Friday 9 January 2009

Madame Riccoboni

During the spectacle, from which my eyes never moved, Marie-Thérèse stood next to me and watched, or sometimes left me to fuss with her sister, but always returned to my side. When the Sylphide flew into the air with an unhappy creditor in tow, I stared at Marie Therese with my mouth open. She nodded, and pointed out the thin ropes that carried them both soaring and dipping into the air. I thought Eraste was a bit silly and plump, for I recognized M. Riccoboni under his pink makeup. But I was convinced the Sylphide was truly in love with him, for her eyes never left his face even when another player moved to the center of the stage to perform. She was not the Sylphide I had seen earlier, and I searched in vain among the dancers in the final scene for that lovely figure. I looked also for M. Biancolelli, but his wide eyes and round face were nowhere to be seen. Arlequin and the Gnomide seemed more like a quarrelling couple than a pair of lovers, and she delivered the lines about strangling the pretty little man with such pleasure, and seemed disappointed when Arlequin stopped resisting and took her hand in the end.

At some point toward the end of the performance, Marie-Thérèse's hand had slipped into mine, or else unthinking I seized hers. But they were clasped together by the end of the vaudeville, and we did not release each other until the players returned to the stage and Madame Riccoboni, who had watched the entire production from a chair placed in the middle of the parterre below us, stood up and began to address them.

"Messieurs Biancolelli and Romagnesi, are you there, or have you abandoned your production already?"

Marie-Thérèse's father and another man hurried on stage and gave a polite bow to the woman.

"You have grown dull with age. Or you have lapsed into a second childhood that has softened your sensuality into coarseness. Antoine-Francois!"

Monsieur Riccoboni stepped forward, his cap in his hand. "Yes, Maman?"

"Are you playing a Lover or a Pantaloon? Don't cringe, where is your delicacy? And your rhymes are atrocious, where is the scenario? Someone bring that to me."

M. Biancolelli leapt off the stage and approached Mme. Riccoboni with a face like a hound. She took the sheaf of papers without looking at him, for she was already addressing other members of the company. "Maria! Wipe that stupid expression from your face, girl. You are in the title role. I advise you to start acting like a lead player and stop staring at my son like a dancer in the corps."

"But Madame, la Sylphide is in love with Eraste..."

"Idiot! La Sylphide is what every man will be coming here to see, but she won't keep any culones in seats if she is an infatuated donnicciola. I advise you start acting for them if you want to remain with this company. Vicentini!"

The Prosecutor bowed with an old fashioned flourish.

"Caro amico, can you help Antoine-Francois with his verses? He struggles so much more than his father did. And don't think I can't hear you chortling in the back, Monsieur Bissoni. Have you this month's accounts ready? How much is this farce going to cost us?"

One of the creditors, still dressed in his wide collar and black gown, held up four fingers. Apparently the answer was satisfactory to Mme. Riccoboni because she returned to her chair and sat down. M. Biancolelli opened a door and the house flooded with light. Mme. Riccoboni studied the scenario. The cast shuffled and murmered, waiting to be dismissed. Marie-Thérèse waved to her father who shook his head at her: not now!

"Well, M. Biancolelli, you are no Marivaux and barely hold a light to Corneille, but I suppose it will have to do. The divertisment went on a little long, didn't it?"

"We can shorten it, Madame."

"Do so. I have bad news for you. I'm afraid your Sylphide will have a competitor."

M. Riccoboni looked nervously at Maria, who was still shaking after her lashing from his mother.

"Fagan and Panard have been saying they propose a production of their own, a parody, called The Supposed Sylph, in Foire Saint-Laurent. So you are on your own now. Luigi and I have retired, and you cannot count on us to rescue you every time you fall on your faces. What will become of this troupe, I just cannot imagine." And Madame Riccoboni sighed a long, theatrical sigh not unlike those that the Sylphide had been making over Eraste on stage earlier, then turned her back and left.


Osprey said...

A formidable woman.

Young Geoffrion said...

Aye, but a foolish one who thought herself a savante, and Giacomo Casanova renders her flaws with gusto in his memoirs. But his father Gaetano Casanova, himself a player, ran away with her when he was nineteen, for she was very beautiful, always.

Enjah Mysterio said...

Reminds me of a certain directrix of my acquaintance ... *sentence trails off as the speaker begins to stammer*

Anonymous said...

ye gods, she is hard!

Young Geoffrion said...

Enjah, I trust you do not refer to anyone of mutual acquaintance! HBA, if she were hard I would have been banished from the theatre, but she was as sharp as tacks!

Anonymous said...

True, true... exacting may be a better word than hard :)

Enjah: Who do you mean? I wish to distance myself from your comment lest I get another telling off. Not that I would because you don't mean anyone. So I've got nothing to distance myself from. But I am. For no reason. Move along now.