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42

 

The fact that it was going to be pantomime and not words, a wordless play, brought in Charles Cochran, the great producer at that time, who perhaps hesitated at first. But when Karl mentioned the mere possibility of a pantomime, Mr. Cochran was not to be put off any longer. Within a few days, the whole thing was settled and Englebert Humperdinck was invited to write the music for “The Miracle". The first performance of "The Miracle" took place December 23, 1911, at Olympia.

 

Now, why do I bring all this past history into the present? Because on this first night of December 23, 1911, it was Norina Matchabelli, under the nom d'art of Maria Carmi, who played the role of the Madonna in this most moving and dramatic play. It was her first husband, Karl Vollmoeller, who wrote the book for the play.

 

Norina Matchabelli had not been in the theatre up to then, but a group of English backers who financed "The Miracle" as a revival of the traditional spiritual Christian pantomime, made a condition that the holy part of the Madonna should be played by someone who did not belong to the professional world of the theatre, but a spiritual type in personality and appearance. They found in Norina Matchabelli's Florentine features and in her innate artistry the qualities that made her unique performance of the role unforgettable to those who saw it not only in London, but in most of the capitals of Europe.

 

Now amongst the 30,000 people who squeezed themselves nightly into the huge Olympia was my young brother of 12, Herbert. He never missed going nightly to the play just across from his home, so moved was he by the music and the performance of the Madonna, and for years, afterwards he would sit at the piano playing sections from the musical score. I think nothing since has moved him to such an extent, except his first meeting with Meher Baba.

 

I missed the play myself, for in 1911-12 I was in Canada, but Herbert wrote to me frequently of the play, and the effect it had on him, never realizing for a moment that destiny was to bring him face to face with two of the creators of this moving experience and that later they would be working together.

 

But here is a thought to ponder on. Has anyone thought that the use of pantomime might be appropriate for Baba's film and be equally successful as was "The Miracle", moving a large number of people through its silent message of love and truth?

 

Meher Baba has said that "things that are real are given and received in silence." And at least one New York critic saw something of that fact in "The Miracle" when he wrote that the play delivered "the greatest triumph that the theatre can know ― the priceless boon of complete silence."

 

Now, to go back to the story of Baba's film project. What do we find? In 1932-33, Baba brings together for the first time my brother, Herbert, and Norina Matchabelli. Then in 1934, for the great work of His film project, Baba brings together Norina, who was the original Madonna in "The Miracle"; Karl Vollmoeller, the scenario writer for "The Miracle"; and Herbert, who went nightly as a boy to see that first magnificent production of "The Miracle" at the Olympia in Hammersmith. See how Baba works!

 

I recall Norina telling me how she had come home from a sanatorium in Switzerland for a "last" visit with the family in Florence. She was seriously ill with TB. The group mentioned above — Karl Vollmoeller, the composer Humperdinck and Max Reinhardt were in the garden: they had been searching unsuccessfully for the perfect Madonna for over a year; suddenly Reinhardt pointed to Norina and said, "There's your Madonna!" She left her sick bed, went to London with all its chill and fog, took part in strenuous rehearsals, and later, in the continuous performances of the smash hit. The real miracle of "The Miracle" was that she recovered completely. There were even instances of healings of others who attended the play. — Fills

 

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