Monday, May 26, 2014
Eleonora Giulia Amalia Duse (October 3, 1858-April 21, 1924)
She was superb in Ghosts, and in The Lady from the Sea she was perfection. There is none like her, none!’ Dame Ellen Terry speaking on her friend Eleonora Duse, A Strange Eventful History: The Dramatic Lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and their remarkable families by Michael Holyroyd, Chatto & Windus, Great Britain, 2008
“Duse created characters with simplicity-no gesticulating or declaiming. Small and unprepossessing, she had a soft voice but played tortured and betrayed women.” Oscar Wilde speaking about Eleonora Duse, Oscar Wilde: A Certain Genius by Barbara Belford, Random House, 2000
Eleonora was born to a traveling troupe of Italian actors called, the Duse-Lagunaz troupe including her parents Alessandro and Angelica Duse who found a room at the Inn of the Golden Cannon where she was born at two in the morning on Sunday, October 3, 1858. Although, her father, Alessandro longed to be a painter he didn’t pursue that lifestyle; instead, marrying Angelica who was already acting with the troupe throughout Vigevano, Lombardy, Italy. Their first child, a son, died in childbirth leaving Angelica with an ache that never healed. She was very protective of young Eleonora and knew instantly that her daughter had the talent to become an actress. She recognized that spark and told her daughter she was meant to become a great actress one day!
Eleonora Duse in Venice, Italy, 1894. Guiseppe Primoli photograph
Duse created her own company with actor, Flavio Ando, named compagnia della Citta di Roma. She had an affair with Arrigio Boito, a playwright. She and her daughter lived in Venice and over the years, she gained much recognition and was making a lot of money for the time. By 1892, she toured in major cities, such as New York and London. She met Gabriele d’Annunzio a poet and playwright in 1895 where she would perform one of her most well known roles as ‘La Citta morta’ The Dead City. When they broke up, he wrote a scandalous account of their relationship called The Flame il fuoco causing a great scandal. This did not affect her acting in any way although, it did start a rivalry with actress Sarah Bernhardt. In 1909 Duse retired. She was 46 and wanted to focus on her health and her daughter.
During her retirement she took time off to co-write and star in a silent Italian film, ‘Cenere’ (Ashes) by Febo Mari in 1916. She played Rosario Derios an unmarried woman in a small village whose lover abandons her before the birth of their son. She gives full possession of her son to her one time lover believing she will not be able to take care of him. She gives the boy a sacred amulet before he leaves and when he grows up he tries to locate her haunted by her absence.
It was not until 1921 that Eleanora Duse stepped onto a stage at the age of 63. Two years later, in 1923, she toured America with her last touring company. Her final performance was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on April 5, 1924 but she took ill after the show. Eleonora Duse died on April 21, 1924 of pneumonia in her hotel room at Hotel Schenley.
To anyone who wants to watch Eleonora Duse's 1916 silent Italian film it is online,
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