20 April 2013

Italia Vitaliani

Italia Vitaliani (1866 - 1938) was an acclaimed Italian stage actress and artistic director. She occasionally performed in films.

Italia Vitaliani in La Locandiera
Italian postcard. Photo: publicity still for the classic play La Locandiera (The Mistress of the Inn) by Carlo Goldoni. Postcard mailed in Barcelona, Spain, early 20th century. The handwritten text translates as: "Do you know this great artist? Your amigo, Casteles"

A Perfect Gentleman
Itaia Vitaliani was born in Turin in 1866. Her father was the brilliant actor Vitaliano Vitaliani, pupil of Claudio Leigheb, and her mother Elisa Duse was a sister of the father of Eleonora Duse. When she was only 13, Italia debuted on screen within the Compagnia Bellotti Bon e Marini, directed by her uncle Cesare Vitaliani, who was actor, playwright and artistic director. Among her brothers and sisters Evangelina would also become film actress. In 1883 Italia became a member of the Compagnia Nazionale directed by Pierina Giagnone, and the following year she moved to the Compagnia of Cesare Rossi, in which also her cousin Eleonora performed. In 1892 Italia Vitaliani became 'capocomico', the artistic director, but also administrator of the company. She was one of the first women to perform this profession in Italy, and she did so well that people called her 'a perfect gentleman'. In 1893 she is mentioned as a representant of the ‘new school of acting’ which also included her cousin Eleonora, Emma and Irma Grammatica, and Virginia Reiter. Vitaliani was a serious rival of her cousin Eleonora; both a liking for the modern repertory and the ‘natural’ performance. Italia toured capitals but also small towns, staging Mary Stuart, Hedda Gabler, Elisabeth of England, always with the woman at the centre. In the 1890's she did a tour in Russia and Romania. She also traveled to Spain and South America, where she was an acclaimed actress. In 1907 she founded a theatre company with her cousin Carlo Duse (1866 - 1937), whom she married. They performed repertory by Émile Zola, Henrik Ibsen, Alexandre Dumas, Maxim Gorki, but also by Carlo Duse himself. In 1914 their company performed at the Politeama Garibaldi and in 1919 they performed for months at the Teatro Argentina in Rome. Playwright Roberto Bracco wrote: "The art of Italia Vitaliani is made of such subtle intentions, so humanely intimate, so exquisitely precious, that one cannot exactly judge her, if one is not gifted of an equally fine aesthetic perception".

Italia Vitaliani
Italian postcard. Sent by mail in Rome, Monteverde, early 20th century.

Italia Vitaliani
Italian postcard. Mailed in Italy in 1902: Handwritten: 'Affetuosi saluti' (Affectionate greetings).

Hidden Frailty
Italia Vitaliani occasionally performed in films. She made her screen debut with the title role in the drama Fedra/Phèdre/Phaedra (1909-1910), based on Jean Racine’s famous stage play Phèdre. It was produced by Film d’Arte Italiana - not by Cines as IMDb claims - and was distributed by Pathé Frères, but the film was probably never shown in Italy. In 1914 she starred in Fiore reciso/Cut flowers, together with her husband Carlo Duse. Vitaliani had minor parts in the four-part historical adventure film Il ponte dei sospiri/The Bridge of Sighs (1921, Domenico Gaido), starring Luciano Albertini and Antonietta Calderari, and in Gli ultimi giorni di Pompeii/The Last Days of Pompeii (1926, Carmine Gallone, Amleto Palermi) with Victor Varconi and Rina De Liguoro. IMDb does not mention her title role in the Milano Film melodrama La Madre/The Mother (1917, Giuseppe Sterni). The film was based on the play La Mare (1907, The Sea) by the Catalan writer Santiago Rusiñol, which Vitaliani had performed with great success all over Spain in 1907. Actually, Vitaliani had been a regular performer of Rusiñol’s plays around the 1900's, to great acclaim in Spain, in particular in Barcelona. Quite recently, the film La Madre was rediscovered at the EYE Film Institute Netherlands. In La Madre, Giuseppe Sterni played the protagonist, a poor village boy with artist’s aspirations. His mother runs a bakery but she understands her son wants something else. On invitation of another young artist, he goes to live in the city and starts a career as a painter. His female model and her mother are ‘gold-diggers’, and when his mother visits her son, she chases them, to the son’s chagrin. His fellow artist makes him clear though that his mother is his best model. And indeed, the portrait of his mother is a success on the art exhibition and brings him fame and fortune. When the son returns to the village and is welcomed as the acclaimed artist, his mother dies of joy when he reaches her house. At the Enciclopedia delle donne, Maria Procino writes: “Behind her rigor and head strong character, Vitaliani’s frailty was hidden, ready to take over. So the actress balanced between moments of enthusiasm and moments of deeply felt insecurity and mistrust.” In 1920 she replaced Luigi Rasi as director of the Royal Acting School in Florence, and in 1924-1926 she managed the Royal School of Santa Cecilia. After that she started touring again, being restless. She finally retired from screen and stage because of nervous exhaustion, becoming a misanthropist. In Milano she lived alone and forgotten. Only thanks to a honorary committee dedicated to her, consisting of actors, writers and friends, she managed to survive her worst moments. She returned a last time onto the stage on 16 June 1929 at the Teatro Lirico in Milan. Italia Vitaliani died in Milan in, 1938. She was 72. Whoever asked her whether she would write her recollections, she answered: “I promise, I’ll never write them”.

Italia Vitaliani
Italian postcard by Alterocca Terni, no. 3143. Sent by mail on 27-8-1904 in Salles d'Aude, France. Handwritten: 'Sincères remerciements. Amitiés, Louise.' (Sincere thanks. Regards, Louise.)

The film Fiore reciso is oddly enough not listed in the reference books Il cinema muto italiano by Aldo Bernardini & Vittorio Martinelli, but it is mentioned in Bernardini’s Archivio del cinema italiano. The encyclopedia Treccani mentions Duse’s part in it, but not that of Vitaliani. IMDb mentions as director for Phèdre/Phaedra Oreste Gherardini and as co-actors Carlo Duse en Ciro Galvani, but we could not find any confirmation for that in our other sources. Massimo Scaglione mentions that Vitaliani acted in I rintocchi dell’Ave Maria/The chimes of the Ave Maria, La catena della felicità/The chain of happiness, Fiore reciso, Madre and Gli ultimi giorni di Pompeii. Scaglione does not mention Phèdre/Phaedra, nor Il ponte dei sospiri. Finally, Vitaliani’s husband is not to be confounded with his nephew, the later film actor Carlo Duse (1899 - 1956).

Italia Vitaliani
Italian postcard by NPG, no. 643. Photo: Sciutto. Gigi Sciutto was a famous Genovese photographer in the early 1900's. He supposedly shot the first film footage on Genova around 1897.

Sources: Maria Procino (Enciclopedia delle donne) (Italian), Massimo Scaglione (Il cinema Torino: pochi divi ma tanti comprimari) (Italian), Margarida Casacuberta (Santiago Rusiñol: Vida, Literatura I Mite), Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé (French), Treccani.it (Italian), Wikipedia (Italian) and IMDb.

1 comment:

Bunched Undies said...

Sounds like she suffered from depression before it was recognized as an illness.