Monday 24 September 2007

A l'Italienne

Salazar did me the great kindness of placing Antoine Watteau's painting of my friends in the Comédie-Italienne upon the wall backstage at Phobos. I should like to tell you more about them, though it is a long story and there is more to tell than will fit in this post.

Luigi Riccoboni (dit Lélio), the founder and guiding spirit of the troupe, returned to France with the patronage of the Regent, the Duke of Orléans, was a consummate performer and scholar, creater of many books on the Italian Comedy and, in concert with Pier Francesco Biancolelli and Jean-Antoine Romagnesi, the author of many fine spectacles. His wife Hélène Virginie Balletti was a sweet, caring woman who deeply loved her life on and back of stage, where she played under the name of Flaminia. Their son Antoine-Francois no sooner debuted than Luigi decided to retire in 1729 and the family followed him, but wife and son were back on the boards a few years later. Hélène-Virginie's younger brother Mario was our second lover (after Lélio). Pierre Alborghetti, who remained thin and supple to his dying day, played Pantalone, the miser, and his best friend Fabio Materazzi (Il Dottore), who at 72 was still a bachelor, nobly saved his widow from a miserable life alone. Vicentini, known as Thomassin, was one of history's greatest Arlequins, and I cannot think of him without seeing his lithe figure in black mask a-capering about the boards. He was married to Marguerite Rusca. Then there was the couple you see in back of the painting, our lovely chanteurs Fabio Sticotti and his young wife-to-be Ursula Astori. These were the adults who formed me, providing all the education and love a parentless child might want. They played the comédie de buffons, the commedia dell'arte, sang opera, performed Molière, Racine, Corneille and Shakespeare, tumbled and flew on the wire, imitated every person of quality in their own voice, no matter their origin. Together they spoke Italian, beautiful French (except Riccoboni who was incorrigibly Milanese), English, Prussian and Bavarian, and a little Polish and Spanish. This portrait barely captures their genius, which was improvisation, to which they added gentle satire, imparting always the great joy they took in their roles, and the ability to charm each of their audience into a passionate devotion.
My friends at TSMGO - in their wit and readiness to try anything - recall to life these men and women who passed on to Cytheria so many years ago.

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