Even with hordes of tourists filling the streets, Venice remains an intensely musical city, from the bell towers on down. On my trip there last week, I picked up a copy of Olivier Lexa's new book Venise, l'éveil du baroque, a kind of walking tour of the Venetian musical Baroque. It's published by the Venetian Centre for Baroque Music. I had great fun consulting Lexa's book as I ambled about, listening for echoes of Venice's many golden ages. I was delighted to discover, for example, that Vivaldi once lived at Fondamenta del Dose No. 5879, just a few steps from the hotel where Jonathan and I were staying. The red priest occupied the mezzanine floor from 1722 to 1730; during this time he wrote The Four Seasons.
Many musical tourists gravitate to the "Vivaldi church," Santa Maria della Pietà, to which the Ospedale della Pietà, Vivaldi's long-time employer, was attached. In fact, the present church, by Giorgio Massari, was begun in 1745, after Vivaldi's death, although it has been suggested that the composer offered advice to the architect before leaving for Vienna in 1740. Lexa notes that fragments of the original Pietà buildings can be seen in and around the Metropole Hotel next door:
I was sorry to miss Jordi Savall's presentation of Vivaldi's Teuzzone at Versailles this summer, the cornerstone of a major Vivaldi-Venice festival — I'd originally hoped to make the trip. A recording of Teuzzone will be forthcoming in Naïve's complete Vivaldi edition.
I wandered for an hour trying to find the spot where the Teatro San Cassiano Nuovo once stood. In this historic venue, opera had what might be called its "second birth," becoming a fully theatrical entertainment. During the 1641 Carnevale, both Monteverdi's Return of Ulysses and Cavalli's Didone were playing at San Cassiano; what a season that must have been. I never quite found the right place — I now realize that I should have stood on the notorious Ponte delle Tette and looked south down the Rio di S. Cassiano — but the blogger Mes Carnets Vénitiens caught the view here. (The theater stood where the gardens of the Palazzo Albrizzi are now, on the right.) It seems merely a coincidence that a Ponte Cavalli is nearby:
The Palazzo Strozzi, on the Rio di Santi Apostoli, was the home of the poet and librettist Giulio Strozzi and of his adopted daughter Barbara Strozzi, a composer of exceptional talent:
I must now break away from the Baroque and revisit the topic of Wagner. My main reason for going to Venice, if reason was needed, was to patrol sites that will figure in my not at all imminent third book, Wagnerism. The Meister came to Venice six times, and, of course, died in the city in 1883. On his first visit, in 1858-59, he stayed first at the Danieli, the famous old hotel near the Piazza San Marco, and then in rented rooms at the Palazzo Giustiniani-Brandolini, on the Grand Canal. It was in the latter space that he wrote much of Act II of Tristan und Isolde. In My Life he gives an evocative account of his months in Venice, suggesting that the shepherd's-pipe melody in Act III of Tristan was inspired by the late-night chant of a gondolier. Wagner's rooms were, I believe, on the left-hand side of the palazzo, on the first floor (second row of windows):
Needless to say, we had to stop for coffee at Caffè Lavena, Wagner's favorite haunt during his final Venice stay. He was there on the day before he died:
The café honors its famous customer with a plaque:
I went back to the Palazzo Vendramin-Calergi for another look. Here is a vaporetto view, with the windows of Wagner's personal rooms partly visible behind the fence:
The courtyard, with the Wagner apartment behind the shuttered windows on the left:
On the wall facing the Grand Canal there is an ornate fin-de-siècle monument honoring Wagner, with an inscription by Gabriele d'Annunzio. John Barker, in his very useful book Wagner and Venice, translates it thus: "In this palace the spirits heard the last breath of Richard Wagner become eternal, like the tide that laps the marble stones." The tablet was installed with great ceremony in 1910, with a band playing the Meistersinger overture and selections from the Ring: