Scen.: Lois Weber, Marion Orth. F.: Dal Clawson, Allen Siegler, R.W. Walter. Int.: Anna Pavlova (Fenella), Rupert Julian (Masaniello), Wadsworth Harris (duca d’Arcos), Douglas Gerrard (Alphonso), John Holt (Conde), Betty Schade (Isabella), Edna Maison (Elvira), Hart Hoxie (Perrone), William Wolbert (Pietro), Laura Oakley (Rilla), N. De Brouillet (Father Francisco), George A. Williams. Prod.: Universal. Pri. pro.: 3 aprile 1916. 35mm. L.: 2280 m. D.: 112’ a 18 f/s. Bn.
“Cabiria stood for spectacle, The Birth of a Nation for emotional thrill, Carmen for individual force, The Dumb Girl of Portici for artistic force”, proclaimed Kitty Kelly in the “Chicago Tribune”, placing Lois Weber’s monumental feature alongside the era’s greatest spectacles. Newly restored by the BFI and accompanied by John Sweeney’s new score, The Dumb Girl of Portici is among Weber’s most ambitious productions. An adaptation of Daniel Auber’s 1828 opera, La Muette de Portici, this extraordinary film marks Anna Pavlova’s only feature film appearance. Signing the famed ballerina was a striking coup for Universal, on par with the much-heralded debut of soprano Geraldine Farrar in Cecil B. DeMille’s Carmen the previous year. Pavlova had already turned down several offers to appear on screen, but Carl Laemmle reportedly wooed the dancer by showing her Universal’s impressive production facilities and allowing her to choose the property in which she would appear. Remembering “ever since I was old enough to know what the stage meant, I have been possessed of a desire to play the role of Fenella”, Pavlova asked to star in a screen adaptation of Auber’s opera. Set in 17th-century Naples, The Dumb Girl of Portici tells the story of Fenella’s tragic involvement in a revolt against Hapsburg rule, led by her brother Masaniello. Noted for its introduction of dance into opera, it had rarely been produced because the role of mute Fenella was considered unusually demanding. But it furnished an ideal screen vehicle for Pavlova. After shooting was complete, she toured the U.S. in a stage production of La Muette de Portici jointly mounted by the Boston Opera Company and her own Ballet Russe.