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The last performance of Ernesto Rossi


Ernesto Fortunato Giovanni Maria Rossi was one of the most prominent Italian Shakespearean actors of 19th century. His journeys to Russian Empire and Odessa played quite a significant role in Rossi’s life.


Ernesto Rossi was an Italian actor of the so-called “school of performance”.

Born March 27, 1827 in Livorno to a middle-class family and his intention was to study at the university there, when he was asked for substituting an actor. In 1846, he began his stage activities with the itinerant troupe of Livorno.

The leading role in the artistic development was played by the actor and entrepreneur Gustavo Modena, who was famous as Actor talent scout. He acted in plays by romantic dramatists that were imbued with ideas of patritism and freedom, playing the roles of Paolo in Pellico’s Francesca da Rimini  and the title roles in Niccolini’s Antonio Foscarini and Giovanni da Procida.

The best roles of Rossi were rightly considered Shakespeare’s Hamlet (played from 1856 until the end of his life), Othello (Othello), Macbeth (Macbeth), Romeo (Romeo and Juliet), Lear (King Lear), Coriolanus (“Coriolanus”), Louis XI (“Louis XI” by Casimir Delavigne), Christopher Columbus (“Christopher Columbus” by Paul Claudel). His play was distinguished by accuracy and conciseness in the selection of details, expressiveness of plastic drawing, mastery of voice, the ability to change intonation to give space or, on the contrary, to show tightness.

Left: Ernesto Rossi by Adolf Dauthage, 1857
Right: Ernesto Rossi, Antique Print, 1876

Since 1855, Rossi toured extensively in Europe and America, in Egypt and Turkey. He often toured in Russia (in 1877, 1878, 1890, 1895 and 1896), earned high praise from Russian critics.

Rossi was irresistible … the logic of feeling, the consistency of the role plan, the calmness of its execution and the confidence of his skill and impact. When Rossi played, you knew that he would convince you, because his art was true.

Konstantin Stanislavsky

Rossi himself translated Shakespeare and even got into the group of Shakespeare scholars, publishing a small pamphlet of his “Lecture on the Theater of Shakespeare”, delivered by him in Bilbao in 1865. Twenty years later, he gave a detailed analysis of the main roles of his repertoire in the book Sketches on Roles and Autobiographical Letters (1885). Three years before his death, he published a book, Reflections on the Italian Drama Theater. He also wrote his memoirs “Forty Years on the Stage” (Quarant’anni di vita artistica) in three books (1887-1889).

I saw Rossi in Hamlet and concluded that instead of Hamlet I saw Mr. Rossi.

Fedor Dostoevsky

Rossi wrote about his first visit to Odessa:

In June 1877 I found myself in Odessa, where I had long wanted to visit. As a child, I heard about her from my dear father, who repeatedly visited her in connection with his business affairs. I am a naturally curious person, so I was eager to wander the streets where, in the days of my father, signs were still written in Italian, which later gave way to French and Russian“.

Left: Ernesto Rossi in Dumas’ Kean, published in the journal To Asti, 7 May 1889
Right: Ernesto Rossi as Hamlet

When I was young I saw a prominent at that date all over the world Ernesto Rossi in Hamlet and during the entracte I was allowed to look in his dressing room: he was reclining in the arm-chair with his breast naked and was as white as canvas with huge dews of sweat at every pore..

Ivan Bunin

The actor performed in Odessa at the Mariinsky Theater (it was in Theatre Lane until the mid-80s of the 19th century) in the roles of Othello, Hamlet, King Lear, Romeo, Don Juan, Shylock, Keane. The press called each role “a sharpened and polished diamond in the crown of a great artist.” The audience and critics admired Othello, but did not accept Hamlet; Rossi was already very old for this role. But the artist ventured to play the role of Romeo again and made him forget about age discrepancy, conquering the audience with a brilliant performance.

In the play based on the play “Keane…” by Dumas the father, Rossi played the role easily and vividly, skillfully improvising. When his character spoke about a debt of four hundred pounds, the actor added a phrase about the local exchange rate. The Odessans liked it very much.

The tragedian left Odessa on June 2, 1878, and later he returned here several more times.

Ernesto Rossi returned to Odessa in 1896 and completed his career here, playing his last performance “Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich”. In the role of the king, he said goodbye to the public and returned to Italy, where he soon died on June 4, 1896, in Pescara.