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Tommaso Salvini at the age of twenty-nine
1 January 1829|
|Died||31 December 1915
Tommaso Salvini (1 January 1829 – 31 December 1915) was an Italian actor.
Salvini was born in Milan. His father and mother were both actors.
It was actually by chance that Salvini started acting at all. His father was involved in the Bon and Berlaffa Company and the actor who was to play Pasquino fell ill. Instead of closing the theatre for the night, young Salvini was asked to take his place. In his autobiography, he writes that “when I perceived that some of Pasquino’s lines were amusing the audience, I took courage, and, like a little bird making is first flight, I arrived at the goal, and was eager to try again … It is certain that from that time I began to feel that I was somebody.”
Tommaso Salvini didn’t pay too much attention to Shakespeare until the 1850’s. Until then, Salvini grew in fame with Italian characters in Italian plays. In 1847 he joined the company of Adelaide Ristori, who was then at the beginning of her brilliant career. It was with her as Elettra that he won his first success in tragedy, playing the title rôle in Alfieris Oreste at the Teatro Valle in Rome. He fought in the cause of Italian independence in 1849; otherwise his life was an unbroken series of successes in his art.
In 1853, he took a year off of acting because “he rarely felt adequately prepared for a role”. During this time, he prepared roles in great depth. His most famous role was Othello. Apart from Othello, which he played for the first time at Vicenza in June 1856, his most famous impersonations included Conrad in Paolo Giacometti's La Morte civile, Egisto in Alfieri's Merope, Saul in Alfieri's Saul, Paolo in Silvio Pellico's Francesca da Rimini, Oedipus in Nicolini's play of that name, Macbeth and King Lear.
The core of his acting method, came from his studies. This methodology was what Salvini used to sculpt his Othello. While visiting Gibraltar, he spent time studying the Moors and found one particular man that he fashioned his Othello after. Instead of relying on his mustache, which was his traditional way of depicting himself as a Moor, he now tried to copy his “gestures, movements, and carriage” to accurately depict the character.
Regardless of the fact that he didn’t speak English, he was a huge success with the American crowds. He always delivered his lines in his native Italian while his company spoke English (except during his first tour when he had an Italian company). It didn’t matter that the audience couldn’t understand his Italian words; according to the New York World of 27 October 1885, “had he spoke Greek or Chocaw it would have been much the same. There was that about him that was universal, and had he remained mute and contented himself with acting alone his audience could scarcely have failed to understand, so faithful was his portraiture of human instincts and their action”
Salvini's acting in Othello greatly inspired the young Russian actor Constantin Stanislavski, who saw Salvini perform in Moscow in 1882 and who would, himself, go on to become one of the most important theatre practitioners in the history of theatre. Stanislavski wrote that Salvini was the "finest representative" of his own approach to acting.
Salvini retired from the stage in 1890, but in January 1902 took part in the celebration in Rome of Ristori's eightieth birthday. Salvini published a volume entitled Ricordi, aneddoti ed impressioni (Milan, 1895). Some idea of his career may be gathered from Leaves from the Autobiography of Tommaso Salvini (London, 1893). He died, aged 86, in Florence.
Salvini was so confident in his talents as an actor that he was once quoted as saying, "I can make an audience weep by reading them a menu."
Salvini made at least one recording for Zonofono in 1902 of 'Il sogno' from Saul. Listed in a contemporary Zonofono celebrity catalogue recently found.
His son Alessandro (aka Alexander) (1861-1896), also an actor, had several notable successes in America, particularly as d'Artagnan in The Three Guardsmen. Another son, Gustavo Salvini, was a stage actor. Gustavo's sons, Tommaso's grandsons, were Alessandro Salvini (1890-1955) and Guido Salvini (1893-1965). Alessandro acted in movies dating back to silent pictures and Guido directed and wrote for films in the sound era.
Library. 1985. Print.
Jan. 2013. <www.authorama.com/19th-century-actor-autobiographies-10.html>
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