Debussy: Musician of France

By Victor I. Seroff | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXI
LE MARTYRE DE SAINT SÉBASTIEN

FOR SOME TWENTY YEARS d'Annunzio had been nursing the idea of writing a mystery play, Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien, but not until he reached the age of forty-five and was told by an "oracle" that he was to meet a violent death during July of the following year did he feel it as a compulsion. Two other events, far more realistic than an oracle's prediction, were also partly responsible for this new departure in his rich literary career. Long before the first days of that "fatal" July, d'Annunzio was chased by his creditors from his Tuscan villa. "France, France, without you the world would be all alone," d'Annunzio said as he chose the land of his "exile." And there, in the spring of 1910, when he came to Paris he saw for the first time Ida Rubinstein in Cleopatra, one of Diaghilev's productions.

The exotic beauty of this young dancer had conquered Paris. Musicians, sculptors, painters and reviewers became poets when speaking of her, and d'Annunzio sent a message, like a last S.O.S., to his friend Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac: "I have just seen Cleopatra. I cannot control my excitement, what is there to do?" Montesquiou had the answer -- "to write a work that would in an exceptional way bring to light the unique qualities of this artist and would raise her to the skies."

"Have the characters in mystery plays ever been presented in the nude?" d'Annunzio asked. He was told that men play the women's parts. "Then I will take revenge for the feminine sex -- Ida Rubinstein will play Saint Sebastian. Tall, slender, and flat-

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