Newly escaped with Balbi, a defrocked priest, from Leads Prison in Venice, Giacomo Casanova stops for a brief sojourn in Bolzano on his way to Munich in 1756. In order to make his stay more palatable, Casanova employs his considerable powers of persuasion to elicit lodging and all manner of material goods at a local inn.
Word soon spreads that this master of the secrets of love, ensconced in his rooms, is entertaining guests, offering advice and observations in aid of paying visitors, unraveling the thorny knots of their relationships and romantic trysts. The reputed lover’s flight from Leads is a boon to the gossiping citizens who follow his progress with enthusiasm and attend his surgeries seeking advice.
The Duke of Parma and his wife, Francesca, currently reside in Bolzano as well. The duke and the lover once fought a duel over Francesca, their jealousy still fresh in the memories of both. As a result of losing that duel, Casanova was vanquished, never to see his love again.
Unexpectedly, the duke arrives with an unusual proposition for the banished lover. Examining the complicated tentacles of his attachment to Francesca and the nature of love as he perceives it, Casanova is faced with an impossible conundrum, one that must be resolved by the time of his meeting with the duke’s wife.
In a personal narrative, Casanova muses on every aspect of his emotional attachment to Francesca. His argument is followed by a dialogue with the Duke of Parma and then Francesca, the very wise object of his affections, a woman who knows her lover better than he knows himself.
Casanova is doubly threatened: the duke’s reach is pervasive, and the Inquisition looms large in Casanova’s past and possibly his future, should he tarry too long in Bolzano. But even the Inquisition pales before the force of Francesca’s declaration of love and the clarity of her intent.
Brought together through the duke’s machinations, the lovers engage in a truly memorable encounter. Francesca’s dramatic soliloquy
mocks Casanova’s obfuscations in denial of his intentions, an expose far more deadly than the sharp point of his dagger.
In flowing prose that evokes both time and place, this remarkable feast of wit and the vagaries of love is a fine exercise in the illogic of discourse when applied to romance, obsession and the indulgence of grand passion.