Madame Vestris

Definition

Theater

  • (Lucy Elizabeth Bartolozzi; 1797 - 1856) British actressand singer. She was the first British actress to manage a theater,and became the first principal boy in English pantomime (playingRalph in Puss and Boots).

    After studying music she married the French dancer ArmandVestris (1788 - 1825), at the age of 16. Vestris was ballet masterat the King's Theatre, where she made her debut in 1815 in Peter vonWinter's opera Il Ratto di Proserpina. Her first great successcame at Drury Lane in 1817, when she played the title-role of Moncrieff'sGiovanni in London, a burlesque of Mozart's Don Giovanni.After performing in Paris, where her husband deserted her in 1820,she returned to London to star at both Drury Lane and Covent Garden.She excelled in high comedy, playing fashionable ladies such as LydiaLanguish in Sheridan's The Rivals (1826).

    In 1830 she took over as manager of the Olympic Theatre, openingwith Olympic Revels by James Planché, who continuedto write farces and burlesques for her. An excellent if somewhat sternmanager, Vestris introduced a number of important innovations, includingthe box set in 1832. Other reforms included the use of accuratecostumes, realistic scenery, and real props, and shortening presentationsfrom the usual six hours to five. Although the plays that she presentedwere popular, the theater still lost money owing to the small auditorium:she declared bankruptcy in 1837.

    In 1838 Vestris married the actor Charles James Mathews theyounger (1803 - 78), a member of the Olympic company, who wasone of the best light comedians of his day. They immediately touredAmerica, where she received ecstatic reviews acting and singing inThe Loan of a Lover. The couple took over the management ofCovent Garden in 1839, drawing large audiences for such productionsas the 1841 comedy London Assurance by Dion Boucicault,in which Mathews starred as Dazzle.The cost of their opulent productions, however, led to bankruptcyand imprisonment for Mathews in 1842.

    In 1847 the couple took over the Lyceum Theatre, where theyintroduced further innovations, such as the first transparencyfor Planché's extravaganza The Island of Jewels, andthe abolition of half-price tickets for those arriving late. By 1854,however, they were once more experiencing financial problems. Vestrisgave her final performance that year in Sunshine Through the Clouds.When they left the Lyceum in 1855 Mathews was once again imprisonedfor debt. He was released a week before his wife died.

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