In the absence of cars, Venice resonates with sound. “By the end of the 17th century there were no fewer than twenty theatres in Venice, nine major concerns and eleven smaller ones,” writes Toni Hildebrandt at Venice the Future. And by the beginning of the 18th century Venice had “found a new occupation,” writes John Julius Norwich in The Guardian -- “she had become the pleasure capital of Europe, the Las Vegas of her time.”
The great musical innovator was Claudio Monteverdi. A court composer from Mantua, where in 1607 he produced La Favola d'Orfeo, a work “which has a good claim to be the first example of opera as we know it,” says Norwich. “He owed his appointment in Venice very largely to his superb Vespers of 1610, and during the 20-odd years that he spent as maestro di cappella at St Mark's he continued to produce work of the highest quality, both religious and secular. Most surprising of all is perhaps his greatest opera, L'Incoronazione di Poppea; it seems hardly possible that this deeply pious man could, at the age of 75, write the music to this wildly licentious drama in which evil triumphs.” Towards the end of his life he entered the priesthood “and it was as a priest that he died on 29 November 1643, aged 76 … all Venice, we are told, went into mourning.”
Opera in Venice was not for the academy or nobility, explains Fred Plotkin in Operavore. “The public bought tickets for a night’s entertainment,” and musicians and composers arrived from all over to “learn about composing for the stage and developing character through music.” In the 17th century, he writes, there were 17 different theatres in Venice that presented 388 new operas, but “because of fires and other ravages, most of these theaters no longer stand.”
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