Saturday, July 6, 2019

The story of an Investigative Theatrical Carpet

The theatrical 'puzzles' are starting to pile up on my desktop. So maybe it's time for me to have a crack and one or two. I've been 'in France' all weekend, translating a big bundle of 200 year-old French poetry, so why not start with my French folder ...

A splendid little group of 1860s performers fell into my net last week, and I was well on the way to winkling out the odd identity when 1830s poetry intervened ... so here's what I have uncovered, and what still remains to be uncovered ...

The key photo in the bundle was this one

Yes, well, it's a wizard. So we are immediately plunged into the glorious world of the classic French féerie spectaculars. Plenty of candidates, but one outstanding one. Rothomago. Rothomago, produced at the Cirque in 1862, and transferred to the Châtelet ... The titular Rothomago is a wizard ...
The rôle was created by the actor Lebel, and although it was later played by others, this is he. How do I know that? Because Lebel had the goodness to sign a copy to a friend, and that copy has survived to this day.

Now, pictures of the original Rothomago production can be found, but you've got to be wary. There is  a splendid set of Nadar photos in the French National Library. But they are from the 1877 revival. In which Lebel's role was played by the decidedly more rolypoly Tissier.

But. I'm pretty sure that a couple of my other 'catches' are from the same production. And certainly this one: Lebel's inseparable double-act partner, the 'idoles du publique', William[s]. Yes, born in Paris of English parents: Charles Addison Williams (1815-1883).  He played the Prince in the affair ...

Why? LOOK AT THAT CARPET! It is surely the same photo session. In fact numbers two and four are pretty surely the same lass. Are they ALL the same lass? Surely not, the legs on number three are much less healthy...

But which lass?

Well, the 'principal boy' was 'Mademoiselle Milla' (née Laure Dordet, d 1900), replacing the Cirque's Judith Ferreyra, who would later return to her role, but who was soon to be prey to the rotting disease that would put an end to her career the following year and, ultimately, kill her, just after her thirtieth year.

Judith Ferreyra

The bad fairy was the actress known as Adèle Désiree .. perhaps a relation of the Madame Désirée Fieux of the Cirque cast -- well, it's not she, is it ..

The ingénue was my favourite Ernestine Esclozas. She played a peasant girl, so it's hardly she. But what's this ...?  SAME CARPET! I must check the ins and outs of the plot!

That's surely she. And nos 2 and 4 of the who? lot ..

But what is this other name, billed large alongside Mlle Milla. 'Maria Bellamy'? To play the Princess. The daughter of La Fée Rageuse? Originally played by Coraly Geoffroy. Well, I just happen to have a photo labelled 'Bellamy'. It's from the Châtelet's later production, Marengo.

Yes? Could be. But the lady in my photos doesn't look very Princesse-ly, does she? This would be more what I'd expect

Maria Bellamy ('très jolie, très fine, très mignonne') came to the Châtelet from the Gaîté and the Folies-Dramatiques and became a favourite soubrette on the new stage. After Rothomago, she appeared in La Prise de Pékin, as Mary the maid in Le Secret de Miss Aurore, and as the drummer boy in Marengo before her death, still in her twenties, 'from a cold bath' in August 1863.

There were plenty of other lassies in the cast, of course. Mlles Caroline and Anna and Mme Lacran in small parts, and then the ladies of the ballet who represented the hours of the Magic Clock which was central to the show's story. Mlles Victorine (l'heure du coucher), Clémence (l'heure de la prière), Lagrange (l'heure de minuit), Esther (l'heure du dîner), Elisa Bellamy (L'heure du bal), Agnès (l'heure de la liberté), Jenny Pazza (l'heure du travail), Caroline (l'heure du lever), Hélène (l'heure du déjeuner), Maria (l'heure du jeu), Bonnet (l'heure du plaisir), Octavie (l'Heure du berger), Gabrielle, Robert,  ...  and for the Lace Ballet, mlles Henecart, Elisa Piron, Letourneur, Octavie Berger and Anna Buisseret, later Mlles Badernac, Laurençon, Petit ...

Anaïs Letourneur

These were not all just dispensable chorines. I have before me a cast list for the Châtelet's 1866 end-of-year revue and, alongside Mlles Milla and Esclozas, the names of Elisa Bellamy and Mlle Esther still appear in the lists. Elisa apparently stayed at the theatre for ten years, according to Lyonnet ... who unfortunately equates her with Maria! Esther, well, she rather looks as she would have been worth a ten-year contract! Dinnertime, indeed!

Is that the famous carpet again?

Death was unkind to another star member of the cast of Rothomago, as well. Colbrun, the little comic actor who appeared in the principal male role of Blaisinet died, before the age of forty, in 1866.

So, it seems as if we have here photos of the cast of the musical féerie spectacular which opened the Théâtre du Châtelet in 1862 ...

Or some of them. I'm still not sure about the one with the less healthy legs. And I suppose I'd better go looking for that carpet ...


For the sake of reference, the original Cirque cast of Rothomago was, in its principal cast, identical to that at the Châtelet, with the exception of the replacement of Judith Ferreyra (apparently a little lost in the large auditorium) and that of Mme Geoffroy by Maria Bellamy (previously Béllami). However, a number of the supporting ladies were seemingly recast. Voici the names of the original featured dancers from the Hours and the Lace Ballet:
Madame Coustou (Spanish lace), Mlles Anais Letourneur (English lace), Anna Buisseret (Dutch lace), Pety (Malines lace), Adèle Ferrus (Venetian lace), Guerboroglio (Parisian lace), Lagrange (l'heure de minuit), Jeanne Pazza (l'heure de travail), Mlle Clémence (l'heure de prière), Mlles Kelly (l'heure de l'ennui), Ricard (l'heure de la liberté), Maria (l'heure du jeu), Bonnet (l'heure du plaisir), Thérèse (l'heure du bal), Octavie (l'heure du berger), Caroline (l'heure du lever), Esther (l'heure du dîner), plus Mlles Chatenay, Marzetti, Juliette, Hélène, Wall, Robert, Lhéman etc.

Anais Letourneur as English Lace, dances her 'gigue anglaise'

The other supporting ladies were Mlle Marguerite, Désirée Fieux, Jenny Kid and Mlle Moreau. Plus sixty corps de ballet...
At the moment, most of these are just names to me, although the paper L'Orchestre describes some of the dancers. But I am looking.
Ah! Jenny Kid 'the Queen of the Théâtre Féerique' an open-air entertainment in the Champs Elysées ..
And here is the cast of Les Sept Châteux du diable at the Châtelet in 1864 - Elisa Bellamy, Lagrange, Ferrus, Letourneur, Buisseret, Berger, Genty all still there and featured .. behind the great Esclozas and Lise Tautin ...

Ah! Anna Buisseret. Her sister, also a dancer at the Châtelet, was involved in a nasty affair of anonymous letters in 1874, then mixed with the law again in 1876 when one ex-lover killed another in a duel. She was described in court as 'une très vulgaire pècheresse dont le corps de ballet d'un thèâtre des féeries utilisait très récemment les mérites choréographiques'. How nasty! She had been, for more than a decade, a 'bien gentille' slightly featured dancer at the Châtelet and the Gaîté! And sister Anna was, by this time, no less than star dancer at the Gaîté. Anyway, in the course of proceedings the sister admitted to 35 years of age and christian name of Adrienne. So, presumably she was the lady who danced as 'Mademoiselle Adrienne'. And I doubt that Buisseret was their real name anyhow: the choreographer who, around this time, worked as 'Buisseret' was actually Etienne Morlet. Anna was to remain a star dancer for a goodly number of years. Adrienne vanished, allegedly, to 'marry an English Lord'.

Adèle Ferrus, 'la grande coquette', who had been a baby ballerina alongside Anna Buisseret at the Brussels Théâtre de la Monnaie in the 1850s, was the wife of 'Valentin' (de Waerghenare), sometime sous-chef d'orchestre at the Châtelet. He died at the age of 35 in 1874. She seems to have had a sister too. Ferrus I and Ferrus II played Pride and Envy in the Châtelet's Les Sept Châteaux du diable in 1864.

Mlle Letourneur, 'la soubrette du Châtelet', 'admirablement sculptée dans ses petits proportions ... à la fois chaste et provocante', who seems to have been a superior dancer, went on to, amongst other, be première danseuse in the Châtelet's Le Naufrage de la Méduse (1864), Les Filbustiers de la Sonore (1864, with Buisseret, Vernet and Ferrus), in the Théâtre Déjazet's Cendrillon (1866) burlesque,  La Poudre de Perlinpinpin (1869), later delivering a snake-dance at the Alcazar (1869), and continuing on into the 1870s when she turns up at the Folies-Bèrgere (1870) and in 1876 in America, dancing for the Kiralfys in Around the World in 80 Days. If she is the same 'Mlle Letourneur' who was dancing already at the Porte Saint-Martin in 1852, and a coryphée at the Opéra 1853-4  ... but, there, 'Letourneur' is a predestined name for a dancer, and there were, over the years, several! But wait! 1874 'Mlle Letourneur la coqueluche des titis, l'ange du paradis' quitte le Châtelet ...'. The 'darling of the Gods' ... it seems that it is indeed the same one. Anais Letourneur ...

Madame Coustou is another who seems to have had a long active life: in 1853 she danced in Le Consulat et l'Empire, alongside Lebel, at the Ancien Cirque, where two years later she can be seen in Les Pilules du diable; in 1875, she is principal dancer at the Théâtre Historique.

Back to carpet hunting ...

Post scriptum. I am beginning to wonder if they produced that carpet by the kilometre. Also, in how many shows that little flyaway headdress was worn ...  but surely I've seen that stripey costume before ... Voyage à la lune?

Lebel in La Poule aux oeufs d'or ...

1 comment:

Ron Sheeley said...

I really like that carpet and how you used it as a link to tie the investigative article together. I am interested in Judith Ferreyra "the 'principal boy' was 'Mademoiselle Milla' (née Laure Dordet, d 1900), replacing the Cirque's Judith Ferreyra, who would later return to her role, but who was soon to be prey to the rotting disease that would put an end to her career."
As I collect French courtesans of the French Second Empire, I found a reference to her being a courtesan. Can you confirm? Also did Mlle Ferreyra die of TB?
Any assistance would be greatly appreciate, and I will have a look through my collection to see if that carpet appears once again.
Ron Sheeley
North Carolina, USA