Bolshoy Theatre, Moscow Conductor: Sergei Rachmaninoff Company: Bolshoy Opera
GHOST OF VIRGIL
Spectres of hell, retinues of Cardinal and Malatesta
Time and Place
Rimini, 13th century
Making their way through the Circles of Hell, Dante and the ghost of Virgil come to a place of whirlwinds where they meet the spirits of those damned by lust. Here they meet Francesca and her lover Paolo and their story is retold. In life, Francesca is married to a great warrior, Lanceotto Malatesta. Lanceotto has had many successes in battle, but these bring him no joy, as he is tortured by jealousy and fear that his wife loves his younger brother Paolo, whom he had originally sent to woo Francesca on her father’s advice. Francesca had not realised Paolo was representing his older brother and had exchanged vows with the younger man believing she was to marry him. She now accepts she is Lanceotto’s wife, but cannot pretend to show him love. Lanceotto sets a trap. He announces he must leave for war, and commits his wife to his brother’s care. To entertain Francesca in her husband’s absence, Paolo reads her the story of Lancelot and Guinevere and, as he reads, connects the tale to their own situation. When he arrives at the point where Lancelot and Guinevere embrace and kiss, Francesca yields herself to him. At that moment, Lanceotto rushes in and stabs them both to death. As Dante and Virgil listen to the end of this story, the screams of the dying lovers mingle with the cries of all the other souls of the damned streaming past in the whirlwind. The two poets are left meditating on Francesca and Paolo’s refrain: ‘There is no greater sadness in the world than to remember a time of joy in a time of grief’.