Italian river cruises offer a truly unique way to see this beautiful country and to discover its fascinating musical past. A trip to Venice by boat could give you the chance to explore the maritime city’s role in the history of opera and to visit the theatres which first brought this new art form to the people of the day.
While most people know that opera originated in Florence at the end of the sixteenth century, few realise the important role Venice played in establishing the theatrical tradition in the hearts of the Italian people.
A centre for trade, attracting a wide cosmopolitan population from across the globe, Venice in the seventeenth century was an extremely wealthy society. Built on commerce by an elite who wanted to show off their wealth and sophistication in any way they could, it is no surprise that the aristocracy of Venice seized on the new art form coming out of Florence. Of course, with typical Venetian flare, they made it grander and even more theatrical and flamboyant.
But, unlike in other parts of Italy, in the mercantile city it was not just the aristocratic elite who were ‘invited’ to theatres to enjoy the new musical events. In Venice, theatres were created in which anyone who could afford to rent a box or buy a seat could enjoy the very latest musical creations.
It was to feed this hunger for opera that a rash of new theatres were built in the seventeenth century in the city, in order to house the vast number of productions. While many were later destroyed by fire (a combination of elaborate wooden decorations and rudimentary flame lighting), there are still some wonderful examples of these early theatres ripe for exploration today. Italian river cruises that stop off at the city will offer you the chance to step ashore and seek out these wonderful historic buildings for yourself. Here are some to look out for.
Teatro la Fenice
Still Venice’s leading opera house, and certainly its most famous, the Teatro la Fenice was originally built in 1792 and was the site for the premier of many leading operas including Verdi’s La Traviata and others by Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti. Sadly the theatre has been plagued by fire (the most recent in 1996) but it has been fully restored and makes a stunning location to see any of the Italian operas today.
Perhaps not as famous, but even older than the Teatro La Fenice, the Teatro Malibran was built in 1678. It was closed for a time during the late eighteenth century before being fully restored in the nineteenth century, when its name was changed to commemorate the Spanish singer Maria Malibran. Now belonging to the municipality of Venice, it is the second home for La Fenice opera company.
Built in 1720, close to the famous Rialto Bridge, the Teatro Goldoni was originally created by the influential Vendramin family who owned it until 1957. In the eighteenth century owning a theatre improved your standing in Venetian society and the Vendramin owned this one and several others.
So the next time you are gliding through Venice enjoying one of our Italian river cruisesalong the Po, take a little time to seek out the theatres of the city’s past and stop to listen to the music which has defied time to reach modern audiences today.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury river cruises and barge holidays throughout Europe. If you're looking for the most exciting Italian river cruises European Waterways is an ideal choice. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.