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Sarah Bernhardt in Omaha

The performance of a world-renowned French actress at the Boyd Theater in February of 1901 was front-page news in Omaha. More than two thousand persons saw and heard Sarah Bernhardt performing as Floria Tosca, heroine of the well-known drama and opera. The Omaha Daily News, February 6, 1901, noted the audience and its reaction to the performance:

"Most of Omaha's fashion and a large representation of its brains was at the Boyd last night to 'see Bernhardt.' The theater was full. . . . Bernhardt's reception was dignified and cordial. The audience rose admirably to the necessity of saving Omaha's artistic reputation, and by way of doing so, recalled the actress several times at the end of the third act, and also after the fourth. She seemed pleased, but she is disappointed when she is anything less than delighted. As for enthusiasm, how could there be enthusiasm when every person in the audience save six or eight was peering at the stage through a dense fog of lingual ignorance and was nervously uncertain just when enthusiasm would be acceptable to the divinity?

"But Bernhardt's undoubted genius must not be denied the tribute of an acknowledgment of the deep impression it made in spite of the enormous drawback of an unknown tongue. Those not familiar with spoken French, [with] its rapid flow of accented, staccato, almost explosive, syllables . . . for those, not even the Bernhardt voice-the bell-like sweetness and clearness and the indescribable individuality of which have not been one whit exaggerated-could save the long recitative passages from what it would be politeness to call uniformity. That the actress could sustain the interest of the unenlightened to the pitch reached by the average good performance in the English tongue, shows the power of her interpretation of meanings without words."

A reporter's visit to Bernhardt's backstage dressing room at the Boyd Theater revealed the high esteem in which she was held. "Every stitch and stick of the usual furnishings had been removed. The floor had been carpeted and the wall covered with tapestries. . . . From the door of the room to the points where Bernhardt was to enter the various scenes new, clean canvas had been stretched for her to walk on, that her wonderful gowns should not come in contact with the dusty stage."

(August 2003)


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