Opera Scotland

Francesca da Rimini Franceska da Rimini

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Sergey Rachmaninov (born Semyonovo, 1 April 1873; died Beverly Hills, 28 March 1943)


Modest Tchaikovsky


Canto V (Verses 116-142) of L'Inferno, poem by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)



First Performance: Moscow (Bolshoi Theatre), 24 January 1906.

First Performance in UK: Chester (ABC Cinema), 28 June 1973 (concert).

First Performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 6 May 2018 (concert).

Scottish Opera premiere: as above.



The third of Rachmaninov's short operas suffers from a rather inadequate libretto by Modest Tchaikovsky. It is badly structured, with a substantial episode for Dante and Virgil introducing the piece, followed by a flashback in which we are introduced to Lanciotto, Francesca's husband, who is lame and unloved. Not enough time is devoted to the lovers, though their duet is superb.

Despite this obvious fault, much of the music is absorbing. The introduction, in particular, is influenced by Tchaikovsky's earlier symphonic piece, with the depiction of Hell in stormy, dramatic terms. Rachmaninov adds a wordless off-stage chorus to heighten the effect of the Prologue, in which Dante is guided by the ghost of Virgil. The effect is repeated in the Epilogue.



Ghost of Virgil (baritone)

Dante (tenor)

Lanciotto Malatesta, ruler of Rimini (baritone)

Francesca, his wife (soprano)

Paolo, Lanciotto's brother (tenor)


Plot Summary

As they approach the abyss and look down to the various circles of Hell, the poet Dante is urged by the ghost of an earler writer, Virgil, not to be afraid. The lovers Paolo and Francesca are among those lamenting that they are consigned to this region.

Lanciotto is about to go to battle in support of the Pope and the Guelph cause, against the Ghibellines. He regrets that because of his lameness his wife was tricked into marrying him through a courtship carried out by his younger brother, Paolo. He tells Francesca that Paolo will be in charge during his absence.

He returns unannounced and, finding them together, kills them both.

From their position in Hell they tell Dante of the contrast, looking back on their brief period of happiness.

The Cast

Dante Alighieri
 a poet
 Lanciotto's wife
Ghost of Virgil
Lanciotto Malatesta
 ruler of Rimini
 Lanciotto's brother

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