of a strong wdll was none too much to
help me to overcome a moment of hesitancy. I began
to act, and succeeded first in conquering myself and later
the public. ... I repeated the performance for
forty nights.

As a last word concerning the drama " Beatrix," I shall
add that it took amazingly well in all the provincial
towns in France, in Holland, and in other countries.

Some later years, in 1865, I undertook to play it in
Paris again for twenty consecutive nights, at the Theatre
du Vaudeville.



I MADE a second trip to Beriin during the month of March
1862, playing there for seven nights at the Royal Theatre.
The royal family honoured me with kind attentions,
while the good Emperor William I., who was then King
of Prussia, conferred upon me the cross of the Order of
Civil Merit.

Afterward I was asked to give two performances at
the Ducal Theatre of Weimar. On that occasion I was
the object of a great many courtesies through the kindness
of the duke and duchess of that small state.

Attending a reception at Court, I had an opportunity
to appreciate the culture of the prince. He knew by
heart many passages of Dante's poem, which he had
partially translated, and every time I met him, I could
not help noticing that he knew our language very well and
could use it admirably.

Among my remembrances of the numerous distinctions
and favours conferred on me by the Court of Berlin, I
cannot forget that I owe to the Emperor William, the
honour of having met the great composer Meyerbeer, and
this is how it happened. During the few days that I
remained at Weimar, the celebration of the birthday of
King William took place. The Duke, as the reader knows,
is the brother of the Queen of Prussia, wife of the present
Emperor of Germany, and he begged of me, in the name
of the Queen, to go unknown to the King in Berlin and
play there "I Gelosi Fortunati." A pretty and artistic
little theatre was secretly fitted up for the occasion, in
one of the halls of the royal palace. The King was very



much pleased and satisfied by the unexpected surprise
prepared for him by his wife, the Queen, and the little
play was received in a very flattering manner.

After the performance a supper was given. Several
tables were ser\'ed in the hall. It was at this supper
that the King presented me to Meyerbeer, whom he
asked to be my cavalier for the remainder of the night.
It did not take the celebrated maestro long to interest
me greatly with his witty conversation. The following
day he came with his two daughters to visit me, and we
spent a most agreeable hour speaking of art and of Italy.

During the balance of 1862 and up to September 1864
I visited the cities and the countries where I had pre-
viously been. I made long stays at home, in Italy, and
particularly in Sicily, which I left in September 1864, to
go to Alexandria in Egypt.

In the land of the Pharaohs I realised how great is the
power exercised by dramatic art upon different natures.

The cosmopolitan society of Alexandria lavished upon
me, especially on the night of my benefit, the most flat-
tering tributes of esteem and kindness. Being urged by
repeated and pressing invitations, I went to Cairo to give
a performance, at a theatre, which had been improvised
and put up in a few days, the old theatre of the town
having recently been destroyed by fire.

On the 2d of December I left for Smyrna. The voyage
to that place was a very unfortunate one! We had taken
passage upon a steamer of the Austrian Lloyd Line,
called The Empress. Leaving Alexandria we encoun-
tered a very stormy sea and when passing the Colossus
of Rhodes, the boiler exploded! For forty-eight long
hours our vessel was at the mercy of the waves! The cap-
tain and the officers, did their best under the circum-
stances. Signals for help were vainly repeated every
moment. Our sufferings were frightful. It seemed
inevitable that we should all be submerged by the heavily
rolling sea; while the lamentations of the women and
children, combined with their ferv^ent prayers, tore our
hearts! But at length owing to the strenuous efforts of
the captain and the crew, the damage to the machinery
was repaired, after a fashion, and we were able to go back


to Alexandria. I felt terribly prostrated for several
days afterwards. Nevertheless, I soon took passage
again, on another steamer of the same line, the Arch-
duchess Charlotte, bound for Constantinople. I do not
exaggerate when I say that I had a moral struggle
with myself at this time, in order to make the sentiment
of duty prevail over that of discouragement, induced by
the very sad and depressing physical conditions of which
I was a victim. However, I am only glad to be able to
say that all through my professional career, I never failed
to meet the obligations I had contracted.

On the way to Constantinople, I gave a performance at
Smyrna. When in Constantinople, owing to previously
made engagements and also because I was ardently
desirous of making a stay at Athens, I gave only thirty
performances. But although my season in the old city
of the Byzantium was of short duration, still it was
filled for me with most pleasant memories and asso-

I arrived at Athens on the 19th of February, 1865. I
had time to give but five performances there. When
once I set foot on the Piraeus, I could hardly wait
until I visited the Acropolis. I did satisfy that ardent
desire of mine, the day after my first performance, having
for my guide the renowned archaeologist Rangabey, now

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Online LibraryAdelaide RistoriMemoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; → online text (page 6 of 22)