Magazine article Opera Canada

Neil Crory on the Rebuilt la Fenice

Magazine article Opera Canada

Neil Crory on the Rebuilt la Fenice

Article excerpt

VENEZIA. VENICE. FROM ITS WINDING CANALS AND narrow, labyrinthine streets to the decaying facades of age-old palaces that hang like an endless tapestry along the banks of the Grand Canal, this magical--magisterial--city continues to seduce with its sense of history, mystery and romance.

For centuries, newcomers to the city known as La Serenissima have succumbed to its spell. And while many have written of their fascination, it is the American novelist, Henry James, who best sums up for me the essence of Venice's attraction. "The essential character of the most melancholy of cities," he wrote in the 1870s, "resides simply in its being the most beautiful of tombs. Nowhere else has the past been laid to rest with such tenderness, such a sadness of resignation and remembrance. Nowhere else is the present so alien, so discontinuous, so like a crowd in a cemetery without garlands for the graves."

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The economy of Venice--for centuries a major political and maritime power--is now heavily rooted in tourism. With its trademark gondolas, campaniles and bridges, and such architectural wonders as the Palazzo Ducale, Basilica di San Marco and Santa Maria della Salute, Venice has become something of a European Disneyland, with hordes of tourists invading the slumbering city each morning, seemingly intent on plundering the many museums, churches, palaces, shops and restaurants. But through it all, Venice manages to retain--to radiate--a sense of quiet dignity.

Although a lot of the music available in Venice today is of the sort that is churned out for the tourist trade, the musical history of the city is a rich one. Gabrieli, Monteverdi and Cavalli all flourished here in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, as did Vivaldi a century later. Venice was also home to one of history's most prominent female composers, Barbara Strozzi. But perhaps most significantly of all, Venice, along with Florence, was the birthplace of a new art form that we now call opera, and, in 1637, the site of the world's first public opera house.

Since it first opened its doors in April 1792, La Fenice (The Phoenix) has been the main centre of operatic activity in Venice, with operas such as Rossini's Tancredi and Semiramide, Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Verdi's Ernani, Attila, Rigoletto, La traviata, and Simon Boccanegra, Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress and Britten's The Turn of the Screw--to name only a few--all receiving their world premieres there. …

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