Fire in the Theatre

The interior of the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan, circa 1875.

Snippets 198.  The life of a theatre actor is an interesting one.  Unlike television there are no re-takes.  If anything goes wrong, an actor has to work with it, and improvise very quickly if necessary.  However, sometimes improvisation skills are not enough.  When the theatre is on fire, for example…

Signor Salvini relates for the benefit of the readers of the Century some of the mishaps that have befallen him on the stage. He was once acting in a play called “Twenty-seven Years After” at the famous Niccolina Theatre in Florence, and was just beginning a song when a candle of the chandelier which hung in the middle of the room tipped over against a loose edge of the light cloth that wrapped the cord by which the chandelier was suspended, and the fire instantly enveloped this, and ran up to the loft, in which were stored a number of rolls of paper scenery. Cries of “Fire, fire!” filled the house. In an instant the actor jumped on a chair, leaped in the air, and caught the chandelier, which the weight of his body brought down, bringing with it the flaming tissue. He was scorched about the wrists and hands, but the danger was averted and tranquillity restored.

On another occasion, when Salvini was playing the part of Mortimer in Schiller’s “Marie Stuart,” at the old theatre in Milan, the dagger with which Mortimer is supposed to stab himself was used by him with such force that it pierced his clothing and penetrated between the fourth and fifth ribs for an inch, only escaping the heart by the thickness of a silver dollar. The actor fell, and was found by the attendants in a pool of blood. The performance was, of course, dropped, and for some days the tragedian’s condition was one of great danger.

Another incident is of a more ludicrous kind. Everyone remembers, or has heard of, the great scene in “Othello” in which Salvini, as the Moor, throws Iago on the ground and plants his foot upon his prostrate body. One night, playing this part at the Italiens in Paris, Salvini found himself confronted with an lago in the person of the actor Piccinini, whose tamper apparently could not brook this indignity. Piccinini persistently resisted, and Salvini, dreading the failure of the scene, put out all his strength, till at last his lago fell, and, rebounding from the stage, lay for a moment quite motionless. “Have you hurt yourself?” enquired Othello in a whisper, as he anxiously raised his brother actor. “Not I.” was the reply, “but you have hurt me.” Apologies and soothing assurances followed, but Salvini tock care after that to find a more tractable Iago.

The quote above is taken from Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough, 1st February 1894.

The interior of the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan, circa 1875.

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About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in 19th Century, History, Humor, Humour, News, Newspapers, Snippets and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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