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An Italian Quarter Mosaic


Antoinetta Pisanelli, leading lady of the Pisanelli Opera Company.


HERE is not a more picturesque spot in California, so noted for its odd corners and medley of nationalities, than the Latin Quarter of San Francisco. Here live the Latins of all States, and subdivisions of States-each nationality. separated by a divisional line, unmarked, yet distinct-as apparent to the intelligent visitor as the line that divides the Quarter from the great American city. Crossing Broadway, on the westerly slope of Telegraph Hill, one finds himself in the Italian Quarter, or "Little Italy," with its inner life and its traditions and customs. It is a bit of the several States of "United Italia" transplanted to America. Down near Washington Square is the center of the artistic life of the

Quarter-the "teatro," a mosaic unequaled in its picturesque setting of living figures. The prosaic name of "hall" has been changed to the more poetic and expressive one of "Pisanelli Famigliare Circolo," or Pisanelli Family Circle. In this Circle the amusement lovers of the Italian colony, including their wives and children, assemble nightly to hear the principal operas, given in the pure Tuscan dialect. Also, comedies, farces and tragedies. The Tuscan dialect is the literary language of Italy. It is almost universally spoken in Tuscany, and by most of the residents in the Italian colony. There is seen in this Family Circle all types of Italia-the Tuscan, Neapolitan, Sienese, Milanese, Florentine, Lombard, Genoese and Pisans -representatives from all cities, provinces and divisions of provinces. Most of the States have different dialects, and the dialect of the divisions of a State are different. Each speaks the language of his province, and one "family circle" is, perhaps, not understood by their neighbors. There is a medley of voices while waiting for the curtain to rise-a Babel of languages, very amusing to the American visitor who understands neither, not even Tuscan.

But most all of the auditors understand at least a smattering of Tuscan, and therefore enjoy the play. The operas are given in that soft clearness of the pure Tuscan accent, with an elegance of phrase and sweetness of pronunciation peculiar to this sonorous tongue. It is more easily understood, even by those who speak only the most provincial of provincial dialects. In this family circle, with its varied types, dia


lects and costumes, is seen United Italy.

The circle is divided into two halves the lower, or "family circolo," and the upper circle, where the gallery gods hold high carnival and eat confections-a candy made of rock sugar and almonds, the almonds, the munching of which is similar to the noise of hulling peanuts, and is good stuff for breaking the teeth. The gods are as noisy as those on the other side of the line-they are the same everywhere, and are the happiest when making the most noise.

Italians like variety in their amusements, and necessarily the repertoire of the "Famigliare Circolo" is lengthy. There is a change of programme nightly. There are no runs of a hundred nights nor even of two successive nights. One night it is "La Traviata," next "Rigoletto," on the next "Bohemian Girl," then "Otello" and "Lucia di Lammermoor." Then the scene is changed from grand opera to comedy, farce, tragedy and burlesques, liberally spiced with love songs. One of the most characteristic plays is the dialect comedy, and these are very humorous. The humor is keen and the effect of much of it depends upon the locality where the scenes are laid and the type of the people whom it depicts. Though written in the Tuscan tongue, there are localisms peculiar to one district, which can only be understandingly written in the dialect of that district. It is very difficult to convey the exact meaning of "localisms," there being no equivalent, and this specially applies to the Italian dialects. The Tuscan does not understand what is being said on the stage, but his neighbor from the province where the scenes are laid does understand it. In a few minutes the scene changes-the language of the peasant is changed for that of the Tuscan, and all understand. These comedies and tragedies depict the vices, the virtues, the follies and

the love escapades of all provinces, each peculiar to itself, and while they differ in type, they are similar in that the same human passions are delineated in them all. One of them shows a peculiar idea of Italian vengeance or justice. It is a two-act tragedy, entitled "Love and Duty," and is played with much action and force. The wife of a peasant struggles between love and duty, or honor. Her tempter is also married. Persuasion failing, he tries threats, and in her struggle between love and honor, she finally bids him to leave. At the moment, the husband enters, and finding his wife confused, suspects her. She denies everything and becomes indignant, as usual. The husband finds on the floor that ever tell-tale 'kerchief, upon which are the initials of the lover's name. During the stormy scene between the jealous husband and his wife, the father of the lover, the old village blacksmith, enters. He hears the story, and maintains that the wife is innocent, and that his sonin-law is a villain. He joins forces with the jealous husband in a gunning expedition for the tempter-his own son-in-law. The husband finds the villain first, and while they are in a deathly hand-to-hand struggle, reaching for their stilettos, the old blacksmith rushes in and plants his stiletto in the back of the lover, his son-in-law.

The jealous husband, with astonishment depicted upon his face, exclaims, in disappointment: "Why do you kill him? It is for me!" "No; vengeance is mine; not yours! He deserted my daughter and loved your wife. He is guilty, but your wife is innocent!" exclaims the old man. The situation is thrilling, and the applause is loud and prolonged.

It frequently happens that during a very pathetic scene the usual irrepressible clown moves his chair with a sliding, grating noise. There are hisses sharp and prolonged and shouts of silence, these awaken the


babies, and there is a chorus from all parts of the Circolo.

Italians look upon opera as a necessity, and also strictly as an amusement. And they want it strong and good, artistically and musically. They care little for scenery-they want the acting, and upon this and the music everything depends. They do not like ranting or screaming, nor the posings of stage statues for effect. This unique Circolo makes little effort at scenic effects the artists are expected to make their own scenes and pictures in dramatic action. At times the little stage is well crowded with characters, but there seems to be enough room for the most striking situations and dramatic scenes, and the auditors are satisfied without the aid of scenery, which often covers the defects of bad acting.

Benefit performances are occasionally given for the Italian school fund. A number of the most prominent citizens of the colony have undertaken to raise about ten thousand dollars for the purchase of a site, and the erection of a building for an Italian high school. It is proposed to teach the pure Tuscan language, thus perpetuating it among the growing youth of the col


The Italians also have a keen sense of humor, and of the ludicrous. One of the farces, very popular with the masses, is "Stenterello," which depicts a half-clown, half-comedian -the word "Stenterello" signifying a clown. The principal character takes the name of the play. He assumes several parts-at times he is a quack doctor, a servant, an umbrella mender, or a strolling player in the role of Hamlet. He is always hungry, like most barnstormers, has a craving for soup, and never seems to get his fill. His ambition is to marry rich, and in his still hunt for a wealthy widow, in his various disguises, he is frequently mistaken for some one else who is being

hunted, and consequently gets into trouble. The more he explains, the greater the trouble. Finally he is saved by his good luck and stupidity. The character is painted with purple circles around the eyes with an effect of goggles; the face is streaked with red and white, and his hair hangs behind as a queue, the end curling upward like the tail of a pig. Signor Godi is an excellent impersonator, and his entrance is always greeted with applause and laughter. Much of the success of this character depends upon the gestures and grimaces of the man in pursuit of soup and a wealthy widow.

The patrons of the Famigliare Circolo arrive slowly, for in the Quarter there is plenty of time for everything, and there is no need to be in a hurry when seeking amusement. About eight o'clock the floor of the Circolo is dotted with groups of different types-men with their families, others without families, young men with their senorinas, and still others who have no senorinas, but may have some other young man's sweetheart to-morrow night. Gradually the circle is filled-perhaps there are six hundred in the two half circles-the two hundred in the gallery making themselves heard in their various dialects shouting "Let it go!" which is the same as "Heist de rag!" In the first circle there is a hubbub of voices and bursts of merry laughter. All are talking, each coterie in their own dialect. There are greetings of friends, smiles from lovers and mischievous glances from senorinas who are looking their sweetest in their costumes of varied colors. Suddenly the sweet, soft strains of "Heart Bowed Down," from "The Bohemian Girl" or a gem from "Rigoletto" are heard. The hubbub ceases, and some who think they possess musical abilities accompany the orchestra by humming the chorus or whistling the air. The orchestration is very

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