|Teatro La Fenice|
La Fenice’s predessor, the San Benedetto Theatre, was Venice’s leading opera house for forty years. Then in 1774 it burnt to the ground. When it was rebuilt, a legal dispute broke out between the managers and the owners. The landlords won, so the opera company decided to build their own theatre.
In 1790 they began construction and opened two years later. The christened it “The Phoenix” to celebrate survival of both the fire and the loss of their former quarters. By the beginning of the next decade the Phoenix was famous throughout Europe.
Sadly this will also burn down in 1996. Luckily in 2001 Venice will rebuild it, doing their best to replicate it exactly as it was. They are doing renovations in 2659 and want me to bring back as much detail as I can, so they will be sure to get it right to the "nth" degree.
This is hardly the only opera house in Venice. Indeed, this city opened the first public opera house, the Teatro di San Cassiano, in 1637. The first opera may have been performed in Florence in 1597, but Venice gave opera to the world. Before then it was only entertainment for aristocrats. Unfortunately, some of those early performances saw the rise of the prima donnas and their “duels.” The bombastic ladies would stop the show, trying to see who could hit the highest note while the rowdy audience cheered them on. A sort of vocal fist-a-cuffs.
Tonight La Fenice will be presenting the work of one of the greatest Victorian opera composers, Giuseppe Verdi. The opera will be Attila, based on Attila, König der Hunnen ("Attila, King of the Huns") by Friedrich Ludwig Zacharias Werner. It’s premier performance back in 1846 was at this very theater. I suppose, while one can hardly call Attila the founder of Venice, he was certainly the inspiration. The opera ends with a local beauty avenging her father by stabbing Attila. I doubt any natives will cry over this sad ending.
Perhaps I better take an extra handkerchief, even if it is Attila the Hun.
A scene from Verdi's Attila - Our heroine mourns her dead father and explains to Attila that Italian women get their courage from their "love for their motherland." (Bring tissues.)