Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History

Explore the extraordinary past of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through the pages of the book 'Novi Bečej and Vranjevo through History.' Uncover political events, economic development, and cultural heritage of these Banat towns through richly documented stories. Follow the evolution from the earliest days to the present, delving into the intricate threads of political intrigues, economic transformations, and cultural ascensions. Experience the past through the eyes of the author as the pages of the book unfold before you, providing a unique perspective on the life and legacy of these significant locales.

Draginja Ružić Popović, born on October 2, 1834, in Vranjevo, was the first Serbian professional actress
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Draginja Ružić Popović, born on October 2, 1834, in Vranjevo, was the first Serbian professional actress

After her father's death, among the first generation of actors of the Serbian National Theatre in Novi Sad, seven children (five daughters and two sons) of the priest Luka Popović from Vranjevo found themselves. Draginja was the first to go in 1860 to Serbian Čanad and joined the local amateur group. Knežević founded the first Serbian theater from this group in October 1860, whose members included actresses such as Draginja and Ljubica Popović, Emilija Rajković, and others. Nevertheless, Draginja is considered the first actress, not only because she stepped onto the stage a few days before these actresses but also because she understood and performed her job professionally from the first day.

Regarding the children of Pop Luka, it can be said that all were talented for the stage, but above all, hardworking and ambitious. They served as examples to everyone. They were especially welcome to the Serbian theater, especially in its most difficult period, the period of its formation. Among them, Draginja was the most talented and hardworking.

Although she only completed elementary school, she received a good upbringing in her family and acquired work habits. Besides her natural talent, she was very conscientious and hardworking. During her work in the theater, she became appropriately disciplined, so she was respected and loved by the troupe and the audience alike.

Records about her describe her as a woman of exceptional beauty, strong temperament, and high intelligence. At that time, almost all actresses of the Serbian National Theatre sang, but Draginja was the first among them, especially for folk melodies. Regarding her singing, the longtime director of the Serbian National Theatre, Antonije Hadžić, said: "...to sing like Ružićka, to sing Serbian as she did, no one could in our country, nor can they today." Thanks to her musicality, in addition to her clear voice, she had excellent diction and spoke "the best and most correctly among all our actresses."

In the history of Serbian theater, there were actresses who reached a higher artistic level than Draginja, of course, in a certain specific acting "category," but none were as versatile and with such a broad and diverse range as her. She achieved a very high artistic level in every genre.

Illustrating how she stood out from all the actors in the Serbian National Theatre is the fact that she had the highest salary from the beginning. Her salary in 1861 was seventy forints, while all other actors had fifty forints or less.

She joined the Serbian National Theatre in Novi Sad on July 16, 1861, and remained there until the end of her acting career. During all this time, she took a break from 1863 to 1865 when she played at the Croatian National Theatre and briefly toured (1872-1873) at the National Theatre in Belgrade.

From the very beginning of her acting career, she was noticed, and as she was very ambitious, she managed "with extremely diligent work to develop artistically very quickly, emphasizing her inexhaustible talent." She played the most diverse roles, from sentimental and dramatic lovers, character roles, comedic, serious, to singing. It is believed that she played around 350 roles, and she brought a lot of realism and naturalness to each one. She knew how to infuse her roles with lifelike authenticity and bring characters to life with the smallest details.

Thanks to her beauty, she could play any role, and in each one, as one reviewer wrote, "she would be able to captivate and amaze the audience." In her, one could see that modest, old Serbian spirit, "which without ostentation and meanness, with natural, vivid colors, draws and satirizes the satirical images of our weaknesses and follies, enveloping them with kindness, prickly humor, and piquant teasing."

Her longtime director A. Hadžić wrote about Draginja: "She knew how to breathe that true, life-giving spirit with her art: she proved, through faithful, truthful portrayals of the most diverse characters, be they comedic or tragic, that our acting talents can compete with great actors of other nations."

Contemporary critics evaluate her as a great artist of European artistic value. Jovan Grčić writes about her: "a mighty empress in the realm of Serbian Thalia." "Something great, so magnificent, so unique, that it resists the inevitable passing away by itself." One reviewer writes how her "so strong, so great, so versatile acting talent, her acting creations are the purest gems from the sea of our acting art." She is classified as an artist of the highest European level.

As she diligently prepared all her roles and was highly praised by theater critics for each one, it is very difficult today to pinpoint which role was her most successful. Her interpretation of certain roles received so much praise that it is claimed that some plays remained on the repertoire longer thanks to Draginja's exceptionally successful performance. From her first to her last appearance on stage, she was always measured.

She unexpectedly retired from the stage in 1898, at the age of sixty-four, after thirty-eight years on the stage. It was surprising because it was believed she was in her full artistic power; she was still celebrated and praised. However, she wanted, as she said, to remain in the audience's memory from her best days. Her last role was Jelisaveta in Schiller's play "Intrigue and Love" on June 27, 1898. Our greatest connoisseurs of theatrical art believe that no actor in the history of Serbian theater has been mourned so much and so sincerely as Draginja when she bid farewell to the stage and the theater audience.

Composer Isidor Bajić composed a farewell greeting to Draginja Ružić for her last performance. The poet Vladislav Kaćanski, as they say, wrote his best love poem back in 1886 during Draginja's twenty-fifth jubilee. It is claimed that these were not just occasional words written out of pure conventionality, as they exude the sincere enthusiasm of a loving poet:

"Oh, cover those black eyes,
hide your pale face,
cover your fair breast!

For if a fool notices them,
he will become wise,
and a wise man will go mad.

So hide your rosy face,
go away, beauty, leave my path.

My soul is a venomous snake,
a fiery dragon in my heart —
so I fear, my child,
this pair will devour you!"

At her farewell performance, the packed theater applauded the gifted and beloved artist for a long time. Many flattering and exciting words, along with valuable gifts, were a full recognition and gratitude from all those whom Draginja enchanted with her acting to ecstasy. She received as a gift a golden watch with a chain, a gold bracelet adorned with diamonds and pearls, and many other gifts. On that occasion, the chief of the Serbian National Theatre, Dr. Laza Stanojević, elevated her to the "artistic rank of a stage giant," and Dr. Laza Kostić humorously said, "I feel sorry for the stage, but I congratulate you!"

Thanking those present and her Serbian audience, as well as for the kind words spoken that evening in her honor, Draginja, proud but somewhat sad, among other things, conveyed to her successors on the stage:

"Remember in your work she who cleared and paved the thorny path and paved the way on which you will continue your work, so beneficial for the national enlightenment."

Draginja married Dimitrije Ružić, an actor of the Serbian National Theatre, in 1862. They got married in the Krušedol Monastery on February 2, 1862. Pera Dobrinović, the most famous Serbian actor, who incidentally was Draginja's son-in-law (her sister Jelisaveta-Jeca was Dobrinović's wife), said that she contributed greatly to the artistic development of Dimitrije Ružić, so thanks to her, he was and remained, alongside Pera Dobrinović, the best actor the Serbian National Theatre in Novi Sad ever had. The marriage of Draginja and Dimitrije Ružić was exceptionally harmonious, although Dimitrije was seven years younger. Dimitrije tragically experienced Draginja's death "and suffered inconsolably until the end of his life."

Draginja Ružić Popović died on September 6, 1903, in Vukovar, at the age of seventy-one. Her remains were later transferred from Vukovar to Novi Sad and buried in the Almaški cemetery in the same ossuary with her husband Dimitrije and her niece (through her youngest sister Sofija) Milka Marković.

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