Celebrity for the week ending
Saturday, 20 December 2008

Anna Judic (1849-1911), French actress and chanteuse,
in the title role of Lili, produced at the
Théâtre des Variétés, Paris, on 10 January 1882

Anna Judic
a cabinet photograph of Anna Judic in the title role of Lili

(photo: Benque & Co, 33 Rue Boissy d'Anglas, Paris, 1882)

'THE DRAMA IN PARIS.
'(FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.)
'PARIS, THURSDAY. VARIETES. - A perfectly charming comedy-vaudeville has been brought out at this house by MM. Alfred Hennequin and Albert Millaud, authors whose collaboration is another word for success. Lili, as the piece is entitled, is a kind of Anacreontic ode in three acts, delightful in its elegance, sufficiently ''naughty'' to please the most blasé Parisian, yet with so graceful a cloak draping its impropriety that one would be a very Puritan to take offence at its details - and, I need hardly say, Puritans ought to hold themselves aloof from the Variétés. As in so many successful plays of the kind, the plot is a mere outline, which leaves the spectator to fill in the interstices for himself, and it is his haziness, if I may so term it, though in reality there is nothing dim in the story, which imparts such a peculiar flavour of delicacy to Lili. In this sense the piece displays more originality than appears on the surface, and its wit, especially in the graceful versification of its couplets - due evidently to M. Maillaud's facile pen- is scented by poetic fragrance inexpressibly seductive. Lili was written in great haste, and was born, indeed, of a sudden though very happy thought; its hurried origin is betrayed in the flimsiness of its plot, which, as I said above, constitutes a good deal of its charm. The authors have had the further good fortune to see their leading role interpreted by Madame Judic, who appears to grow more fascinating every day, and her talent has never been brought into stronger relief than in the new piece. The action takes place at three widely separated epochs; so an opportunity is afforded for contrasts of which the authors have not been alone in availing themselves, for Madame Judic makes the best of them also. When the curtain rises - about the year 1842 - we see her as the original Lili, a timid little maiden, who has been so ''carefully'' brought up by her parents, honest ''country cousins'' named Bouzanincourt, that even the history of France has been expurgated and emended for her benefit; thus she learns that Louis XIV. was a king of very austere morals, who spent most of his time in abstruse colloquy with two great captains of his time, General La Valliéree and Colonel Montespan! The natural effect of this system of education is exactly the reverse of that intended by the worthy Bouzaincourts. Lili becomes romantic, and loses no time in falling in love with a trumpeter she has seen at a window of the barracks over the way. Now Antonin Plinchard, as this hero is named, is the handsomest man in the garrison, but somewhat of a noodle. He is paying platonic court to the Bouzaincourts' cook, hence his constant appearance at the window. Lili takes for granted his ogling is intended for herself, and when he lets his trumpet fall into her father's garden accepts it as a formal declaration. The little girl profits by the accident to learn the instrument, and it is highly comical to hear and see Madame Judic blowing a flourish to call the imperious Plinchard, who goes off one fine day to Algeria with his regiment, without ever for a moment imagining what good fortunate was within his reach, or, in other words, that little Lili had been setting her cap at him; he takes care, however, to re-enter into possession of his trumpet before starting. Lili is so disappointed at the sudden collapse of her love romance that, out of spite, she consents to marry the Baron de la Grange-Batelière, a husband chosen for her by her family. Seven or eight years have elapsed when the second act opens, and Lili has developed into a buxom Baronne, who does not love her lord, and whose union has, so far, proved childless. The Baron is chiefly remarkable for his varied flirtations with actresses and circus riders. While the disunited couple are spending the summer at their château, they receive word that the war department is about to impose a guest on them, an officer who is coming to attend the annual manoeuvres, and who turns out to be no other than Plinchard. The handsome Antonin had won his commission by a gallant exploit, which only M. Dupuis can narrate in adequate terms. Having lost his way in the desert, he had fallen in with a goum, or nomad tribe of Arabs, which was composed of fourteen families, and had been received with very open hospitality. So universal a favourite did he succeed in making himself that when, after the lapse of a short time, he thought it advisable to rejoin his regiment, the fourteen wives followed him, and they were pursued by their fourteen husbands, after whom came a shoal of small fry, the rear being brought up by all the horses, camels, oxen, sheep, &c. The effect of Plinchard's triumphal entry into camp was that the General promoted him lieutenant in reward for the successful and highly profitable raid he had so unwittingly accomplished. Antonin is handsomer than before in his braided uniform; that he and Lili feel agitated and perhaps a little confused at their chance meeting after such a long separation may be easily conceived; and, in a word, the Baronne feels all the old flame suddenly rekindled, while Plinchard, on his side, seems to have learnt the vanity of platonic attachments. Private theatricals form the chief amusement at the château, and a role entrusted to the new comer enables the lieutenant to give expression in glowing terms to the passion he now begins to entertain for his gushing hostess. Is there any need to doubt what is fated to follow? It is the silly Baron who pushes the lovers across the irrevocable Rubicon. In order to allow himself full liberty with his latest conquest at the circus he actually locks his wife into the room where Plinchard is concealed. The third and last act brings us to the present year of grace. The Baronne has become a sexagenarian, and she has white hair - and a granddaughter. Thirty-five years of the most irreproachable conduct, during which she has been a model wife and mother, have atoned for the fleeting folly of one day; but in her diary that day remains marked by a blank page - meliora lapilla - the ''white stone'' of tender memory. The daughter whose birth dates back to that unwritten but unforgotten page has become a mother in her turn, and our little Lili of the first act is, as I have said, a grandmother. The Baron has found an eligible husband for Mdlle. Antonine in a rising young barrister name [sic] Réné; but for some reason or other the Baronne is resolutely opposed to the match. A gallant knight enters the lists, however, in Réné's cause, none other than General Plinchard, a distinguished officer, who is now a Senator. The scene that ensues is charming, delightfully original in a sentimentality which is free from the too common defect of falseness. The General had recognised he Lili of forty years previously in the features of Antonine. He commences his siege of the Baronne's heart by an attempt to revive the recollection of their far-off love; Lili turns a deaf ear to him, and in giving him to understand that she has forgotten to such a point that the past has long ceased to have ever had any existence for her, she claims the right to exact the same forgetfulness from the General, seeing that thirty-five years of repentance have condoned her fault. But when Antonin places under her eyes the diary and its blank page her austerity thaws before the warm sun of youthful memories, and she consents to the marriage. The poetic charm of this scene, which appears nothing when described in black and white, is delicious. I have recorded the incidents of those three acts, but I cannot convey a just idea of the shading which marks three pictures so different from each other in drawing and colour. It is seldom we are given a comedy-vaudeville like Lili. M. Hervé has composed the music for the work, and it is in perfect harmony with the tone of the dialogue and action, that is to say in excellent taste. I have spoken of Madame Judic's performance as Lili, but so brief a mention does not render adequate justice to the talent this accomplished artist manifests in so difficult a role. it is not an easy matter to appear very young, but she accomplishes the fact in the first act - and also in the last - to perfection, and her sudden transformation in the latter is very clever. Her diction throughout is, if possible, more finished than we have yet heard it, and she sings with all the witchery that has made her so great a favourite with the public. A provençal song given by her in the second act, ''Quès aco,'' in which there is a medley of the Marseilles accent with Parisian wit, was encored again and again; it is already the favourite of the Boulevard; you hear it hummed on every side and at all hours. So faultless, or rather so matchless, is Madame Judic's impersonation as Lili and Antoinine, that I venture to think we shall never see her art surpass the height it has attained in this quadruple creation. M. Dupuis as Plinchard supports her capitally, and M. Baron is extremely droll in a comical part, that of Réné's uncle, who, unlike the other personages, grows younger with each act; it is a highly amusing caricature displaying accurate powers of observation. MM. Lassouche, Léonce, and Didier complete the cast, but they have little or nothing to do. Lili is to be added to the other successes of a season which, after a most unpromising start, now bids fair to turn out a remarkable one.'
(The Era, London, Saturday, 21 January 1882, p. 7c)

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© John Culme, 2008