A glide in aesthetics.-The scenic apparatus.-In Aachen.-A thought to Gustavo Modena.-Institution to be copied.-Sara Bernhardt.-Photographic memories.-The poetic trinity of the nineteenth century.
To praise or criticize Hernani as a work of art, after forty-eight years of life and universal fame, would seem to me to be a vain work, save in the case of a particular study expressly done, or of a course in dramatic aesthetics. I do not feel like dictating the course, nor doing the study; moreover, the fear of going back to the readers begins to enter me, with certain stops too frequent to the sanctuaries of art. And I would not want to blame these, for they, in my soul, represent all the usefulness, little or much, of the Parisian epistolary to which I have condemned you.
At the court, why do you travel, if not to see and study? And why do we write about travel, if not to give an account to the people of what has been seen and studied? Here are too many things, not to be studied intimately, to be seen running. But since some of them I have had to say horns, and perhaps I will remain of the other to be criticized, I allow myself the pleasure of observing what deserves praise longer. Paris is a world (the Guides make it say, if I’m not mistaken, to Carlo Quinto); and just like the world, it has its beauty and its ugly, its marshes and its hills. This time I find myself on the top of a hill; let me stand on the summit; if not, ricasco, do you know where? in the Folies Bergères .
So, let’s get back to bomb, because bomb goes. I was at the French Theater, I attended the centième de Hernani and I speak of it as a show that made me a great sense. I do not have to defend the warp of the drama, nor to palliate certain imperfections, nor to mitigate the beautiful defects of the author’s youth. I feel in the Hernanithe heat of the passion, I see the greatness of knightly doing, just of the country and of the time in which the action is placed, together with that variety of character that is all of the sixteenth century, a century that had the most ardent lovers, the more subtle politicians, the most ferocious haters in the world. The lines of the composition will perhaps be a little loaded; but we must not forget that a certain exaggeration of forms is also necessary for statues, and in general for all the monuments that should not be considered closely. It is an honest license in art to enlarge those parts that have to hit more, give character to the whole. Here too, it is a question of measurement; but, if we apply these rules to Hernani, we will find that the author has not abused the license. His drama is all human, even with the proportions of the colossus; his characters have in themselves all the variety and mixture of virtue and weakness, which are the property of the human soul. Do not ask them for too strict an observance of Horace ‘s ” sibi constet “. Here are three men, in different conditions, moved by the same sentiment, around Donna Sol. Why do you not admit the difference between them, and within them the inequality, which is necessarily brought about by their respective conditions? They are all men in love, but internally fought, Ernani from his rage of bandit, Ruy Gomez de Silva from his highness as a castellan, Charles V from his king’s captains and his ambitions as a proud emperor .
I realize I slip into aesthetics, and I point. The drama of Victor Hugo is staged, at the French Theater, with a pomp, which we barely use in dances. I know of the melancholy moods, to which this scenic apparatus is displeasing in the dramas, such as that which diverts the attention of the audience and harms the full understanding of the work. These, without realizing it, go after some critic, who was at first a dramatic author and did not have too much the so-called lenocinii of the stage to save him from a bad figure. For me, I hold a different opinion; I do not mean why an author should be drilling his brain to represent the real best he can, if he does not then have to admire it on the scene, as he saw it in his mind. Add that, where the poet imagined a great picture, the magnificence of his thought will appear to be greatness and will move to laughter, when they are not worthily accompanied by their accessories. Imagine Charles V in the basement of the cathedral of Aachen, near the tomb of Charlemagne; let the cannon have drawn the two blows that announce to the king of Spain his elevation to the imperial dignity; and then let in, if it gives you the spirit, two kings, meanly clothed, with half a dozen beggars to the ribs, who come to pay their respects to the new monarch. We will laugh at that sight; the more the speeches will be raised, the more homeric will be the laughter of the public. let the cannon have drawn the two blows that announce to the king of Spain his elevation to the imperial dignity; and then let in, if it gives you the spirit, two kings, meanly clothed, with half a dozen beggars to the ribs, who come to pay their respects to the new monarch. We will laugh at that sight; the more the speeches will be raised, the more homeric will be the laughter of the public. let the cannon have drawn the two blows that announce to the king of Spain his elevation to the imperial dignity; and then let in, if it gives you the spirit, two kings, meanly clothed, with half a dozen beggars to the ribs, who come to pay their respects to the new monarch. We will laugh at that sight; the more the speeches will be raised, the more homeric will be the laughter of the public.
At the French Theater, in the famous scene of the underground of Aachen, two kings enter, dressed as kings and accompanied by kings, with their trumpeters, heralds, standard-bearers, pages, knights and soldiers; a group worthy of the announcement that it brings and of the man who receives it. Of the principal artists’ clothing we could talk for a long time, without praising it enough. There is Carlo V, among others, who seems to him, just him, marked by a painting by Titian; better yet, released even before the hands of the tailor of SM Cattolica.
Because I mentioned Charles V, I will start with the artist who supports the part. The Worms is an intelligent and conscientious actor, full of severe elegance in his bearing and gesture. Remarkable the haughty impertinence of the young king in the apartment of Donna Sol, his proud coolness in the nocturnal meeting with Ernani, his overbearing pride in the reception room of the castle of the Silva, the passage of his character to a solemn gravity, almost an imperial greatness, near the tomb of Charlemagne. I said almost, and thoughtfully. Because Worms did not exaggerate the figure of Charles V; he made him perform a great action, but how he had to do it, with a good deal of calculation; and his execution was the best comment of that character, as he had thought, but could not confess, the poet.
So I mean the artist; and the Worms, which is so full of it, I loved it from the beginning, even in those inflections of his voice, so aristocratically mocking, with which he certainly intended to fulfill his character. There is a point (of the third act, I think) in which he must say to Ruy Gomez: adieu, duc! We need to hear how he says it to him; how much yeast of malumore in that his drawn accent, that leads him to pronounce the sentence as if it were written in this other form: adieue …. deuc!
Del Mounet-Sully, who plays Ernani, tells me that this is his battle-horse; and I believe it easily. It is young, with vigorous limbs, which do not exclude elegance; she has wide and beautiful features, black eyes and open, her hair as thick as a leonine jacket. All impetus in the gesture and in the voice, now gurgles, like a torrent among the stones (and then you do not understand a syllable anymore) now it widens, but for a short while, in a sound river. I understand that Ernani’s part, an excited and almost feverish part, to be attached to the good, how a small enemy would be attacked, be made better than any other for him, and that his own faults may give him more truthful imprint in that juvenile disfigurement of noble insalvatichito, which is the character of Don Giovanni d’Aragona.
The comparisons between this first actor and several of our Italians would perhaps come back to his detriment. I leave Gustavo Modena, that divine artist, who did everything well, entering, so to speak, into the skin of his characters; forcefully contained in the Citizen of Ghent , grim in Philip , cruel and bigoted in Louis XI , terrible in Sampiero , epic in Saul, and always and for everything he wanted to be, not a line less, or more. At the height of Modena it had never come, and perhaps no one will come. But the comparison will not be possible even with the two great students of Modena, I mean with Rossi and Salvini, too fed by the marrow of the lion, too full of examples and precepts of a master. On the other hand, he is pleased with his first actor’s France, who will have to succeed in fame at Lemaître and Bocage; in Mounet-Sully there is a great artist’s fabric; I noticed in him certain impulses and certain violence, which no one has anymore (at least, so natural) in Italy. It will come the day that France will get the primacy even in the art of Roscio, if no young man from us will prove worthy to take the place of the few valenti we have, especially for the drama. Also for this respect, a period of decline begins in Italy. Our young artists, the drama, recite it well, but they do not hear it anymore.
What is particularly pleasing at the French Theater is the excellent ensemble of many actors, accustomed to acting together, such as the great drama and tragedy, such as ancient and modern comedy. There is an agreement in them, a mixture, a fusion, an art of chiaroscuro, which makes one think of the best-orchestrated orchestras in Italy. Too bad we do not have, in Rome, anything that resembles the establishment of the French Theater! Yet, it will be necessary to think about it, who does not want to believe and make believe that the culture of a country is all in the cold and forgettable school teaching.
I left last two artists, but I will not remain in the pen. One is the Maubant, which is admired for correct acting in the part of Ruy Gomez de Silva, but perhaps it is not completely in place. He has a noble father, rather than a tyrant; It is fat, too, and, although marked by nobility in deeds and accents, it manages slightly out of tune, in the guise of that bilious castellan, to whom love, like a generous wine in a bad barrel (pass me the vulgar comparison ), has been inacetito in the heart. By contrast, Sarah Bernhardt … But here it would take a hymn, a paean, a centuries-old song; and I, even when I had been feeling for so long, I would always be afraid to say that it was exaggerated. Actresses more actresses of her, that is to say more experienced in the great effects of the scene, in the dampings and reinforcements of the voice, or of the gesture they have all the nations of Europe up and down; but a more intimately true artist, more frankly a woman of her, I do not think she exists. Even its silences are wonderful. There is one, very long and very dangerous, in the first act of theHernani; when poor Donna Sol is caught in her apartment, by Ruy Gomez and a swarm of servants, in the company of two strangers. All eyes are on her; meanwhile Ruy Gomez pulls out all his Castilian haughtiness, to make an intemperate with the bows. And she, meanwhile? Many actresses here would have fallen under the mediocre; others would have faced the danger and made Donna Sol an audacious woman, as there are so many in the ancient tragedies, which are not found clumsy anywhere and are not afraid of anything. Sara Bernhardt has found a way to be ashamed with nobility; to stay at the sedan without boldness, without loss of spirit, to know what owes to the presence of his uncle and the king, without forgetting Ernani and the danger that he runs in there for her: all this with a measure,
Sarah Bernhardt is made for the scene; slender of the person and all nerves; the eyes of an uncommon mobility and depth; harmonic the voice, although not very strong; the attitudes, the gestures, the motions all of the person, marked by natural elegance. It is a woman, I repeat, in all the artistic extension of the word. Where the others easily strafanno, and almost no men appear for exuberance of life and ardor, she conserves her admirable feminine instincts. I am sorry to leave Paris, without seeing her and hearing her in some other part of her repertoire; but I have the certainty that she is very good at all. One of our Italians, whom France has adopted, the Parodi, is still all inclusive of admiration for the way in which theRome Vaincue , powerful drama, which will soon have brothers, and worthy of him.
Bernheim Jeune, marchand de tableaux and curiosities on the boulevard of Montmartre, sells portraits of Sara Bernhardt in all attitudes and fashion. They are the most expensive portraits of the shop, and yet they are like pepper. There is no forastiero in Paris, who, after being at the French Theater, does not want to take Sarah Bernhardt away, at least in photography. And a portrait is not enough. Del Thiers, Gambetta, Emilio Zola, Ottavio Feuillet and so on, a copy, and no more; Sarah Bernhardt four, five, six, maybe ten, spending about twenty lire.
On these pieces of cardboard the kind actress is portrayed as a painter, who gives the last brushstroke to a painting; or sculptor, who meditates, leaning on the perch that supports a bust of a woman, who is perhaps missing the last hand. Sarah Bernhardt is a painter and sculptor; I do not know what value in art, because I have not seen anything of his. With a good license of the sculptor and painter, I prefer Donna Sol, with her brocade dress, which climbs up to the root of her neck, drawing her slender forms, with her arms abandoned, her hands intertwined on her knees, her head resting on the espalier of a gothic high chair, eyes half-veiled by long eyelashes. In front of that elegant person are renewed in one all the feelings that the valiant artist made me try, two weeks ago, tocentième de Hernani .
And then I think of that glorious old man whose genius inspires such powerful artists; to that very high poet that everyone must envy to France, because, whether he wants it or not, he is the first living poet in Europe, and he will be, with Byron and Goethe, one of the first three poets of the century.