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...
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 MIKHAIL LEVITIN
with JOHN WOODSWORTH
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Project description:
Anna & Amedeo:
an unforgettable spring

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AN INTEGRATED-ART
THEATRICAL COMPOSITION
with translations of Akhmatova's poetry
by John Woodsworth
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(page updated 28 June 2002)
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..
Mikhail Levitin is a Russian-Canadian writer based in Ottawa.  Since JW's translation of his book The Outcast's sonata was published by Legas in 1995 (see my Prose translation page for details), Mr Levitin and JW have co-operated on a number of projects.
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PLEASE NOTE:

The following is a description of a dramatic multi-media project for which funding is currently being sought toward an eventual stage performance in Ottawa.  Enquiries are welcome and may be addressed to John Woodsworth or Mikhail Levitin.  Further details provided on request.

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Project description:
Anna & Amedeo:
an unforgettable spring
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The story of Anna Akhmatova & Amedeo Modigliani in Paris in the spring of 1911
 

Mikhail Levitin with John Woodsworth


Background

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 her poems.

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 another. 

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.

Language aspects

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 in Italian.
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 Levitin, 2002
English translation of Anna Akhmatova's poems © John Woodsworth, 2002.

 

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...
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"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you... 
Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

-- John 14:27
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E-mail : <jw[at ]kanadacha.ca>
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