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Visit Italy: A Historic Venetian Theater Heats Things Up
July 25, 2004 - Summer is the time for travel. Perhaps you are starting to plan a vacation to bell' Italia. Every so often, from now through August, I will offer a quick snapshot of must-see sites in the Motherland. Even if you can't make it to the Continent, you can always dream in Italian.
The roof was on fire and not just in the figurative sense. Teatro La Fenice in Venezia (campo San Fantin, San Marco) has a history of burning down. According to Knopf City Guides, the San Benedetto opera house, the theater's first incarnation, burned down in 1774. The first Fenice was destroyed by fire in 1836 and again in 1996. This year the theater finally reopened - this time, with the hopes of igniting passion instead of flames.
Perhaps, it is all in the name. La Fenice refers to the phoenix bird that was reborn from its ashes. That symbolic name is meaningful in more ways than one. Theater goers sitting in the five tiers of boxes in Rococo gilding probably feel renewed as they listen to beautiful operas amid such opulence and history. After all, first performances of works by Rossini and Verdi happened here. Napoleon was a guest when he was emperor. Through the ages the controversy surrounding the remodeling of the burned theater inspired protests and even sonnets.
But La Fenice is not through with making history. In November, modern-day opera lovers will reopen the new theater with gusto for the first full-scale production, La Traviata, according to Condé Nast Traveler. The magazine's staff also touts the new "guided tours of the front of the house and state-of-the-art backstage as the city's hottest ticket."
The most remarkable thing about this theater is its staying power after being burned not once but three times. But the most alluring thing about La Fenice, in my opinion, is its home city. They say Venezia is sinking and sometimes smells. They say it's become overrun with tourists. No matter. I'm still drowning in the fantasy. Without ever having gone to Venezia, we all still dream of this city on water its green lagoon, a ride in the gondola with your love, a colorful mask during Carnevale.
"Venezia, a name more magic than Camelot confers a rare feeling of privilege, beginning at the airport. A waiting motorboat carries you across the lagoon, down highways marked upon water by wooden pilings, toward the floating city," writes Naomi Barry in The Collected Traveler: Venice (Three Rivers Press 2002). The driver drops to minimum speed as you enter a narrow canal, threading his way into the basin of San Marco. At the Gritti on the Grand Canal, he assists you out, and you are ready for your Venetian adventure. Aren't you ready to walk on water? I think I am.
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