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Ralph Fiennes, Helen Mirren read Dante’s Divine Comedy to benefit Afghan refugees

Ralph Fiennes, Helen Mirren


John Burger - published on 09/01/21

700th anniversary reading in Florence will raise funds for the Sant'Egidio Community.

For those who have escaped the hell of Afghanistan and now might be traveling through a purgatorial voyage toward a hoped-for oasis, the Italian Community of Sant’Egidio is collaborating with a Milan theater producer and a UK playwright in a marathon reading of Dante’s Divine Comedy. All ticket proceeds will benefit Sant’Egidio’s work with refugees.

The production will feature performances by English actors Ralph Fiennes and Helen Mirren. 

The filmed readings by Fiennes, Mirren and others will be interspersed by live readings in Florence by a diverse international cast. 

The event, taking place over 24 hours between September 13 and 14, will mark the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death. It comes as refugees from Afghanistan are expected to arrive in Italy and other Western nations, following the end of the U.S. military involvement there and the country’s takeover by the extremist Islamist group the Taliban. 

“Speaking Dante” is a co-production of Milan theatre producer Julia Holden and award-winning UK playwright Justin Butcher. It will use the acclaimed English translation of the Divine Comedy by Robert and Jean Hollander. The live production in Florence, which will be in English with Italian subtitles, is open to the public but also will be live-streamed around the world.

Video designs by acclaimed artist Damian Hale, drawing on the illustrations of William Blake, Gustave Doré and Gabriele dell’Otto, will combine with music and sound by award-winning designer Sebastian Frost to conjure a haunting immersive experience on stage and on screen, producers said. 

“Speaking Dante” will be hosted by the Cinema la Compagnia in Florence, in partnership with the Teatro della Pergola, the British Institute of Florence and The Florentine magazine. It will be available online until 11 p.m. UK time on September 24. Tickets are available online.

The Community of Sant’Egidio’s work supporting refugees and migrants in Italy includes the Schools of Language & Culture, the Humanitarian Corridors Project, and the Genti di Pace (People of Peace) project. “Speaking Dante” will raise funds for the Schools of Language & Culture in Florence, which enable refugees and migrants to learn Italian and engage with Italian culture.

Dante himself, who is often called the father of the Italian language, was a refugee from his home city of Florence during a time of civil war and political persecution.

“I have traveled like a stranger, almost like a beggar, through virtually all the regions to which this tongue of ours extends, displaying against my will the wound of fortune,” he wrote in another work, Covivio. “Truly I have been a ship without sail or rudder, blown … by the dry wind that painful poverty blows.”

It was during his exile that the Divine Comedy was conceived.

Coincidentally, the founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, Andrea Riccardi, is also the current President of the Dante Society, Società Dante Alighieri.

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