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An Introduction

The Ridiculous Excess
of Mercy


Brunhilde's Act

The Portrait of a
Russian Gay Gentleman

The Young Woman
and a River

C Major or E Flat
Minor? No, Thanks!



The Portrait of a Russian Gay
Gentleman, or, the Mystery of a
Superfluous Act II

Slavoj Zizek


[...]t is as if Tchaikovsky provides here an example of what Walter Benjamin developed as a message coming from the future, of something at which the time it was written was lacking the proper means to hear/understand it properly. (This is how modernism works: what were originally fragments of an organic Whole get autonomized—in painting, the whole of late Miro can be traced back to the details of his early figurative paintings.) No wonder that this is the music used for the ballet sequence at the end of Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain. This is what is worth looking for in Tchaikovsky—such signs from the future, such miracles of modernity in the midst of Romantic kitsch.

In Francesca, Tchaikovsky presents a symphonic interpretation of the tragic tale from the fifth canto of Dante’s Inferno: Dante the narrator meets the shade of Francesca da Rimini, a noblewoman who fell in love with the brother of her ugly husband; after the lovers were discovered and killed in revenge by the husband, they were condemned to hell for their adulterous passions. In their damnation, they are trapped in a violent storm but separated from each other, never to touch again, tormented most of all by the ineradicable memory of the joys and pleasures of the embraces they once shared. No wonder Francesca was written immediately prior to Onegin: the topic of lovers suffering eternal damnation in Hell as the punishment for their prohibited lust should be given all its weight—for Tchaikovsky, the fully consummated heterosexual passion was Hell. One can thus propose a precise hypothesis: what if, in Onegin, the book Tatyana is reading at the beginning of Act I, depicting the suffering of lovers, the cause of her pale face, is none other than Dante’s Inferno, more precisely, the story of Francesca da Rimini?[...]


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