Adelaide Ristori.

Studies and memoirs ; an autobiography online

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gentle, pathetic character of Francesca da Rimini
was an absurdity which revealed the deliberate pur-
pose of making naughty comparisons at whatsoever
cost ; and to make them unhesitatingly without giving
time for consideration or comparison, or for the pub-
lic to manifest freely their own opinion. Thus, if I
had been self-conceited, that condemnation would
have served rather to awaken my pride than to arouse
in me the honest sentiment of diffidence.

But pride was not, in truth, my besetting sin, and
this early opposition alarmed me at least in so far as
I perceived how ill my real intentions in appearing
upon the Parisian stage were interpreted by some.

"I never had the presumption," I said to my most
intimate friends and most severe critics, " to come to
Paris to compete with your sublime artist. My aim
is a more modest one ; and, permit me to add, a more
generous one." I wish to show that in Italy also
the dramatic art, once our boast and our glory, still
exists, and is cultivated with affection and passion.
As for me, personally, let them criticise me with the
utmost severity ; but before pronouncing judgment
upon me let them wait at least until I have given
proof, in all the various parts of my repertory, of the
full measure of my powers. And if they persist as



32 ADELAIDE RISTORI.

they have a right to do in making comparisons I do
not desire, but which* it is impossible for me to avoid,
let them show their impartiality and clearness of
judgment by delaying their sentence until they have
seen me in some part which may give them reasonable
ground for such a verdict.

Thus, for example, Myrrha may be compared with
Ph<zdra (a minute comparison of them is given in two
of the chief analytical studies in these pages).

Our third performance on the 26th of May included
the Curioso Accidente and La Locandiera, by Goldoni.
These plays were well received, though comedy in a
foreign language is most difficult to understand.

It was then proposed to give the Myrrha of Alfieri,
without, however (from want of sufficient time), those
special announcements that generally excite the curi-
osity of the public in all countries ; yet the theatre
was more crowded than on the preceding evening,
and the entire press assisted at the representation.
This tragedy, written in pure and severe Italian style,
and with many distinctly Greek forms, gave me an
opportunity of showing my artistic feeling, the pro-
found psychological study I had bestowed on the part,
and the ability of our Italian school to unite national
spontaneity to Greek plasticity, detaching itself en-
tirely from academical conventionalisms, not because
academical conventionalisms are devoid of anything
praiseworthy, but because we argue that in the whirl
and fury of the passions, it is not possible to give full
attention to the greater or lesser elevation of the arms
or hands. Provided the gestures are noble and not
discordant with the sentiments expressed, the actor



FIRST JOURNEY TO FRANCE. 33

must be left to his own impulse. Constraint and
conventionalism, in my opinion, obscure the truth.

One of the living examples of this realistic school,
and one also of its brightest ornaments, is my illus-
trious companion in art, Tommaso Salvini, with
whom I had the good fortune to share the labors of
the stage for several years, as I also shared them
with Ernesto Rossi. Salvini was, and is, justly
admired ; for his rare dramatic qualities have nothing
conventional about them, but are characterized by
that spontaneity which is the truest and most con-
vincing revelation of art.

The richness of pose, of which Salving makes use,
is in him a natural gift, brought to perfection by his
close study of nature which the teachings of no school
could have produced or fostered in him. In a word
Tommaso Salvini is to me the living incarnation of
Italian inspiration.

But to return to Myrrha. I must say that the
success of this tragedy surpassed all our expectations.
After the fourth act a most majestic conception of
the great author's the audience seemed almost be-
side itself with delight.

The Foyer was crowded with the most distinguished
persons in literature and art. Alexandre Dumas
kissed my mantle and my hands ; Janin, Legouve',
Henri Martin, Scribe, Theophile Gautier, and many
dramatic artists (I do not speak of the enthusiasm
of my compatriots, because it was indescribable)
could not find words to express their emotion. Dur-
ing the fifth act, where the great scene occurs between
Myrrha and her father, which Ernesto Rossi gave
3



34 ADELAIDE RISTORI.

with a talent that was unique rather than rare, the
public never ceased to applaud. The success of this
tragedy at Paris more than compensated me for the
immense trouble which the interpretation of such a
very difficult character did cost me in order to suc-
ceed in representing it suitably. From the analysis
of this play, given in the second part of this volume,
the reader will be able to judge how difficult and
intricate had been my task.

That evening, those who had not shown themselves
very favorably to us after hearing Francesca da Rimini,
were constrained to share in the common approval.
In order to afford an opportunity to the other clever
members of the company to display their powers, it
was necessary to bring forward pieces more espec-
ially suited to them. So, on the 3ist of May, the
Burbero Benefico, by Goldoni, was played, followed
by the Niente di Male, by F. A. Bon. On the 2nd of
June, La Suonatrice d'Arpa, by David Chiossoni, and
Mio Cugino, by Angelo Brofferio, were given.

On the day when the Burbero Benefico was per-
formed I learnt, to my surprise, that Rachel had not
only returned from the country, but had bespoken a
box for that evening at the theatre. I was extremely
annoyed at this. If, after all the noise aroused by
the papers, it was the intention of the great French
actress to come and judge for herself, she had made
a bad selection of the piece which was to furnish her
with the elements for estimating me.

The Burbero Benefico is certainly one of Goldoni 's
best comedies, but in it the part of the first actress is
absolutely sacrificed and left in the shade in order to



FIRST JOURNEY TO FRANCE. 35

throw into fuller relief the very original personality
of the principal character. I could not in the Bur-
bero Benefico, display my artistic qualities, such as
they were, nor put forth to the full extent my drama-
tic powers in representing the creation of a great
poet, with the needful amount of truth and dignity
due to an historical personage. Rachel's resolve again
placed me in another dilemma. She having, un-
known to me, and without even mentioning it to our
mutual friends, sent to take a box at our theatre,
plainly showed her determination to keep aloof from
me, and almost to remain incognito. Could I ought
I to come forward and present myself to her ; offer
her a box, and thus, not only prevent her from effect-
ing her design, but further, in a certain way, have the
air of depriving her of her full liberty of judging me
in her own fashion ?

It was, at the same time, a question of delicacy
and propriety mingled with a question of artistic
amour propre. If I was to have invited Rachel to
one of my performances, I should frankly have pre-
ferred for her to judge me in Myrrha, Francesco, da
Rimini, or Mary Stuart ; but I did not wish either
to appear proud in abstaining from entering into
relations with her, or importunate in meeting her
half way and forcing her to. be civil to me while she
seemed rather to avoid me, or at least first form her
opinion of me as actress before receiving me as a
guest.

I spoke of it to the Janins, who, not knowing any-
thing precisely, dissuaded me from making any move,
advising me rather to wait for the opportunity of a



36 ADELAIDE RISTORL

repetition of Myrrha to send Rachel a box with a
card of invitation from me. Meantime they offered
to plan a meeting between us at their house on the
excuse of a dinner.

But this meeting never took place ; whether the
Janins forgot to arrange the dinner, or as it seems
to me more likely Rachel declined to accept the
invitation, I never heard more of it.

Meanwhile, we were not too well satisfied with the
pecuniary result of our speculation, and Signor
Righetti, my manager, did not spare me his lamenta-
tions and reproaches, and roundly asserted that I
should be responsible for his forthcoming ruin.

We busied ourselves in trying to find some way of
escape from the present very gloomy outlook. Our
friends tried to reassure us, to encourage us, and
boldly asserted that if we were fortunate enough to
follow up the great success we had achieved with
Myrrha, we should easily carry the public along
with us.

On Tuesday, June 5th, we repeated Myrrha.
After the enthusiastic criticisms on the previous per-
formance in the newspapers, people came in crowds
to see it, and our success surpassed every anticipa-
tion. Indeed, from that evening Myrrha was all the
rage. Our artistic and financial success was assured.
The tragedy was repeated until it had to be removed
to make way for Mary Stuart.

The Press was as unanimous in its verdict as the
Public. But I regretted that in praising me a certain
bitterness was mingled against Rachel. There was
no doubt that this most significant change in the



FIRST JOURNEY TO FRANCE. 37

attitude of the Press had been brought about in some
degree by the accusation that she had responded
with ingratitude to the great affection the public had
always shown her, adoring her as a Muse, and as its
special favorite. Whether the accusation was right
or wrong I could not judge, but, as matters were in
such a state, it was certainly not expedient for me to
invite her to come and hear me. Had I done so, it
might have been supposed that I wanted her to be a
witness of my triumph. I blushed at the mere
thought ! And I abstained from offering any such
invitation, and in this had the approval of my friends,
Janin, Ary-Scheffer, and others, whose advice I
sought.

Meanwhile the intimates of Rachel, alarmed at the
magnitude of my success, made every effort to neu-
tralize it, fearing it might eclipse the brightness of the
great actress's crown.

When, through an unexpected return of Rachel to
the stage, I had the privilege of seeing her on the
evening of June 6th in the character of Camilla in
the Horatii, I was still more confirmed in that con-
viction. A box was kindly sent me for this play
through the courtesy of M. Arsene Houssaye, at that
time Director of the Comedie Frangaise, in his name
and that of the whole Company, to be present at
that solemn performance which coincided with the
anniversary of Corneille. The moment Rachel ap-
peared on the stage I understood the potency of her
fascination. I seemed to behold before me a Roman
statue: her bearing was majestic; her step royal;



38 ADELAIDE R IS TORI.

the draping of her mantle, the folds of her tunic,
everything was studied with wonderful artistic talent.

Perhaps critique might have been able to find a
little fault with the unchanging arrangement of the
folds, which never fell out of order.

As a woman, it was easy for me to understand the
reason for that arrangement : Rachel was extremely
thin, and used every pains to conceal it. But with
what marvellous skill she did so ! She knew thorough-
ly how to modulate her voice at times it was magi-
cal. At the wondrous culminating point of the
imprecation flung at Rome and the Romans, such
accents of hate and fury rushed from her heart that
the whole audience shuddered at them.

I had ratified without hesitation the enthusiasm,
the judgment borne by all Europe to the eminent
qualities which won Rachel her glorious renown.
She had not only the genius of the stage, enthusiasm,
mobility of feature, variety and nobleness of pose
she was able to incarnate herself in her rble, and
keep it up from the beginning to the end of the piece
without neglecting the smallest detail ; giving all her
great effects skilfully, and the most minute scrup-
ulously. Now it is in fulfilling these requirements,
and on this sole condition, that one can be proclaimed
a great artist.

I heard and saw only her, and I paid her the trib-
ute of the most frantic applause! How fully I
appreciated the judgment of the critics when they
ascertained that there were no such points of con-
trast between us two, which could be used to our
mutual injury. She was the tragic genius of France,



FIRST JOURNEY TO FRANCE. 39

and we followed two widely different paths. We had
two different modes of expression ; she could excite
the greatest enthusiasm in her transports, so beauti-
ful was her diction, so statuesque her pose. In the
most passionate situation, however, her expression
was regulated by the rules imposed by the traditional
French school, yet the power of her voice, the fasci-
nation of her look were such, that she compelled
admiration and applause. We, on the contrary, do
not believe that in culminating moments of passion
this self-possession is possible. When a person is
overtaken by unexpected sorrow, or sudden joy, is it
not the natural instinct to move the hand to the
head, and as a necessary consequence must not the
hair be disarranged ?

The Italian school of acting, then, holds that one
of the chief objects of the stage is to represent nature
in a living and truthful manner.

After all, what most troubled me, was the knowl-
edge that these numerous and faithful admirers of
Rachel had influenced her against me ; but that what-
ever efforts my friends and her acquaintances made
to draw us together, in accordance with my intense
desire, none seemed likely to succeed.

Unfortunately, in these cases, there are always
zealous people, so-called friends, who are ready
to foment disagreements by a variety of injurious
misrepresentations. It was a pleasure to these to
impress upon Rachel's mind that I had spoken dis-
respectfully of her. Others, again, came and reported
to me that Rachel, in a fit of artistic jealousy, had
used malicious expressions concerning me. They



40 ADELAIDE RISTORL

tried to make me believe that, desirous to be present
at a performance of Myrrha, and yet anxious to
escape recognition, and avoid the observations and
comments of the curious, she seated herself closely
muffled up at the back of a box ; that after the fourth
act, which contains some of my most important
scenes, and in the midst of the public applause, she,
not being able any longer to control herself, tore to
pieces the book of words she held in her hand,
and, exclaiming, " Cette femme me fait mal ; je rien
peuxplus /". left the theatre, in spite of all the per-
suasions of those who were with her. I never
believed such gossip and I should have wished to
hint to the friends of the great artist the way to calm
her, proving to her that her immense merit placed her
above the instability of public opinion, and that in
spite of the reality of my success this could in no
way diminish the power of her genius.
. My performances excited increasing interest and
enthusiasm and I became a great favorite with the
public. The burst of applause which saluted my
appearance on the stage was not so grateful to me as
the deep silence which followed upon it. How much
that silence of the audience is fertile of inspiration, how
it penetrates in the soul of the artist, how the creative
fire which exists in art transports and transforms
him ! When it was my good fortune to represent
subjects of supreme importance before an audience
who worshipped art with true devotion, and were
ready and able to identify themselves with the pas-
sions reproduced upon the stage to count, as I may
say, the heart-throbs of the character which moved



FIRST JOURNEY TO FRANCE. 41

them, by their own all this intoxicated me, made
me feel as though I were endowed with superhuman
powers; enabled me by a sudden inspiration to
improvise effects which I had never studied, but
which were truer and more vigorous than those I had
before conceived ; while above and beyond all was a
predominating feeling of legitimate pride at knowing
that there yet lay dormant within me unrevealed and
fertile germs of art.

Mary Stuart, by Schiller, translated into splendid
Italian verses by Andrea Maffei, was the last of my
most successful performances in Paris. This tragedy
was played alternately with Pia de> Tolomei, but I
cannot say that the latter excited as much enthusiasm
in the French public as Myrrha and Mary Stuart,
although I remember that it was successful in pro-
ducing a considerable impression ; for the adventures
of the unfortunate Sienese lady were so thrilling and
pitiful that they diverted the attention from the .more
emotional parts of the play. It was, however, re-
ceived with much interest by literary men, because
the subject is one immortalized by Dante, by whose
verses the tragedy is inspired.

Our renowned tragic author, Carlo Marenco, has
certainly known how to raise the action in the last
act to the highest grade of sentiment, and so to
arrange that the most terrible final idea of the play
embraces in itself, in one grand emotion, all the
development of the subject.

The critics have been severe in analyzing the pre-
ceding acts, but there is no doubt that this last act



42 ADELAIDE RISTORL

was enough to be obliged to give the tribute of a tear

to her who said :

Ricordati di me, che son la Pia
Siena mi fe, disfecemi Maremma.

I made a special study of the death of Pia, in the
fifth act, as I desired to reproduce faithfully the
dying agony and the last gasps for life of a young
woman imprisoned by order of an unjustly cruel
husband, in the pestiferous Maremma Marshes.
This end caused me serious thought. But how to
represent upon the stage with perfect truth, in full
realism, as it would now be said, the mournful pict-
ure, of a slow agony, without having recourse to the
imagination ?

While thus irresolute, a really extraordinary chance
caused me to witness the last moments of a poor girl
who was dying of pernitiosa (violent malaria fever).
This afflicting scene made such a deep impression
upon my memory, that although I succeeded in faith-
fully reproducing that heart-rending close, identifying
myself, so to say, with the dying victim, I was de-
pressed at every representation with the vividness of
that painful remembrance.

At this point it might be said that the Italian drama
had entered into Parisian habits. The partisans of
Rachel were inconsolable. The attacks against me
continued incessantly. It was then, to my great sur-
prise, that I one day received from some of them an
invitation to supper where I was at last to meet the
great artist in the house of a literary man a bachelor.
My husband, after having read the list of guests, did
not think himself justified in allowing me to accept



FIRST JOURNEY TO FRANCE. 43

the invitation given in this way. We found a plausi-
ble pretext for excusing ourselves.

Time went on, and I was no longer thinking of the
possibility of a meeting with Rachel, when one
morning Mdme. Ode, the famous dressmaker of the
Empress Eugenie, was announced to me. She had
to speak to me on a subject of importance. I fancied
it was about some dresses of mine, but she said
immediately :

"You know, certainly, how much Mile. Rachel
has been hurt by the attacks of which she is the
victim, and to which you served as a pretext. But
you do not know, perhaps, that there has been an
attempt to embitter her against you by reporting that
you did not speak of her with the consideration which
she rightly believes her due."

"It is not true ! " I answered sharply, " and I hope
Mile. Rachel has not given any more credence to
those mischievous insinuations than I did when I
heard reported some very unkind criticisms she was
said to have uttered about me ! I went to hear her
in the Horatii, and I expressed all the enthusiasm
she aroused in me. I commissioned some intimate
friends to make known to her my admiration, as well
as my keen desire to meet her ; but all their attempts
to bring us together were fruitless. Let us say no
more about it."

"And if I were to tell you, Madame, that Mile.
Rachel has made known to me her wish to see you ? *

" If that is true, let her come to me, then, and I
will receive her as such a celebrity is entitled to be
received."



44 ADELAIDE RISTORL

But, as Mdme. Ode seemed not willing to take in
the sense of my proposal, but, on the contrary, made
me to understand that the first advances should come
from me, I thought it best to answer :

."I do not think I ought now to renew the expres-
sion of my desire to know her, which was communi-
cated to her by my friends on my arrival in Paris,
when I was most anxious to obtain the support of
the great actress in the serious undertaking I had
embarked in now it is too late ! "

" But, if Mile. Rachel were to send you a box to
hear, her, would you accept it ? "

" With delight ! and I would give up any engage-
ment I might have already, in order not to deprive
myself of such a treat."

So the next day I received a letter, enclosing a
box-ticket for the Comedie Fran9aise, on which was
written "A Madame Ristori, sa camarade Rachel"
a letter which I have carefully preserved.

I was in my place on the evening mentioned before
the play began. It was Phcedre. Not only was I
most anxious to see Rachel in this masterpiece of
Racine's, but it was also one of the favorite parts of
my own repertoire, and had been the object of most
serious study with me.

Although I perceived that the spectators were
interested in the manifestations of my approval, yet
I did not lavish it upon everything Rachel did. I
found her person statuesque, and her first entrance
on the stage magnificent, but the prostration she
showed seemed to me excessive ; all the more so
because she neglected to make clearly apparent how



FIRST JOURNEY TO FRANCE. 45

greatly this prostration was due only to moral depres-
sion, which disappears when its cause is removed,
allowing the physical powers to resume their full vigor.

Grand and powerful was the scene in the second
act with Hippolyte, in which she reveals her passion ;
but I found, contrary to her habitual acting, too much
realism in the impetuosity of its execution. In the
fourth act Rachel was really sublime, and the admi-
ration and irresistible emotions she excited in me
were so great that I was most powerfully moved, and
yet, hearty as was my applause, I felt it but half ex-
pressed the enthusiasm which possessed me. When
the curtain fell, in the fullness of my enthusiasm I
wrote hurriedly on one of my visiting cards a few
words, which I sent to Rachel in her dressing-room.
The sending of this card was the last intercourse I
ever had with her.

Towards the end of my stay in Paris, I received
repeated and most pressing offers to dedicate myself
exclusively to the French theatre, but nothing would
ever have induced me to renounce my Italian career.
To all such proposals I gave an unqualified refusal,
alleging, as a pretext, the great difficulty of acquiring
the necessary purity of language and perfection of
accent.

It was then that the minister, Fould, repeated a
similar request in the name of the Emperor, offering
me a year's sojourn in Paris at the expense of the
State, in order that I might qualify myself, under the
best masters, for occupying the post which Rachel
was going to leave free at the Comedie Fran9aise.
I hold firm in declining the honor offered me, not



46 ADELAIDE RISTORI.

without thanking the Minister, and adding that I
thought the great actress would not be able to do
without the applause of her 'public, and that this
would be always glad to see her again on the stage.
However, my refusal in no way prejudiced me with
M. Fould, who with much courtesy granted me the
favor I requested him, in allowing me for three con-
secutive years the use of the Salle Ventadour for the
purpose of giving a series of Italian dramatic repre-
sentations. Thus I not only had the great satisfaction
of succeeding in my original design, which was to
render our art esteemed in foreign countries, but I
went beyond it in opening up a new field for the
exercise of Italian artistic ability, not only in Europe,
but, as will afterwards be seen, in America as well,
where it did honor to our country.

It was with much regret that I left Paris, where I
had had the good fortune to become acquainted with
the men and women most celebrated in literature and


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Online LibraryAdelaide RistoriStudies and memoirs ; an autobiography → online text (page 3 of 21)