- (Aleksandër Moisiu, 1879-1935)Actor. Moissi was among the German-speaking theater's first modernist actors. Unlike most of his illustrious predecessors on the German stage, Moissi was not a native German speaker. He was born in Albania and grew up speaking Greek and Italian. His 40-year career in German earned him millions of dollars and wide acclaim, but at no time did Moissi lose his Mediterranean inflection. Nevertheless, that did not diminish his appeal; indeed, it seemed to enhance it.Moissi was Max Reinhardt's most frequently cast star in Berlin, where he became known for superbly effective death scenes. He expired hundreds of times as Romeo, Hamlet, Danton, and the suicidal Fedya in Leo Tolstoy's The LivingCorpse. Reinhardt initiated Moissi's transformation from a provincial café singer to an international star by insisting that Moissi retain his foreign accent. Reinhardt often cast foreigners because he sought an alternative to "high German" stage speech. Moissi became Reinhardt's most emblematic performer in provocative premieres of Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths (the first play Moissi did for Reinhardt), Hugo von Hof-mannsthal's Elektra, Georg Büchner's Dantons Tod (Danton's Death), and Frank Wedekind's Frühlings Erwachen (Spring's Awakening). In those and other plays, Moissi put himself on display as much as he created a character. He thus became the first German actor of a 20th-century type, a man who exhibits his own existence as a work of art, "a soul in the process of decomposition" (Rüdiger Schaper, Moissi [Berlin: Argon, 2000], 62). Several observers proclaimed Moissi as the "new" Josef Kainz, but unlike Kainz, Moissi embodied the young, decadent, depravity-seeking 20th century. Moissi's onstage sufferings and deaths became objects of morbid fascination. When Moissi played Oswald in Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts, his death throes started early in the play's second act and staggered on to the play's final scene, as he floundered into the lap of Agnes Sorma (as Mrs. Oswald) and gurgled, "May I sit near you mother? . . . I am the living dead!"Moissi volunteered for the German air force in 1914 and qualified as a fighter pilot. In 1915 his plane was shot down over England because he had mistakenly wandered into British airspace. The British sent him to a prisoner-of-war camp in France, and in French custody he performed as a singer at various French outposts along the Western Front. In Switzerland he reprised many of his prewar roles with a Reinhardt tour. In a 1917 prisoner-of-war exchange, Moissi gained his release, but his Berlin career never fully recovered its prewar glory. In his native Albania, King Zogu accorded Moissi state citizenship and asked him to be "master of ceremonies" at his court. Moissi declined the offer and elected to continue the profitable but exhausting business of touring. In New York, critics hailed him as "Europe's greatest living actor," "the man with the golden voice," and "the John Barrymore of the Old World." Moissi died in 1935 while on tour aboard a train that had just departed Vienna, where Moissi had expired on stage for what turned out to be the last time.
Historical dictionary of German Theatre. William Grange. 2006.
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