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Memoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; online

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Minister to Berlin. This learned guide of mine, gradually
reconstructed before my mental vision the world of ancient
Greece with its classic treasures. What luck was it for
me to find again among those sublime marbles all the
noble poses that I had endeavoured to reproduce before
my audiences! I stood ecstatic before so many marvels,
contemplating the temple of the Caryatides, studying
the Greek reliefs in order to reproduce, at the first oppor-
tunity in my costumes, those stupendous folds. Mr.
Rangabey had almost to have recourse to force, in order
to tear me away from admiring that wonderful
relief of the Victory Actere, the most minute details of
which, I wanted to impress on my memory.

I also obtained a wonderful impression from a visit
I paid to the Temple of Theseus and the Theatre of


What enchantment it was for me to gaze on that shin-
ing summit, gilded by the rays of the sun, upon the tops
of the imposing mountains of Hymettus, Pantelicus,
and Parnassus, which gird the Acropolis! What a
panorama! What marvellous effects! What emotions!
How many sensations I experienced on finding myself in
the midst of those ruins that speak to one of the history
of so many centuries, eloquent witness of the really
beautiful, of which Greece was the teacher of Rome, aye
I will say, even of the whole world! How I would have
liked to prolong my soul's enjoyment of that sublime
scene! But how often must the contemplation of art be
sacrificed to the urgency of the moment! At that time
precisely, I was forced to experience the reality of this

A former engagement which I had not been able to
revoke, prevented me from responding to the courteous
advances of King George, and accepting one of his most
alluring invitations. His Majesty having noticed the
enthusiastic manifestations of his people for the love of
my art, conceived the idea of reviving in the XIX century,
the Greek tragedy, with all its practices, with its chorus,
in a word, in its entirety, all its parts, which no longer
harmonise with the corrupted forms of the modem drama.
It was his desire that we should perform a tragedy, hav-
ing for its motif a Grecian subject, in full daylight, inside
of the Theatre of Bacchus, where all Greece would come.
That classic inclosure, had to be put in better condition
for the performance, in the least possible time, by Grecian
architects. My heart was jubilant at the thought that
I should be able, in the very land of Greece, to walk upon
the stage of its ancient theatre, and go back for a moment,
to the classicism of art, of Sophocles, of Euripides, of
^schylus, and to rest the mind within the majesty of
Olympus! It would have been a memorable event!
Let the reader fancy the regret I experienced in having
to renounce this great temptation offered to me by his
Majesty. But that poetic enchantment had to vanish
away before the prosaic lines of an ill-fated contract!

Farewell to poetry! Farewell to my dear public of
Athens! Farewell to my amiable guide!

? 2:

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I was bound to go to Paris and play in French at the
Theatre Lyrique a drama of Legouvé's called: "Les
Deux Reines." But on my way, getting off at Messina,
a telegram from Legouvé reached me, saying that owing
to some political complications with the Holy See, Na-
poleon III., had forbidden the production of the play!

Fortunately we were able to go and play in some of the
theatres of Italy, and that, with great satisfaction to me,
as the longer my sojourn in foreign countries was pro-
longed, the greater was my desire to behold again my
native land. It was with much pleasure that I accepted
the proposition of filling a professional tour through
Italy. I went through Naples, Leghorn, Florence, Milan
and Turin, during the time I was to have spent in Paris.

I returned to the great metropolis of the French at the
expiration of the month of April 1865, to fill an engage-
ment I had made to play " Beatrix" again at the Theatre
du Vaudeville.

It was at that time that Florence was celebrating the
6th centenary of Dante. All the world of culture had
been invited to honour the "Divine Poet."

The Mayor of Florence offered me great inducements
to go there and cooperate with Tommaso Salvini and
Ernesto Rossi, in giving greater impulse to the national

I accepted with joy the flattering invitation.

To be able to associate myself with those two giants of
the dramatic art, was for me a most fortunate and cher-
ished opportunity. It was owing to this, for me happy
association, that someone originated the idea that we
three artists should play together at the theatre of " Coco-
mero," in aid of some charity, in a drama suited to our
individual temperaments and so aptly commemorating
Dante's conception of "Francesca da Rimini," drama-
tised by Silvio Pellico.

The role of Paolo was interpreted by Ernesto Rossi!
Salvini took the one of Lanciotto, which he rendered
an unexpected creation; I played Francesca.

Each one of us acted our best, displaying passion and
ardour. New effects were produced as by enchantment!
Ernesto Rossi proved himself a member of that school


which has no masters, so to speak, but which finds its
inspiration in the impulse of a superior genius. He
never could have been a celebrity, had he not displayed
a distinctive temperament and a most powerful talent.

The performance was solemn in its character, and in
order to commemorate the event, a memorial tablet was
placed in the foyer of the theatre.

This was a memorial to which I am pleased to have
contributed and I have wished to mention it in these
pages as a tribute of homage and affection to my illustrious
companions, Salvini and Rossi.

Having paid my debt of devotion and gratitude to the
great poet Dante, as well as to Italy, I hastened to return
to Paris to resume the rehearsals of " Beatrix."

It was on the 2 2d of May that I appeared again before
the Parisians and was again received with the same
expression of appreciation as in my previous years. This
second effort to play in French, suffered nothing from
comparison with the first one.

From that time up to July of 1866 I travelled all
through Italy, Austria, Holland, and Belgium.

My exceptionally good health never abandoned me
through my long and tiresome journeys, though un-
fortunately I never was able to accustom myself to voyag-
ing by sea. All through those rapid changes I acquired
a marvellous store of endurance. That sort of life in-
fused in me sufficient energy to lead me through every
kind of hardship with the resolution and authority of a
commanding general. All obeyed me. None questioned
my authority owing to my absolute impartiality, being
always ready as I was, either to blame or correct him
who did not fulfil his obligations, also to praise without
any distinction of class, those who deserved it. I almost
always met with courtesy among the actors under my
direction, and if any one of them dared to trouble our
harmony, he was instantly put to his proper place by the
firmness of my discipline.

The artistic management of the plays was left to me
all in its details. Every order and every disposition came
from me directly. I looked after all matters large and


small, the things that every actor understands, con-
tribute to making the success of a play.

Concerning my own personal interests, they were in
charge of a private manager.

I am proud to say that my husband was the soul of all
my undertakings. As I speak of him, my heart impels me
to say that he ever exercised upon me and my professional
career the kindest and most benevolent influence. It was
he who upheld my courage, whenever I hesitated before
some difficulty, it was he who foretold the glory I should
acquire, he who pointed out to me the goal, and antici-
pated everything in order that I should secure it. With-
out his assistance I never should have been able to put
into effect the daring attempt of carrying the flag of
Italian dramatic art all over the globe.

My reluctance to leave my home and country was, at
that time, very excusable. I was feeling anxious over
the health of my dear old mother, and was haunted by
the thought of losing her, while far away from her. So
it really happened, for she died while I was on my way
to Rio Janeiro. Ten years before I had experienced the
sorrow of losing my dear father, in Florence, without
having the supreme comfort of closing his eyes, I being
at that time, at Wiesbaden, Germany.

Resimiing the trend of my narrative, I took a great
deal of pride in being mentioned as an example of punc-
tuality. Some of my long travels were fraught with dis-
comforts and perils. But if anyone among the members
of my company was either afraid or for some other reason
reluctant to follow me, I was the first one to set him a
good example.

Leaving Moscow, in February, 1862, to go over to Duna-
berg and give a performance, it happened that we had to
cross a bridge near Kowno, on foot, in the middle of the
night. Owing to the inclemency of the weather, it being
very stormy, and the -bridge being under repair and pro-
nounced unsafe, it was rather a risky crossing. When we
reached the spot some workmen were still intently at
work, by torchlight. The torrent running beneath,
swollen by the rain and the abundant melting of the
snows, struck fear only to look at it, especially when one


knew that on the very same morning, a working-man had
fallen down into the river and been drowned.

Hearing about this accident and seeing the not very
reassuring bridge, all covered with boards and beams, my
fellow-actors refused absolutely to cross it. Time was
pressing, as the train to take us to our destination,
was waiting on the other shore, while the hour for
our departure had already passed. There was not a
place in which we could find any accommodation for the
night. Having been assured by the foreman superin-
tending the work of repair on the bridge, that we could
cross in safety, I felt persuaded that there wasn't really
any danger, if we went o\'er the bridge cautiously. To-
gether with the members of my family, from whom I was
never separated, joking and scoffing at the most stubborn
ones, we crossed that long bridge. Seeing us, the members
of the company, slowly, like sheep, followed us, stum-
bling here and there. Having thus conquered this diffi-
culty, I was able to arrive at Dunaberg, the day set for
my performance.

During the month of September, 1866, for the first time
in my life, I crossed the ocean on my way to the United
States, where I remained until May 1 7th of the following
year. It was in the elegant Lyceum Theatre of New
York, that I made my debut, on the 20th of September,
with " Medea." I could not anticipate a more enthusiastic
reception than the one I was honoured with. I felt
anxious to make myself known in that new part of the
world, and let the Americans hear me recite for the first
time, in the soft and melodic Italian language. I knew
that in spite of the prevailing characteristics of the in-
habitants of the free country of George Washington,
always busy as they are in their feverish pursuit of wealth,
that the love for the beautiful and admiration for dra-
matic art, were not neglected. During my first season
in New York, I met with an increasing success, and
formed such friendly relations \\ith many distinguished
and cultured people that time and distance, have never
caused me to forget them. While writing these lines, I
send an affectionate salutation to all those who in America,
still honour me with their remembrance.


Leaving New York, I was asked to play in almost all
the towns, both large and small, of the United States.

I will pass over the details of the most appreciative
manifestations of enthusiasm of which I was made the
subject everywhere that I performed in that country,
but will add: "Many warm thanks to the generously
enthusiastic American audiences!"

There is one thing to which I wish to call attention.
The Americans have set in the theatrical field an example
which old Europe has finally followed. They have in-
troduced the custom of giving afternoon performances,
matinees as they call them, thus giving to ladies without
escort, the opportunity to attend a play, without inter-
fering with their home duties, or going out at night.

Through the North American states, they usually have
two performances in all the theatres, on Wednesdays and
Saturdays. The applause at the matinee performances
is less noisy and more reserved than that at the evening
performances, but it is also more intelligently distributed.
The young ladies would rush to my performances in such
numbers that often it happened, when all seats were
taken, that I was obliged to allow some of them to stand
on the stage between the wings, and watch the play. It
was a pleasure for me to see, between the acts, the pretty,
fresh faces of those young girls, smiling gratefully at me,
for the privilege they had been granted.

A large number of those enthusiastic young ladies, were
permitted to attend the rehearsals of " Elizabeth, Queen
of England," by Giacometti. The role of Elizabeth was
one of the most difficult ones for me, because in portray-
ing that character I had to bring all my art into play.
Reading over the analysis I made further on of this part,
one will easily see how much work it entailed on me.
That production, owing to its magnificent scenic and
dramatic effects, met in America with the greatest suc-
cess of all.

Numerous were the places I visited in the United States.
It would take too long to mention them all and to tell of
the repeated success I met wherever I went. But
suffice to say I thoroughly covered this delightful
country and everywhere was better received than I


had anticipated. I left that country, as I have said,
in May, 1867, to return there in the month of September
of the same year.

During the first days on board the steamer Europa,
crossing the Atlantic, on my second trip to America, we
met with such stormy weather, that one of the deck-
stewards lost his life, having been swept overboard by a
huge wave. We were later informed that the poor fellow
had a wife and children at Marseilles, who were depending
on him for their support. It was a pitiful story and
spread a gloom over all the passengers on board. We
resolved to organise a soirée during the voyage, for the
purpose of raising a fund for the unhappy family of the
poor steward. The captain most landly cooperated
with us for the success of the occasion. The dining-room
of the steamer was transformed into an elegant theatre,
^^ith a stage at one end.

As luck would have it, we had on board the celebrated
soprano, Madame De La Grange, and with the balance
of the actors of my company and myself, we were able
to arrange an attractive programme for the soiree.

Mme. De La Grange was to sing three of her favourite
pieces, I was to recite the scene of the meeting of Mary
Stuart with Elizabeth from Schiller's tragedy. A French
gentleman had volunteered to sing a romance. The
weather was then comparatively good, consequently we
were inclined to hope that the following evening — that
set for the soirée — would prove auspicious. But it is not
safe to reckon with the sea. Just about noon, the waves
began to swell and the wind to rise impetuously; while
the boat rolled in every possible way. We are already
beginning to feel the effect of it. Toward evening it
calmed a little. We were able to commence the pro-
gramme at the appointed hour.

I ascend the stage, feeling almost certain that I will
triumph over the elements, and, filled with enthusiasm,
I begin that beautiful invocation of Mary Stuart to the
clouds, but the true clouds gather fatally above us,
and the sea begins to rise again! At the time when
Elizabeth comes in, my head commences to turn,
I stagger . . . my throat chokes me


drops of cold perspiration rise to my brow
. . . . symptoms of mal de mer ... I can

hardly connect a word ! My brother who is supporting me,
playing the part of Talbot, fearing that the matter is
becoming serious, runs out for a bottle of salts, which he
gives to me to smell at every pause I make! Owing to
this expedient I manage to reach the end, being held by
Hannah, every time I am about to fall.

As soon as I was through with the struggle, I ran on
deck, threw myself on a steamer-chair beside Mme. De
La Grange, my fellow- sufferer and inquired of her how
she had been able to get to the end of her part. From
where I sat I could hear the song of that amateur who
had offered his support. The poor fellow could not have
chosen a more lugubrious subject. Singing in a funereal
voice: "Richard est morti . . , Richard est mart!
. . . . " he largely contributed to increase the pains
I was suffering. But notwithstanding all these mishaps,
we were able to collect a rather large sum of money.

That concert for charity's sake was also the cause of an
amusing episode, the details of which we heard the follow-
ing day. One of the passengers who had complained to
the captain of the neglect which he claimed the ship had
sufifered — while the officers were enjoying themselves in
the salon — frightened by the rising sea, had donned a life-
preserver and passed all the night on deck. The ridicu-
lous man, would constantly cast furious glances upon us,
who were perfectly innocent of causing the danger he
fancied he had run of being swept away by the sea.

By the end of January of 1868 I left for the island of
Cuba. What a passionate public I met at Havana! At
every performance they showed to me some new form of

One the evening of March i6th, I played for my special
benefit performance, "Camma" and a small one-act play
called: "What the Star Likes," a farce written for my-
self expressly, by the popular playwright, Gherardi del
Testa. In the play, at a given point, being disguised in
the costume of Jeanne d'Are, I would recite those famous
farewell lines of Schiller, so beautifully translated into
Italian by the poet Maffei.


After two o'clock in the afternoon it was no longer
possible to find a seat, and all the boxes had been sold
the day before. As is customary in that country, many
of the ladies take seats, either in the pit or in the gallery
called "cazuela," so a great number of them, fearing that
owing to the rush, they would not be able to obtain good
seats later in the evening, took possession of their places
at 2 P. M. and had their luncheon served there.

I mention these details not with the intention of boast-
ing of my success, but only to show to what height the
enthusiasm of certain people can reach.

Returning to the hotel after the performance, the
people tried to unhitch the horses from my carriage, but
I opposed myself energetically to such demonstration. I
could not however prevent, some young fellows from
climbing upon the top of the carriage, w^hile others seated
themselves next to the driver, so that they could be near
me. I was, besides, buried under an avalanche of flowers
thrown at me.

Often I am carried back in thought to that magic
spectacle of those tropical skies, where under a galaxy of
scintillating stars, I was passing in review, between the
lines of "volantas," filled w^th elegant Cuban w^omen,
in evening toilettes, who were throwing kisses to me, while
their coachmen had much difficulty in holding in
their horses, who w^ere frightened by the light of the
torches. Out of the thousand-and-one nights I have
passed under a clear sky, that one was certainly the most
beautiful !

The scene of that paradise has remained in my memory
as an enchanting tableau. But so many pictures of that
tropical nature, that seductive life with all its Oriental
softness, have been painted, that I do not dare to attempt
to give you a description of them. My best wishes from
the depth of my heart, to the inhabitants of Havana, w^ho,
crowding our theatre, greeted me with so much appre-
ciation !

Courtesy of Charles L. Ritzmann. New York







Returning from the United States, in the month of
September, 1868, 1 made another professional tour of nine
months' duration through Italy. I produced there for
the first time the most popular drama of Paolo Giacometti,
called "Marie Antoinette," which had aroused so much
enthusiasm in the United States. Owing to my pre-
dilection for this drama and also to my old friendship
for its author, I took particular pains in order to produce
it with a splendid effect. I was especially careful that
the execution of the play should be historically correct,
and the costumes and scenery should portray exactly
the time it represented. The love I had for historical
truth, induced me to visit the " Conciergerie " in Paris,
which had been the last dwelling-place of the unhappy
Queen of France. I still recall the painful impression
made upon me by the sight of this cell. Filled with the
subject, I was studying in the environment of the great
tragic human drama. I seemed to see that resigned
martyr of the French Revolution, and to hear around me
her heart-rending sighs !

It had been decided that the first night of "Marie
Antoinette," should be witnessed by one of the most
intelligent audiences of Italy and one most capable of
appreciating the greatness of the production. My good
star having brought me to Bologna to perform ten plays
at the Theatre Brunetti, I decided to play "Marie Antoi-
nette," on the evening of November 9 th.

We had to overcome a great many difficulties in order
to obtain, from the authorities of the place, the necessary



permission to produce the play. It was supposed by the
censor, even before he had read it, that Marie Antoinette
was a reproduction of some anarchistic subject. Even
the repubHcan party was persuaded that the drama, was
a glorification of the French Revolution, and, excited
by the attitude taken by authorities, was anticipating
some kind of a public demonstration. Finally, owing
to the intervention of some high official, who was fully
convinced that we wouldn't do anything to trouble the
public peace, we were allowed to announce the play.

At last the impatiently expected evening came. Owing
to an exaggerated precaution, the usual number of police
was reinforced by a squad of soldiers. The audience
was immense, crowding the theatre in such a way, that a
pin could not have dropped to the floor. The excitement
in the beginning was intense, but as the play progressed
the most revolutionary characters in the audience, saw
that it was not meant either as an apology for the spirit
of the French Revolution, or for any of their rebellious
aspirations, but only as condemnation of an atrocious
crime — the drama was nothing but an exposition of the
awful trials of the unfortunate royal family of France.
It was only meant to awaken sentiments of pity for the
victims of that most tragic period. That did not suit
the turbulent minds in the audience. At the conclusion
of the second act, some signs of disapproval were manifest
among those disaffected ones and they grew so noisy in
their expressions during the third act, as to prevent the
more reasonable part of the audience, from enjoying the
remainder of the play.

The chief of police, who was seated in a proscenium
box, felt very uneasy lest some serious trouble might
arise. The author of the play, Signor Giacometti, doing
his best to maintain his composure, was standing behind
the wings, making encouraging gestures to the actors. I
felt quite nervous myself, noticing that a minority, but
the noisiest part of the spectators, had made up their
minds to drown with their loud exclamations of disap-
proval the pathetic portions of the play which held the
greater part of the audience spellbound. During one of
the turbulent crises, I moved toward the wing where stood


Signor Giacometti, looking painfully excited, and said to
him : " Come over to the footlights, you are an old acknowl-

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Online LibraryAdelaide RistoriMemoirs and artistic studies of Adelaide Ristori; → online text (page 7 of 22)