Adelaide Ristori.

Studies and memoirs ; an autobiography online

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art. I may especially mention Lamartine, George
Sand, Guizot, Mignet, Henri Martin, Ary Sheffler,
Halevy, Janin, Legouve, Scribe, Patin, Theophile
Gautier, Sarcey, Eduard Plouvier, Reigner, Samson,
Roqueplan, Theodore Anne, Mile. Georges, Madame
Allan, Augustine and Madeleine Brohan, besides
many others whom it would take too long to enumer-
ate. I had to say " Good-bye " to all these to bid
farewell to the excellent Alexandre Dumas, who used
to came to us daily, when we had the benefit of his
inexhaustible wit and humor. How many hours we
spent together ! It was indeed delightful to hear him
tell story after story with his prodigious eloquence.


He would tell us anecdotes of travel, and events in
his own life, reminiscences of past days which he has
scattered throughout his books. We were only too
charmed to listen to him, and took good care never
to interrupt him. It seems to me that I hear him
still when he related that, in the early days of his
admiration for me, one evening as he came out from
a representation of Myrrha, and was striding along
the Passage Choiseul, he met a great friend of his.

" What do you think of her? " he asked.

"Of whom?"

" Of Ristori. Have you not been at the theatre ? "

" I have never heard her. "

tl And are you not ashamed of yourself to say
so ? " And with this he crushed his friend with an
avalanche of eulogistic epithets upon me. " I will
never speak to you again if you do not go to see
her ! "

A few days after, meeting his friend again at the
corner of the Rue de Berlin, with his head still full
of the same subject

" Well, what play have you seen her in ? "

"Let me alone; one has not always six francs in
one's pocket, nor am I reduced to the condition of a
claqueur. "

" Then you would rather T lent you six francs ? "

" No, thank you. I will go when I can. "

"You can return me the money at your conven-

* But no, no, no."

Then Dumas, who would not let him alone, per-
sisted : " I am determined you shall go and see


Ristori." He drew his purse out of his pocket.
" Look here, " he said, " I shall lay the six francs
down here ; if you wont have them, the first comer
may. " And he laid the money on a street-bourne,
such as were still standing in Paris at that time.

"Do pray leave me in peace," replied the friend;
and both of them went away in opposite directions.

Meanwhile the six francs remained where Dumas
had placed them ; but the friend had hardly turned
the corner of the street when he stopped, saying to
himself, " But when all is said and done, six francs
are not a fortune. I can return them to him. And
if I leave the money there some one would be sure to
come by and say, * Some fool has placed this here ;
let me take it ; ' " and, supported by this logical con-
clusion, he turned back. To his intense surprise,
when he reached the spot he came upon Dumas face
to face, who in his turn had concluded that if his fool
of a friend would not have his money he had better
take it back himself. Thus meeting each other, th^y
burst into a fit of laughter, and the obstinate friend
promised that he would certainly come and see me.
Dumas always laughed immoderately when he related
this adventure, which he declared he would by and
by write under the title of The Two Millionaires.

Another day Dumas boasted at our house that he
could cook and season maccaroni alia Napoletana as
well as an Italian cook, and when he heard our ex-
clamations of incredulity he dared us to put his skill
to the test.

We were then living at the Hotel de Bade, Bou-
levard des Italiens, which was filled with foreigners.


The report spread in the hotel of what Dumas was
going to do. The windows were full of people
watching the author of the Trois Mousquetaires, ar-
rayed in white jacket and apron, a cook's cap to
match on his curly head, a saucepan in hand, and his
jovial face showing at the moment that he had quite
forgotten the triumphs obtained by the adventures of
Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, in his eagerness to
achieve successfully the dressing of a dish of mac-

With this pleasant reminiscence I conclude the
narrative of our first sojourn in France. I was heart-
ily sorry to leave this country after having received
there, I may venture to say, the baptism of fame.
The French had proved to me that for them there is
no foreign boundary in the domains of art, and I
shall ever preserve in the depths of my heart a sen-
timent of deep gratitude for the generous reception
they gave the stranger.

p\ \ *>".' r v cv , -f >







AFTERWARDS we went into Belgium, not without
having given some representations on the journey
through the north of France ; then we proceeded to
Dresden and Berlin, obtaining a great success every-

In November I returned to my own dear country,
and there finished my original contract, giving vari-
ous representations at Milan and Turin, and then
making a brief stay at Verona, Udine, and Trieste,
on my way to Vienna.

When they saw me again, the Italian public did
not know how to thank me sufficiently for having
rendered Italian art known and esteemed in foreign

I was invited to Vienna to give twelve perform-
ances at the Karnthnarthor, the old Imperial Theatre.

My first appearance in the Austrian capital took
place on the 4th February 1856. Alfieri's Myrrha
was my first performance, and I could not possibly
have wished for a more enthusiastic welcome than
that which I received from the Viennese public.

The theatre was crowded at every one of my per-
formances, and I was frequently honored by the
presence of the Court. In preparing for the first
representation of Mary Stuart I experienced the

' '(5)


greatest agitation, for I knew what comparisons I
had to sustain, and what publicity and importance
attached to that evening. My nerves were shaken,
and a certain agitation took possession of me.

At my customary hour I repaired to the theatre,
and went to my dressing-room in the perfect posses-
sion of all my usual health, and with scarcely con-
cealed nervousness I began to dress. The excessive
heat of the stoves, of which the theatre was full,
began to tell upon me ; the blood mounted to my
head, and affected my voice. My heart beat fast in
fear of some serious consequences ; by degrees my
voice grew husky until I almost lost it entirely ! I
was in despair ! Without hesitation or reflection I
threw up the window, which looked upon a bastion
of the city, and heedless of the cold usual to the
season it was now the iyth of February or of the
possible evil consequences such an imprudence might
entail upon me, I unfastened the body of my dress
and I exposed myself to that icy temperature, hoping
that the reaction it would produce within me would
be sufficient to restore my voice and enable me to
undertake my part in the tragedy.

The doctor, surprising me at the window, asked
me if I had lost my senses.

" My voice, Doctor ! " I cried. " For mercy's sake
give me back my voice ! "

He replied that if I had the courage to use a very
strong gargle which had been employed advanta-
geously in similar cases by famous vocalists, he could
restore me at least as much voice as would enable
me to go through the play.


" Give me poison if it will do any good ! " I cried.
I knew that the remedy suggested was not poison,
but it did taste quite bad enough to have been such.

I did not, indeed, fully recover my voice, but an
announcement was made to the audience, asking
them to excuse any deficiency on my part in the
representation of Mary Stuart, and I was more suc-
cessful than I could have hoped.

This anecdote will serve to show how great was
my consideration for the public, and what a strong
hold the feeling of duty had upon me.

Indeed, I cannot describe the influence the public
exercised over me. Since childhood, a sentiment of
mingled respect and awe towards my audience had
been inculcated in me, and the feeling had grown
with my growth. I made it a special study, there-
fore, to allow no unforeseen circumstances to discon-
cert me, so that the public should not be disap-
pointed on account of the performance not being
as good as we could make it. And I was called
upon to put one of these fundamental maxims
into use, on one of the evenings when I appeared as
yudith in the Biblical tragedy written expressly for
me by my friend and favorite author, the lamented
Paolo Giacometti.

In the culminating scene of the play, when I have
cut off the head of Holophernes, his favorite slave,
Azraele, discovering the murder of her lover, hurls
herself in her fury upon me, and I seize hold of her
and throw her to the ground, thus terminating the
act with great effect. A very short time before she
ought to have made her entry, they informed me from


the wings, with much perturbation, that the actress
had been seized with convulsions, and would not be
able to finish the act. I replied in an instant, " One
of you put on her dress, throw a veil over your head,
and come to me." My order was obeyed with the
rapidity of lightning ; but the poor girl who assumed
the part did not know how to move, nor how to speak,
as she had no idea of the words she ought to say !

But I was not dismayed. I induced her to advance
towards me as though to kill me, when I seized her,
and there and then extemporised a kind of little
dialogue. May I be forgiven those verses ! The
public never noticed the little ruse, and they were
not disappointed, and the result was completely suc-

In my performances of Medea, I was frequently
obliged to meet an unforeseen emergency, and show
presence of mind. Often when travelling in foreign
countries having only to give one representation of
Medea and having one single child available in the
company, the second, who had not to speak, had to
be provided by the property-man. Generally I had
to instruct him by gestures, as we did not understand
one another. Once it happened that one of these
poor little wretches, not being accustomed to the
stage, grew frightened from the moment I appeared
on the mountain carrying him in my arms. When he
heard the applause with which I was received, and
saw for the first time the foot-lights and the crowded
pit, he began to cry and struggle, and endeavor to
escape from my hold. I had to make a great effort
to keep my head cool enough to commence my own


part and prevent myself falling down the mountain,
while at the same time I tried to make my prisoner
understand by my caresses that he had nothing to
fear from me, and that somewhat quieted him. Fre-
quently his mother, or sister, or father was obliged to
stand all the time at the wings making signs, and
whispering comforting words in order to assure him
he was in no danger.

But a worse thing than this once happened to me,
at the end of the tragedy, at the most thrilling point,
when, assailed by the Corinthians, I fled desperately
across the stage, dragging my children with me by
either hand, mingling my screams with those of the
populace, and ending by throwing the two little ones
on the steps of the altar of Saturn, where I feigned
to kill them. While concealing them by my person
I remained immovable as a statue one of the mur-
dered youngsters began to howl, and in its fright
suddenly got up and ran behind the scenes before I
could do anything to prevent him. And just to think
that the public was to imagine that I had murdered
him ! Although the audience was deeply impressed
by the tragic action of this scene, yet it was impossi-
ble to avoid a hearty laugh at the sight of the dead
child running away.

In April, 1856, I returned to Paris. As had been
arranged the year before with M. Legouve, steps
were taken at once to put Medea on the stage as
quickly as possible. In the analytical study of this
tragedy one of six which I have chosen from my
repertoire, and which follows in the second part of
this volume the reader will find a minute account of


the circumstances which led to my acceptance of the
part, and of the events which preceded the appearance
of the work, and the gratifying result of our labors
on the night of the 8th April.

Medea ran for nineteen evenings, and it might
have gone on for a greater number, if I had not been
obliged to alternate it with those dramas in which I
had appeared the year before.

From Paris we went to London. I gave my first
performance in the elegant Lyceum Theatre on the
4th June, 1856, selecting Medea as the opening piece.
The English public were so greatly prejudiced in my
favor by the French, German, and Belgian newspa-
pers, that they gave me the warmest welcome, and
came in crowds to hear me, showing me the most
flattering signs of sympathy and esteem.

Many of the most distinguished literary men in
England were surprised that I had not added Macbeth
in my opinion the greatest work of Shakespeare
to my repertoire. I urged that a foreign, travelling
company, could not undertake such a play, because
of the want of scenery, and of the necessary number
of actors. I was answered that in England, at that
period, it was often found necessary to adapt such
works, not only to the capacity and numbers of the
actors, but also to the state and requirements of the
audience, who were not able to criticise justly the
times, the places, and the conditions under which
Shakespeare's dramatic genius was developed.

I objected to this, as it seemed to me a sacrilege
to adapt and mutilate the work of the greatest English
poet. We Italians would not venture to touch a
single line of our classics.


They assured me that it was done without scruple,
in order to render it comprehensible to all intelli-
gences. To say the truth, their argument was not
illogical, and finally, as they proposed to assume the
onus of the undertaking, I accepted, and on my
return to London, in June, 1857, Macbeth, arranged
and adapted for my company by Mr. Clark, was pro-
duced at Covent Garden. The capital Italian trans-
lation was by Giulio Carcano. Mr. Harris put it on
the stage according to English traditions. The part
of Lady Macbeth, which afterwards became one of
my especial favorites, occupied me greatly, for I
knew that serious comparisons would be drawn.

The remembrance of the marvellous representation
of Lady Macbeth by Mrs. Siddons, and the tradi-
tional criticisms of the press, would, as it seemed to
me, be certain to render the public very severe and
hard to please. However, I devoted all my skill
and knowledge to discovering and elucidating the
exact meaning of the author, and it appeared to the
English that I succeeded in identifying myself with
this type of perfidy and crafty cunning, far beyond
their expectations.

The drama was repeated several evenings, produc-
ing a deep impression on the audience, especially in
the great sleep-walking scene. So fully, indeed, did
I enter into the spirit of the part, that during the
whole of the act my pupils remained immovable in
their sockets, until the tears came into my eyes.
And it is from this forced immobility that I date the
commencement of my weakened eye-sight.

What it cost me to discover the proper intonation


of voice, the true expression of face, in this culminat-
ing scene, and, indeed, I may say, throughout my
interpretation of this diabolical personage's charac-
ter, I have told in one of the analytical studies
already mentioned, and which will follow hereafter.

I went to Warsaw for the first time in November
1856. I may say that my acting in that city was
most brilliantly successful ; but justice requires me
to add that this result was facilitated by the remarka-
ble appreciation shown me, on my first appearance,
by the elegant and courteous ladies of the Polish
society. I was made the object of endless and deli-
cate attentions, and especially on the part of the
Governor, Prince Gortschakoff, and the Princess his
wife ; and this hearty welcome induced me to return
thither in the following year.

In the beginning of 1859 I went for the first time
to Naples in order to perform at the Fondo, the very
elegant royal theatre, and on the evening of the i4th
January, I commenced a short series of representa-
tions with Medea. How kindly and enthusiastic I
found my audience it is more easy to imagine than
describe. Little by little there grew up between us
that wonderful magnetic current of sympathy which
always nerved me to double my efforts to deserve
their favor.

It was with much difficulty that I obtained the
necessary permission from the Bourbon Censor to
play the Phczdra of Racine. I was certain that how-
ever much mutilated, there would be still quite
enough beauty enshrined in the work to produce a
very great impression and ensure its success. But


the result surpassed my expectation. In the short
space of fifteen performances, I was constrained to
repeat Phcedra five times, an unusual event at that
date. The last of these was destined for my benefit,
and on the morning in question there was not a
place to be had in the theatre. For want of a suffi-
cient number of boxes many ladies of high rank had
to be content with stalls. A cantata was specially
composed in my honor, and I might have been in a
garden, so great was the quantity of flowers showered
upon me. The reader may judge how such an ova-
tion was likely to excite me, and what an impulse it
would give to the inspiration of the artiste. But
with all my pleasant remembrances of tjie occasion
is associated one anything but delightful.

During the magnificent scene in the fourth act,
when her fit of jealous fury causes Phaedra to fall
into a state almost amounting to delirium, I so lost
myself in. my part, that instead of starting back, cry-
ing, " Even in martyrs the soul lives ! " I advanced
unconsciously towards the foot-lights and fell on
them. The audience rose with a loud cry; and
I should probably have been badly burnt had 'it not
been for the presence of mind of a young gentleman
who occupied a seat close to the stage. He, seeing
that the actress who played the part of the confidante,
Enone, remained stupidly immovable from terror,
gave me a sharp push backwards, thus saving me
from a terrible accident. But his efforts did not
entirely succeed in averting all the bad consequences
of my fall. The elbow of my right arm broke one
of the glasses covering the foot-lights, and when I


regained my feet I saw that I had sustained a serious
wound. Much worse might have happened to me
however. If the theatre had been lighted with gas
instead of oil as it was before my arrival in Naples
the gas having been suppressed in every public
building in consequence of an explosion which had
occurred in a man-of-war, and which was suspected
of being the result of some political plot I should
probably have been burnt to death.
. The stage was immediately invaded by a crowd
anxious to know how I was. Among the first was
the Count Siracusa, brother of the King Iferdinand,
bringing the Court doctor. When my arm was dress-
ed the'y began to say that I owed that deplorable
accident to the presence in the theatre of a celebrated
jettatore. Count Siracusa, who also believed in the
evil-eyed, unfastened from his breloques a falcon's
claw set in gold, and gave it to me, saying : " I killed
this bird myself ; wear it in future against the evil-
eye." I have always kept this little keepsake.

I was taken to my hotel, and during two months
I carried my arm in a sling. This, however, did not
prevent me from fulfilling my engagements, and I
acted with my bandaged arm, taking care to moder-
ate the energy of my movements. After a short time
it healed entirely, but I still retain traces of the un-
fortunate accident in a large scar on my arm.

I went to Madrid the same year to give a series of
performances in the theatre of the Zarzuela, and
commenced on the i6th of September with Legouve's
Medea. The theatre was crammed, and the recep-
tion given to me was very enthusiastic. We gave


our usual series of performances, and the success
was greater and greater every night. Queen Isabella
came to the theatre every night.

On the 2ist I had to repeat Medea. I shall never
forget that evening, marked by an event which left
an indelible remembrance in my heart.

I went to the theatre at my usual hour. The
actors' dressing-rooms opened out of a most beauti-
ful sitting-room, and here I remained while my maid
prepared my costume, talking, with my companions
and some habitues, over the many magnificent and
interesting historical things we had seen during the
last few days, and discussing the traditional customs
of that superb country, which greatly surprise those
who make acquaintance with them for the first time.

" For instance," said I, " what was the meaning
of that little fell which was rung along the street to-
day by one of the members of a confraternity ? "

I was answered that it was to collect alms for the
soul of a man condemned to death, by name Nich-
olas Chapado, whose sentence was to be carried into
effect next day. The unhappy creature was a soldier,
who, in a fit of anger, had drawn his sword against
his sergeant in revenge for a blow the latter had given
him. Besides, I was told that his poor sister igno-
rant of what had happened being by chance in a
shop hard by, seeing the brother of the company of
San Giovanni decollate, who collected the alms, in-
quired who it was that was to be shot. When she heard
her brother's name she fell to the ground in a swoon.

This history touched me to the heart.

"My God!" I exclaimed, "while we are here full


of gayety. and expecting applause and success, that
miserable man is counting the moments he has yet
to live ! "

I tried in vain to forget this gloomy picture, while I
was obliged to think of my costume.

Soon afterwards two people asked to, speak with
me. My husband told them that I was dressing,
and, therefore, it was impossible to see me. When
they found persistence was useless, they told my hus-
band that their business was about poor Chapado,
whose life they were trying to save. My husband
came to me, saying :

." Do you know there is a man condemned to death
to-morrow ? "

"Yes/ 5 I answered.

"Well, these people think his life is in your hands."

I changed color, and in much agitation I asked
him if he was in earnest.

"Quite," he said. "A deputation came to tell me
so just now. It will return in a few minutes. The
unfortunate soldier is an excellent youth; he can
point to a career of eleven years of irreproachable
conduct in his favor. He was the victim of a sudden
fit of passion, for his sergeant, who hated him, struck
him unjustly in the presence of his companions.
Chapado only put his hand to the hilt of his sword,
but that was enough for him to be condemned to
death. The life of this man depends on the Queen.
They say that she is very fond of you, and if you ask
her to grant you his life, she will not refuse, although
she has already declined to see a deputation of


"The Queen will think me a mad-woman if I make
any such request ! " I answered in the greatest dis-
may. "How should I be any more successful than
those who have already supplicated in vain ? No, I
should never dare ! never."

Just then the friends of the condemned man
returned, and repeated all that I already knew. I
was overcome, and could not say a single word, so
great was my agitation at the idea that they were
depending on my intercession. At last, however, I
promised to try. But then, suddenly I found myself
face to face with a difficulty. General Narvaez, Duke
of Valencia, and President of the Council of Minis-
ters, was generally hated for his excessive severity
and harshness, and in consequence of this I was
advised to make my application direct to the Queen,
without any intermediary.

" No," I answered, " I am acquainted with the
General, and have found him to be a frank, amiable,
true, and distinguished man ; I shall address myself
directly to him in the first instance, as I should not
take such a step without first informing him. I have
always striven to keep the straight path, and have

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Online LibraryAdelaide RistoriStudies and memoirs ; an autobiography → online text (page 4 of 21)