Lyda Borelli was already a celebrated theatrical actress and fashion icon when she burst into film with the seminal Ma l’amor mio non muore! (But my love will never die!; 1913). Her cinematic career was relatively sparse—over six years, she only made 16 films—but enormously successful. Her elegance and unique screen presence were greatly admired, and she gave rise to the noun borellismo and the verb borelleggiare (to ‘Borrelli-ize’, i.e. to emulate the appearance and poses of Borelli).
In 1918, Lyda Borelli married the industrialist and aristocrat Conte Vittorio Cini, and retired from acting altogether, thereafter devoting herself to raising the couple’s four children. While in Bologna for Il Cinema Ritrovato, I learned of Casa Lyda Borelli, located on the via Saragozza, and decided to take a look.
The full name of Casa Lyda Borelli is Casa di riposo Lyda Borelli per artisti drammatici italiani, or Retirement Home for Italians in the Dramatic Arts. The concept is similar to that of the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Hollywood: to provide a place for Italian entertainers/actors/showbiz people to live in their old age. The foundation underlying the Casa di riposo was inaugurated in 1917 by theatre impresario Adolfo Re Riccardi, and the building on the via Saragozza was built in 1931 on land donated by the comune of Bologna. In memory of his wife, in 1959 Vittorio Cini donated a huge sum to the foundation, which funded significant architectural additions to the complex, as well as the Teatro Il Celebrazioni located next door—and gave the Casa its present name.
Therefore, this is not Borelli’s former home—it may well be that she never set foot there. Still, as a diva devotee, I decided to have a quick look around.
The Casa Lyda Borelli is a beautiful art deco building, cheerfully painted in shades of ochre. Behind the main building are several small other structures, including a chapel. Generally speaking, this is not a public place, so I simply walked around the large garden at the front of the house.
I won’t lie, a part of me was hoping for a double-life-size statue of la divina Lyda adorning the front garden. But despite this obvious design flaw, the garden was lovely. Italian stage actors and actresses are celebrated through a series of stone busts aligned on each side of the property. Naturally, Eleonora Duse was given pride of place:
Another person given the sculptural treatment was Ermete Zacconi, the great stage actor who also worked occasionally in film: a notable role was as the lead in L’emigrante (Itala-Film, 1915—available here on Vimeo), directed by Febo Mari.
Others commemorated thus included Ermete Novelli (no relation to Amleto Novelli), Tommaso Salvini, and Alfredo Testoni, a playwright who wrote primarily in Bolognese dialect. Finally, there was a bust of Ruggero Ruggeri. Although primarily a theatrical actor, Ruggeri made quite a few film appearances. In 1915, he co-starred in two films with Pina Menichelli, Papà and Il sottomarino n. 27; he also worked with Augusto Genina on the 1919 title Il principe dell’impossibile. His most important contribution to silent film, however, must be Amleto (1917), an excellent Hamlet adaptation in which he plays the title role. (Amleto can be watched here).
Although I did not have the chance to visit it, Casa Lyda Borelli has a library and archive in which collections of former inhabitants are held. They do not appear to hold materials devoted to Borelli herself; nonetheless, there is surely a wealth of material there, particularly for scholars of Italian theatrical history.
Taking a look to Casa Lyda Borelli was rather a strange thing to do, but it was very pleasant to wander along the via Saragozza to see the institution bearing Borelli’s name. What a lovely tribute for the Conte to make to his late wife, la diva Borelli.