Rachel - Encyclopedia

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RACHEL (1821-1858), French actress, whose real name was Elizabeth Felix, the daughter of poor Jew pedlars, was born on the 28th of February 1821, at Mumpf, in the canton of Aargau, Switzerland. At Reims she and her elder sister, Sophia, afterwards known as Sarah, joined a troupe of Italian children who made their living by singing in the cafes, Sarah singing and Elizabeth, then only four years of age, collecting the coppers. In 1830 they came to Paris, where they sang in the streets, Rachel giving such patriotic songs as the Parisienne and the Marseillaise with a rude but precocious energy which evoked special admiration and an abundant shower of coppers. Etienne Choron, a famous teacher of singing, was so impressed with the talents of the two sisters that he undertook to give them gratuitous instruction, and after his death in 1833 they were received into the Conservatoire. Rachel made her first appearance at the Gymnase in Paul Duport's La Vendeenne on the 4th of April 1837, with only mediocre success. But on the 12th of June in the following year she succeeded, after great difficulty, in making a debut at the Theatre Francais, as Camille in Corneille's Horace, when her remarkable genius at once received general recognition. In the same year she played Roxane in Racine's Bajazet, winning a complete triumph, but it was in Racine's Phedre, which she first played on the 21st of January 1843, that her peculiar gifts were most strikingly manifested. Her range of characters was limited, but within it she was unsurpassable. She excelled particularly in the impersonation of evil or malignant passion, in her presentation of which there was a majesty and dignity which fascinated while it repelled. By careful training her voice, originally hard and harsh, had become flexible and melodious, and its low and muffled notes under the influence of passion possessed a thrilling and penetrating quality that was irresistible. In plays by contemporary authors she created the characters of Judith and Cleopatra in the tragedies of Madame de Girardin, but perhaps her most successful appearance was in 1849 in Scribe and Legouve's Adrienne Lecouvreur, which was written for her. In 1841 and in 1842 she visited London, where her interpretations of Corneille and Racine were the sensation of the season. In 1855 she made a tour in the United States with comparatively small success, but this was after her powers, through continued ill-health, had begun to deteriorate. She died of consumption at Cannet, near Nice, on the 4th of January 1858, and was buried in the Jewish part of the cemetery of Pere Lachaise in Paris. Rachel's third sister was Lia Felix.

See Jules G. Janin, Rachel et la tragedie (1858): Mrs Arthur Kennard, Rachel (Boston, 1888); and A. de Faucigny-Lucinge, Rachel et son temps (1910).

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