Ester Bijou, the glamorous queen of the Salone Margherita commits suicide for love

by Francesco Li Volti

Ester Bijou he won't say anything to most people today. Yet at the beginning of the last century there was no pious soul who did not know this name. Giovanna Santagata (this is the real name) went to the news for her talent, her beauty and then, for her tragic death. Born in Capua, in the province of Caserta on 19 July 1883, very blond and with two intense blue eyes, the sciantosa he was defined, from the beginning of his career, the "blond devil" for his ability to go wild on the stage and to involve and unleash the audience in the hall.

Ester made her debut in the world of variety at a very young age, together with duetists Trumpet e Mimi Albin. It had to be a different sciantosa from the others, so much so that "the Eldorado"(A monthly of theater and music), he even dedicated the cover to her, with a rich and interesting article:

"When we noticed this artist two or three years ago, we immediately understood the quickness of spirit that would lead her to a rapid success that in a short time makes her now one of the most famous "ètoiles" of our artistic field. Esterina Bijou from Capua presents a pleasant repertoire with a suggestive voice (if not strong and beautiful) and with verve that knows everything about the Parisian crackling. At our Salone Margherita, for more than a month, the number that interests the others, and that receives sincere and compact applause, perhaps like no other number in the program.“.

Ester Bijou, the glamorous queen of the Salone Margherita commits suicide for love
A rare image of Ester Bijou

La sciantosa: the origins

Crazy loves, lovers, overwhelming passions, gunshots and tragedies, patrimonies in smoke and suicides. They were considered women of lust, but who, few remember, on September 6, 1860, following the entry of Garibaldi in Naples, hundreds headed for the prison of the Vicariate demanding the release of their protectors and shouting Garibaldi slogans.

These women wore a red jacket and a series of skirts, the typical attire of songwriters. After a year a via Toledo magically opened the first Neapolitan café-chantant. The first songwriters also performed here, singers with an approximate technique but full of charm, many of whom participated in the previous year's protest. They were practically the first skiers, all dressed in red and what Roberto De Simone described how Sciantose Garibaldine.

Ester Bijou: from glory to tragedy

Returning to the protagonist of our story, the blond devil was truly an extraordinary talent: from the stage of Eden Theater (a concert café, with a few tables and a small audience opened in Naples in 1894) to that of Margherita room, he even managed to execute the so-called center number, a prerogative, up to that moment, only of foreign sciantos.

1906 is the year of real success. Ester Bijou, strong of its admirers all over the world, leaves the Salone to land in the most prestigious salons e Café Chantant in Paris and Malta, thus becoming the first Italian woman to reach these horizons, principals of the sun French, Hungarian and Spanish sciantose. The requests for it, in the years between 1905 and 1910, were so many, that often the sciantosa capuana referred to them or, even, did not show up directly.

In August 1907, on the occasion of one of his concerts on the island of Malta al Café du Commerce, the Cavalier Vincenzi, owner of the show, was forced to increase the price of the ticket, to contain the number of reservations. But, to the great surprise, the unthinkable happened: despite the shrewd ploy, Vincezi found his place crowded with the public, so excited and noisy as to endanger the furnishings of the Café.

It is said that the sciantosa was very vain, always looking for precious jewels, suitors and luxury in general, spending most of her earnings on clothes, stage costumes, valuable paintings and period furniture. She was much loved and at the same timeor much hated and, despite her lively character, she received many attacks mainly from her envious colleagues and rejected journalists.

July 4, 1912, just 29 years old and with an enviable career behind her, after a theatrical performance at the Salone Margherita, she was found lifeless in a hotel in Naples, with a revolver shot to the heart. The chronicles of the time told that the tragedy occurred due to the abandonment of her lover, the Prince of Fondi, an elegant and aristocratic young Neapolitan, but a veil of healthy journalistic doubt would be a must. In fact, the Bijou was surrounded by friends and enemies, admirers and stalkers, true loves and monsters. We will never know the truth, but the charm behind his disappearance is certainly bewitching. Just like our beautiful sciantosa.

Bibliography

Andrea Jelardi, Streets, characters and stories of Naples, from Posillipo to Toledo, Alfredo Guida Editore, Naples, 2007

Vittorio Paliotti, History of the Neapolitan song, Newton And Compton, Rome, 2004

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