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Francesco Cenci owns several palaces in and around Rome, leads a dissolute life with lavish feasts and doesn’t shrink from committing acts of violence to remove people he finds troublesome. He escapes trial by donating some of his real estate to the Church. He horrifies his dinner guests by gleefully announcing the death of his two sons. He responds to his daughter Beatrice’s despair by even worse physical abuse. Abetted by her stepmother Lucrezia, Beatrice plans her father’s murder.

The true story of Roman nobleman Francesco Cenci’s daughter, who was born in 1577 and executed along with Lucrezia in 1599, was turned into an opera by German composer Berthold Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt had first got to know the story in 1923 from a novella by Stendhal, but an opportunity to set a libretto drawn from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s play The Cenci didn’t present itself until 1949 when he entered an opera competition in the United Kingdom. The Jewish composer had lived in London since 1935, dying there in 1996. The competition jury awarded his draft opera a prize, but the promised performance never took place. It was not until 1988 that it received its concert premiere in London. Goldschmidt himself described the work as a “real bel canto opera” and it ends with a poignant requiem for the two executed women.

This suspenseful opera about church corruption and human violence will be directed by Johannes Erath, whose staging of Miroslav Srnka’s Make No Noise at the Workshop Theatre in 2016 was very well received by audiences and critics alike. In recent years he has mounted productions at Bavarian State Opera, Semperoper Dresden, Oper Frankfurt and Oper Graz among other opera houses. Now together with set designer Katrin Connan and costume designer Katharina Tasch he will stage the first production of Beatrice Cenci in Austria at the Festspielhaus in Bregenz. The music director will be Johannes Debus, who Bregenz Festival audiences will remember for his realisation of Jacques Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann.

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