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Biography “Eleonora was a child of the stage and spent the greater part of her life on the boards” says Danish critic and scholar Georg Brandes, of this great actress. (Brandes, The Living Age,168) Eleonora Duse was born into a family of travelling actors on 3rd…
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Download file to see previous pages She performed her first role, that of Cosette, in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables at the tender age of four, when the Duse family troupe performed the play. She formally became an official member of the troupe in 1863 at the age of five. By the time Duse was a teenager, the Duse troupe had combined with Rosaspina, and Eleonora, who brought passion into her roles, was recognized as an important member of the troupe. However, her first break came when she played the role of the young love sick Juliet, in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in Verona, at the age of fourteen. At this stage of her life, when it seemed that stardom was hers, she found herself completely alone. Her mother died while she was performing on stage, and after her mother’s death, her father left her to pursue his own career in art. This pattern of great achievement in her career on the one hand, and unhappiness and despair in her personal life on the other, was to mark her life to the end of her days. After her mother’s death she found herself alone, and met with little success as she moved from one company to another, between 1874 and 1878. During this period she never got any leading roles, but contented herself with supporting roles, convinced that her talent would be recognized. Something of a rebel, she suffered many hardships, till she got a leading role in the company of Ciotti-Belli-Blanes, as a replacement for the leading lady who fell ill. She played this role in many performances and distinguished herself. The exposure she got as part of this theatre company allowed her to make great strides in her acting career. In the year 1878 which marked the turning point in her career, she was showered with accolades for her portrayal of Marcella in Victorien Sardou’s Borghesi di Pontarcy. During her performances for Ciotti-Belli-Blanes, she was noticed by the prominent actor-manager, Giovanni Emmanuel, and was invited to join his company Fiorentini. This period with Fiorentini, brief though it was, served to give Duse the chance to portray various types of characters and greatly increased her repertoire of roles. At this time she fell in love with Martino Cafiero, a man twenty years her senior, and had a love child that died in infancy. The company however disintegrated, and Duse signed a new contract with Cesare Rossi. This break with Fiorentini, also put an end to her relationship with Cafiero, who refused to accept their baby boy. It was her performance of the title role in Emile Zola’s Therese Raquin, which won her great acclaim from audiences and critics alike. She has been acclaimed by those who saw her perform, as the greatest actress of her time and perhaps of all time. Popularly known simply as Duse (pronounced Doo’za) the actress, who is said to have never used makeup, turned her back on traditional acting techniques, to begin her own naturalistic style of acting. "I make up my soul, not my face," she is said to have commented when asked about her shunning of makeup. (quoted from Trivia Library) Her admirers included names like Charlie Chaplin, Henrik Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw, who admired realism in acting. The nineteenth century was a time when people flocked to watch stage performances, and Duse was one of the most admired and popular stars of her time. She won international acclaim, despite the fact that she performed only in Italian. She seems to be the epitome of the saying ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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