Mlle. Thérèsa (Emma Valadon, 1837-1913), popular French café-concert singer, the ‘Patti of the pot-house’
(photo: Gaston & Mathieu, Paris, circa 1867)
‘A LETTER OF GOSSIP FROM PARIS.
‘PARIS, Monday …
‘If English ladies choose to go and see Mdlle. SCHNEIDER play the Part of La belle Hélène, in imitation of the beauties of Mabille, that is their affair. The piece was not composed for them, and no representations of it are given at the Grand Hôtel for their special edification. Moreover, the first demeanour of the heroine simply amuses them from its grotesqueness. They know nothing of the great original whose gestures and general manner Mdlle. SCHNEIDER imitates. Nor can they make anything of the allusions and jokes – fortunately not broad, but sharp, and to the perfectly pure mind impalpable – in which the operetta of La Belle Hélène abounds. It they could understand them, they would be in the position of the woman whom ROUSSEAU imagines beginning to read La Nouvelle Hèloise and continuing to read it – they would be “lost already.” The lively love-making of Paris and Helen is also considerably veiled by M. OFFENBACH’S brisk and rather noisy music through which it is carried on; and it may be said in favour of the positive morality of the piece that Helen, in spite of a certain levity which she has acquired by frequenting too assiduously the public gardens of Greece, makes a desperate resistance, until Paris, at the end of the third and last act, carried her off by force. THÉRÈSA is said to aspire to a more artistic reputation that she now enjoys, while Mdlle. SCHNEIDER wishes to descend to the not very dignified but exceedingly profitable position which THÉRÈSA actually fills. Instead of remaining on the stage during the greater part of the time occupied by the performances of three long acts, and singing in some eight or ten solos and concerted pieces, Mdlle. SCHNEIDER, at her musical tavern, will only have to sing twice, or at most three times, in the course of the evening, and during the intervals between the songs will have absolutely nothing to do. She will have no parts to learn, and consequently no rehearsals to attend; her costumes will cost her next to nothing, and she will be paid an immense salary. Let her “floor” THÉRÈSA, as it is said she threatens to do, and she may gain three thousand a year. That, at least, is the figure at which THÉRÈSA’S income for the last twelve months is estimated – not in francs, but in pounds. It is about a quarter of what Mdlle. PATTI was receiving two or three years ago.
‘Why, it may be asked, should the graceful, charming ADELINA be mentioned in the same sentence as THÉRÈSA? A sort of comparison, however, has been instituted between them. THÉRÈSA has been called by her admirers “the PATTI of the people,” and by her detractors the “PATTI of the pot-house,” and it is quite true that she resembles PATTI in being very successful, and in gaining large sums of money. Still, as there is not the remotest personal or artistic resemblance between the two, the comparison suggested by the above phrases is absurd. FIORNTINO was much nearer the mark when he called THÉRÈSA “la Rigolboche de la Chansonette.” THÉRÈSA declared that this mot gave her much pain. Nevertheless she reprints it in her Memoirs – though, it is true, only to protest against it. She has no objection to being called “the SCHNEIDER of the café concert;” but we fancy she says this simply out of politeness to Mdlle. SCHNEIDER, whom she has spoken of just before (in her Memoirs) as “the THÉRÈSA of the stage.” This is all very well. But it is said that La Bell Hélène means mischief, and that she is determining to beat THÉRÈSA on her own ground, or to destroy even the memory of her if she retired to the stage before Mdlle. SCHNEIDER has an opportunity of challenging her to vocal combat before the frequenters of the café concerts. In a little while the partisans of SCHNEIDER and THÉRÈSA will no doubt form themselves into two hostile camps, like the Maratistes and Todistes at the beginning of the century. In the meantime THÉRÈSA’S début at the Bouffes Parisiens is to take place in a few days, while Mdlle. SCHNEIDER will be unable to make her first appearance at a singing tavern for some weeks to come.
‘It is easy to understand why singers, whose exclusive object is to make money, and to make it with as little trouble as possible, go to the café concerts in preference to the theatres. They may not gain quite as much as is generally reported, but it is certain that THÉRÈSA at the Alcazar only sings twice in the course of the evening, and that when the proprietor of a rival establishment brought an action against her not long ago for breach of agreement, the damages were laid at 40,000 francs. Accordingly, the salaries paid by the directors of the café concerts to popular singers must really be very great. How can they afford the outlay, when, according to the custom at those places, they charge nothing whatever for admission?
‘The answer is very simple. Every one who enters the Alcazar – now a music-hall decorated more or less in the Moorish style, formerly a drinking saloon attached to a brewery – must order a “consommation” of some kind; and he must “renouveler sa consommation” (or “renew his consumption,” as the proprietors say when they issue the injunction in English) before THÉRÈSA sings her second song. Otherwise, to the door with him! If he cannot take his two glasses he cannot here THÉRÈSA sing twice. There is no occasion, however, for the amateur to intoxicate himself; and the “consummation” most devoutly to be wished for at a café concert is a glass of cold water. The liberality of the proprietor allows the visitor to confine himself to this insipid but generally innocuous beverage, which at the Alcazar is charged for at the rate of one franc and a half per glass. It is only fair to add that a glass of beer or a thimbleful of brandy costs the same. You cannot, however, sit down in the place without spending a franc and a half, and the inexperienced visitor who gives his orders first and looks at the list of prices afterwards in all probability spends a great deal more. Served out at the rate of about half-a-crown a pint, a bucket of water or a barrel of bad beer will yield an enormous profit; and out of this profit THÉRÈSA receives her immense salary.’
(The Pall Mall Gazette, London, Tuesday, 25 April 1865, p. 11)