Ravel, Pierre-Alfred, French actor (1811-1881). Autograph letter signed. Together with two portraits.

[St Petersburg, ca. 1865-1868].

8vo. 5¾ pp. on bifolia. With a lithographed and a wood-engraved portrait, both clipped and pasted on cardboard with handwritten identification "Ravel".


Charming and insightful letter to a friend, possibly to Eugène Labiche, reporting extensively on successful premieres at the famous Mikhailovsky Theatre in St Petersburg and on his Russian journey in general. Ravel describes the reception of four vaudeville plays: "Le capitain", probably Charles Voirin's "Le capitain Roland", "Le caporal et la payse", "Les ressources de Jonathas", both written or co-written by Voirin, and Jules Moinaux's "Le café de la rue de la lune". Despite the apparent success of the first premiere, Ravel felt he was received "very well but somewhat coolly", speculating that he was judged harshly as "the man who earns seventy thousand francs". He must also get used to Russian theatrical customs: "They listened to me with devotion, with pleasure, but without much laughter, although it seems that in the boxes, in the foyers and in the corridors, it was said, after the piece, 'that is an actor who has a lot of talent', which is the Russian idiom" (transl.). With respect to the "Caporal", Ravel refers to the actors Charles-Edme Vernet, Louis Leménil, and Julien Deschamps who had apparently played the role in St Petersburg before, summing up the evening: "Asked to return to the stage after the first scene of the captain, a bit coldly but with politeness, asked to return to the stage with a lot of vigour at the end of the play; asked to return to the stage twice after the caporal". When Ravel, after the performance, complains to a Russian friend referred to as "the general", he tells him: "In one month, my dear, you will be the actor beloved by the court and the high society".

The reception of "Jonathas" and "Le café de la rue de la lune" was much more to Ravel's liking: "Second debut: a completely different thing this time [...] Even at my entrance the reception is not the same; I was confronted with an audience that did not ask for more; Jonathas shook them, touched them, made them dance in their seats, and with the Rue de la Lune, I kept them until half past midnight, which seems strong considering that the people are used to leaving at eleven and never stay for the last piece". In view of this triumph, the general corrects his prognosis: "I believe, my dear, that you will not take a month".

Concerning his journey, Ravel is not too impressed: "Russia is not an extraordinary country except during the ice season; St Petersburg is a city without any particular mark: St Isaac's Cathedral; a beautiful river, the Neva; voilà, that's it. My life here? I am very bored, and concerning the interior of the theatre I shall not say a word, I want neither to humiliate you nor carry you away by my accounts with ideas of luxury that you might regret later".

Despite the apparent success, Pierre-Albert Ravel's engagement at the Mikhailovsky Theatre is hardly recorded. The most recent piece performed by Ravel in St Petersburg was Moinaux's "Le café de la rue de la lune" from 1862. From 1863 onwards, Ravel's star in Paris began slowly to sink due to changing audience tastes. He started touring the French province and abroad, including London in 1867, returning to Paris in 1868 to perform at the Gymnase. St Petersburg was probably part of this international tour.

The recipient of the letter is clearly connected to the Parisian vaudeville theatre, specifically the Théâtre du Palais-Royal, where Ravel had played for twenty years, including the plays mentioned in the letter. Eugène Labiche was the most important vaudeville author connected to the Palais-Royal and a friend of Ravel's. Since Ravel sends greetings to an Adèle, the name of Labiche's wife, it might be speculated that the recipient was none other than the great playwright.

Traces of folds. Somewhat stained with minimal tears to the folds of the second bifolium.

Stock Code: BN#58393 Tag: