The story of Anna Akhmatova
& Amedeo Modigliani in Paris in the spring of 1911
Anna & Amedeo:
an unforgettable spring
Mikhail Levitin with John Woodsworth
In 1910 St-Petersburg poetess Anna
Akhmatova came to Paris on her honeymoon with fellow poet Nikolai Gumilev
(who adored her but whose love she did not reciprocate). While in
Paris she met a bohemian-type Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani, who had
a studio in Paris at the time. After she returned to St-Petersburg
the two corresponded for a year, and in the spring of 1911 she made another
trip to Paris, this time alone, and spent two 'glorious' weeks with Modigliani.
The drama of Anna and Amedeo:
an unforgettable spring lies in the fact that their deep love for
each other was coupled with the realisation that once she returned to St-Petersburg
in 1911, any future meeting would be impossible. In addition, the
guilt Akhmatova felt in regard to her husband is reflected in several of
Both Akhmatova and Modigliani were
very intelligent people, erudite lovers of poetry and art, and spent hours
talking about the painters and poets of the day. Most importantly,
during the two weeks they spent together, they were inspired by their love
and awareness of their impending separation to create both love-poems and
love-drawings in profusion. Not only that, but the inspiration lasted
long after their parting. Hundreds of Akhmatova's poems throughout
her lifetime were dedicated to Modigliani (either directly or indirectly),
while the poetess's delicate features (particularly her famous elongated
neck, featured in Gumilev's "swan" poem) continued to dominate Modigliani's
drawings and sculptures. These works of art, in turn, were more precious
to Akhmatova than anything else. One might say that their meeting
in Paris was a crucible in which two powerful artistic forces chemicalised
and left a new legacy both for Russian poetry and for Parisian art as well
as a contribution to world culture.
Text of the play
The composition consists of three
parts: (a) the 1911 Paris meeting between Akhmatova and Modigliani; (b)
the period following their meeting up to Modigliani's death in 1920; (c)
the period from 1920 up until Akhmatova's death in 1966.
The text of the composition is by
Russian-Canadian writer Mikhail Levitin, a long-time reader of Akhmatova's
works, on the basis of her memoirs and other reference materials.
The dialogue, though somewhat fictionalised, follows closely the records
of Akhmatova's own words and critical studies. Interspersed with
the dialogue, at appropriate moments, are some 30 poems by Akhmatova, in
both the Russian original and John Woodsworth's verse-translation in English.
The rest of this poignant love-story is told through the integration of
dialogue and poetry with visual art, music and dance.
Poetry and visual art
The audience cannot help but be
stunned by the simple beauty of Akhmatova's poems and Modigliani gentle
sketches, which are shown as being created together in a symbolic act of
love. The symbolism will be expressed in the presentation as follows:
As the actor playing Modigliani imitates the drawing process on the stage,
a professional artist will re-create his drawing process on an overhead
projector, seen on a large screen. On a second overhead projector
(onto the same screen) a scribe will simultaneously pen lines of a corresponding
poem by Akhmatova (in Russian) as the actress portraying ANNA reads the
poem in English translation or ANNA's VOICE reads the poem in Russian (see
'Language aspects' below). As the reading and drawing-process move
toward their conclusion, the images become intertwined and finally the
screen will show a combination of poem and drawing as published in book-form.
Modigliani's sculptures will also be represented by large posters of these
sculptures in the scene of the courtyard adjacent to his studio.
Photo-slides (projected onto a different screen) will enhance the portrayal
of the 1911 Paris atmosphere.
The integration of poetry and visual
art in this play is a natural reflection of the main theme of the love
story between poet and artist, along with their intertwining creativity,
as their poems and drawings are seen to have an immediate impact on one
Music and dance
Music is integrated into the play
as a ubiquitous organic medium designed to convey the atmosphere of the
time and the characters' feelings, as well as (like the photo-slides) the
streets of Paris, the cafés, the very air. It will reflect
the great composers of the period: Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Rakhmaninoff,
Scriabin. Music will be provided by a violin, fiddle, guitar (which
Modigliani played in real life) and piano along with a female vocalist,
who will perform charming Russian romances with the words of Pushkin and
Lermontov, as well as five of Akhmatova's poems set to music by Mikhail
Levitin, along with piano improvisations by John Woodsworth.
It was Modigliani's guitar renditions
of Italian folk songs and his improvisations in particular that prompted
Akhmatova to pose for him, and her posing in turn inspired his paintings.
Her poses, though nude, were more reflective of her bodily beauty than
eroticism (they need not be shown nude on stage, however). Akhmatova
refers to these poses in several of her poems as reflective of her sad
anticipation of her parting from Modigliani.
Two dancers (one male and one female)
will re-create the dances of the period, fast and slow, traditional and
contemporary, reflecting Akhmatova's later memory of her romantic dances
with Modigliani in Paris cafés. The dancers will also re-create
Akhmatova's bodily poses (see preceding paragraph). They will also
perform a pantomime and some acting.
The immediate goal is to stage the
production in English (with Akhmatova's poems heard in the Russian original
as well as English translation). Eventually we hope to produce a
French version of the play (with poems in Russian and French), a Russian
version for Ottawa's Russian-speaking community, and possibly even a version
The arrangement of original and
translation in regard to the poems has two variants: (a) where the poem
is sung as a romance, it will be sung in the Russian original, followed
by its reading in English translation by the actress playing Anna; (b)
in other cases, 'Anna's voice' will read the first four lines of the original,
immediately followed by the whole poem in English, which in turn is followed
by the remaining lines of the original.
Script & concept development © Mikhail
English translation of Anna Akhmatova's poems
© John Woodsworth, 2002.