Andreina Gentili, commonly known as Andreina Pagnani, symbolised the typical qualities of a nineteenth century Diva, from magnetic and strong stage presence to the ability to identify herself with very different characters. Her eclecticism shone in several fields of the show: mainly on stage, where she worked with the greatest actors and directors of her generation, but also in movies where she played alongside Vittorio de Sica and Totò; she dubbed international divas such as Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer and she became famous to the general public thank to Tv shows roling Mrs. Maigret, the sweet wife of the french policeman Simenon (played by scene mate Gino Cervi).
«Andreina Pagnani was truly beautiful, but in a kind of restless and bitter way. There was like a question mark in her irregular beauty, which made her pathetic, but also gave her, according to the moments and characters played, an ironic touch that moderated every victim appearance; victim of feelings. At that time, more than the sweetness surrender of an heroin, she shone in a sort of discontent, a little bitter.» So the critic Florentine Roberto De Monticelli describes Mrs. Pagnani in the dayly newspaper “Corriere della Sera” on the 23rd November, 1981, the day after she passed away. Digging in the folds of the actress’s soul, the journalist penetrates the enigmatic of her grace, that we can identify as a symbolic, sad and ironic rope, that joins the woman to her most famous characters. Femme fatale and melancholy creature, Panther stage and also gentle and serene, Andreina Pagnani was primarily a voice rich in tones and shades: soft, warm, hilarious, ironic, melodious and dreamy, allowing her to pass by the most dramatic funds the sensuous lightness of comedy from boulevard, playing with the same intensity the dark Stepdaughter of 'Six characters in search of an author' of Pirandello and 'The lady of the radius of the moon', musical comedy by Garinei and Giovannini.
Andreina Pagnani attended scenes habitually from 1928, in her early twenties, as the first woman in the company of the Art Theatre in Milan until the Fifties, with sporadic appearances in the next two decades. In 1928 she was twenty-one years old and won a competition for amateur actors performing Mirandolina; one year later is hired as the first actress from Pilotto-Pescatori-Picasso - three of the most popular actors at that time -, in 1930 is the first woman in the company of Ruggero Ruggeri. Actress bourgeois par excellence, the Pagnani measure herself for the next in fifty years of her stage career with a varied repertoire: from Greek tragedy to the musical comedy, from the classics to the boulevard, from Shakespeare to Goldoni, and Chechov, Shaw, Wilde, Rattigan, Cocteau, Pirandello, Betti and with renewed curiosity, for a total of almost four hundred performances alongside the greatest performers and directors of the time. Pagnani way of acting matched perfectly with rough characters: the Pirandello Countess Ilse, crushed by the brutality of ‘The giants of the mountain’; Yvonne, the nympho mother attached to the teenage son of Cocteau 'The relatives terrible'; Lea de Lorval, the intense and sensual star of 'Chéri': a mature lady that ended her relationship with a boy laughing in front of the mirror and screaming «This old mad!»; Leona of ‘Royal jelly’ that sacrificed herself in the name of her daughter’s happiness.
The actress had a special connection with the city of Florence, where she participated in shows that have marked the history of theatre in the twentieth century, such as ‘The representation of Santa Olive’ (1933), the medieval mystery staged in the cloister of the church of Santa Croce by famous French director Jacques Copeau; the absolute premiere of ‘The giants of the mountain’, by Pirandello, at the Boboli Garden, or ‘I parenti terribili’ of Jean Cocteau at Teatro della Pergola in December 1946. Exactly one year after Pagnani’s death, at her behest, was held in Florence an auction of her furnishings: furs, carpets and personal items. The proceeds were donated to the House of rest for the artists of Bologna and other charities. Here the last will of the actress: «All that is left is only the result of my wonderful, but tiring, fifty years of work. I am proud of what I did and how I did it. [...] Now I am glad not to have worked and saved in vain.»

Una scena de 'La famiglia reale' rappresentata dalla Compagnia Za-Bum. Da sinistra a destra: M. Benassi, A. Pagnani, A. Sainati, I. Gramatica, M. Valentini, G. Chiantoni, E. Olivieri.

The meeting between Pagnani and Jacques Copeau was in very delicate moment of actress’s life. Her husband, the pilot Franco Pagnani, was just deceased of a plane crash and she was meditating to stop artistic activity. Thank to the religious soul of the famous French director Copeau, she found out a way to overcome the pain. «He talked to me of theology, he accompanied me to church to help me with my interpretation of Santa Olive, but most importantly, He treated me as warm and true friend. My personal memory of Copeau does not refer only to a memorable show, but to human encounter.» ("Sipario", 1965, n. 236). ‘Rappresentazione di Santa Uliva’ (‘The representation of Saint Olive’), the most harmonious and spiritual performance of the XX Century, that took place in Santa Croce cloister on June 5th- 7th 1933, blossomed from that human encounter. Her performance is known as a memorable one and became legendary in the memory of those who had the fortune to attend; under Copeau direction she reached one of the highest peaks of her art «a sorrowful expression, full of grace, and a pious attitude, always sincere, always touching » (Renato Simoni, "Corriere della Sera", June 6, 1933). One month later, Copeau summarizes in these words the secret of the success of the show: «You are praised, my dear little Andreina, for the gifts that are rare today: decency ... purity. I hope that you will be able to keep intact these gifts that God has given you and that the character of Santa Uliva had the honor to light up.» (Letter of Copeau to Andreina Pagnani, Paris, July 8th, 1933).
For the debut of 'The giants of the mountain' ('I giganti della montagna') the last and unfinished masterpiece of Luigi Pirandello (who died Dec. 10, 1936 ), the director Renato Simoni entrusted Andreina Pagnani to perform the character of the Countess Ilse, tragic and passionate protagonist whose poetry is crushed by the brutality of the giants of the mountain. That role was an effort for the actress and became an event of international importance too; she was able to mark a figure of rare delicacy and complexity, thank to rapid and continuous changing, from delirium to tenderness: the strenth to dominate loss of a weak and disgruntled creature. «Andreina traced the character of the Countess - writes Francesco Bernardelli - with harsh tones, but it did not prevent to soften, then, until grace and tenderness.» (Francesco Bernardelli, 'I giganti della montagna', in "La Stampa", June 6, 1937.)
'I parenti terribili’ ('The terrible relatives'), decadent drama written in 1938 by Jean Cocteau, is considered the symbol-shows of the brand new twentieth century Italian scene. The staging of Luchino Visconti – movie director that marked theatre with his meticulous care of the assembly and acting – was an hearthquake on the theatre world. Public and the critics loved the overwhelming interpretation of Yvonne, the nympho mother attached to her teenage: in twilight she was pale, without makeup; the actress was struggling with fierce desperation on the bed get dirty by lipstick markes and insulin injections, composing a pathetic figure, dramatically true. At the Teatro della Pergola 'The terrible relatives ' (I parenti terribili) arrived in December 1946: the edition was revised by the company cause the disagreements between the actress and Visconti during a rehearsal of ‘Il candeliere’ of De Musset in late spring 1945.
In a world that is not always easy and benevolent as that one of the show, Pagnani had many friends; not just actors and leading men of the Italian and European culture, but also several divas who loved and esteemed her: Lina Wertmüller, Rossella Falk, Elsa Merlini, Giuliana Lojodice. But mostly she was proud of been a talent scout of young actors, later became famous, including Giorgio De Lullo, Anthony Pierfederici, Corrado Pani, Valeria Valeri and Giancarlo Sbragia.

«To Andreina with friendship and a little bit of love. Rina»

«A Andreina Pagnani compagna carissima perchè ricordi un periodo di lavoro vissuto insieme. Renzo Ricci, Milano 942 XX»

«To my dearest Andreina, with love. Eduardo»

«Per Andreina con affetto e un ricordo di lavori e successi che sebbene lontani nel tempo sono sempre presenti alla memoria del cuore. Luchino, 1975»

«Alla nostra cara Andreina perché abbia vicino due persone che le vogliono tanto bene. Giorgio, Romolo, Natale 77»

«To Andreina with all the admiration and affection of Franco» After Andreina refusal of 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?', Zeffirelli wanted anyway her to perform in his show in 1968: 'Due più due non fa più quattro': a Lina Wertmüller comedy starring the great actress in a role, unusual for her, whimsical and witty.
Credits: Story

A cura di Adela Gjata e Gabriele Guagni

Traduzioni di Claudia Filippeschi

Credits: All media
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