Hortense Barbe Loret (1845-1899)

Mlle. Horetense Barbe Loret, commonly known in the United States as Mlle. Rhea, was born in Brussels, Belgium in 1845 to French parents. At a young age she had lost her mother and her father lost his fortune, leaving her to fend for herself in life. She began studying acting in about 1865 at the suggestion of actor Charles Fechter, determined to make a way for herself. She studied in Paris and made her first appearance in Rouen in "Fairy Fingers". By 1881 she became interested in learning, and performing, in English and shortly thereafter she made her way to the United States where she became a popular figure in "the provinces." In 1899 her health took a bad turn and she returned to France to recover and made a home at Montmorency. She died there and her funeral was held at the parish church on May 12th, 1899.

Production History

Date Play Venue Role
May 19, 1890 Josephine, Empress of the French Baldwin Theater Josephine

Newspaper Articles (oldest first)

The Morning Call (San Francisco, California) - May 11, 1890


Rhea was born in Brussels September 14, 1855, of wealthy parents, who removed to Paris while she was very young. Five years of her girlhood were spent in a convent, and when she emerged from it she joined an amateur dramatic society where Charles Fechter, the great actor, heard her play and advised her to adopt the stage as a profession. Acting upon his advice she placed herself under the tutorship of Beauvallet at the Paris Conservatory, made her debut at Brussels in the comedy of "Fairy Fingers," and her appearance was conceded a decided hit. She was invited to remain in Brussels, and compiled, playing there a year. She subsequently went starring in France, and then settled at the Imperial Theater, St. Petersburg, Russia. After the death of the Czar - having been at the Imperial for five years - she went to England and studied the English language. October 13, 1881, she came to the United States and appeared at Booth's Theater, New York, on November 14th, in Adrienne Lecouvreur. She has had a good deal of trouble during her American career, but is gradually emerging from all her difficulties.


The play Rhea proposes to present us, is the first effort of its author, a Mr. Haven, and is well spoken of. It is particularly interesting to the student of the Napoleonic epoch in French history. Rhea will, of course, make up as a lovely Josephine, while another member of the company, Mr. William Harris, can personate the "little corporal" to the last button on his gray surtout.

New York Times (New York, NY) - May 22, 1899


News of Her Death Received in Buf-

falo - Was Popular in This


BUFFALO, May 22 - Word was received in Buffalo to-day of the death of Mlle. Rhea, the well-known actress, in Montmorency, France. The communication came in the shape of a large, black-bordered envelope containing an announcement of her funeral. The text of the letter translated was as follows:

"You are asked to assist as escort in the service of interment of Mlle. Hortense-Barbe Loret - called Rhea - who died, strengthened with the sacraments of the Church, at her home, Rue de Chesneaux, No. 10, in Montmorency, in her fifty-fifth year. The service will take place on Friday, May 12, 1899, at 3 P.M., in the parish church at Montmorency."

Mlle. Hortense Rhea was born in Belgium of French parents. She began to study for the stage when about twenty years old, having been induced to do so, it is said, at the suggestion of Charles Fechter, the actor, whom she met at a reception in Brussels. The loss by her father of his fortune, and the death of her mother, had thrown her largely upon her own resources, and the suggestion was instantly acted upon. After studying in Paris, she made her first appearance in Rouen in "Fairy Fingers."

In 1876 Rhea made her debut in "Camille" in the Imperial Theatre, and for the next five years she played in various Continental cities. Going to London in 1881 for a vacation, she became interested in the study of English, and determined to play in that language. In one month she is said to have so far progressed in the language as to be able to take he part of Beatrice in "Much Ado About Nothing."

Shortly afterward Mlle. Rhea came to America, where, with the exception of occasional visits to Europe, she spent the rest of her life. When she began acting here, her command of English still was somewhat incomplete, and her first efforts were not successful. She studied bravely, however, and soon laid the foundations of a growing reputation.

In spite of the fact that she spoke English with a pronounced French accent, she attained wide popularity in such plays as "The Widow," "Camille," "The Power of Love," "The American Countess," "Mary Stuart," and "Adrienne." One of her later plays was "Josephine, Empress of the French," the title role of which was one of her favorite parts.

Although she appeared frequently in this city, Mlle. Rhea's most pronounced successes were won in "the provinces," where she enjoyed a vogue that lasted for many years. Her French intonation, while it did not conform to established rules of elocution, was a source of attraction to many people, lending an added attractiveness in their eyes to her other foreign mannerisms. About five years ago Mlle. Rhea appeared in this city for the last time, at the Knickerbocker Theatre. Just before the failure of her health caused her to go abroad, she had arranged to appear with Louis James and Frederick Warde, but she was unable to fill that engagement

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