Finding good night life is a bit difficult in Venice at this time of year. We had arrived post Christmas season, and well before Carnivale. However, we read about an opera being performed in the Palazzo Barbarigo Minotto and decided to go.
The tiny palazzo is not at all grand, nor easy to find. Knowing that it might be impossible to find at night (and perhaps a bit frightening, given the number of dark and tiny alleyways we had to go through), we spent part of an afternoon searching through a maze of canals and side streets. Our wanderings took us to a dead end, where we met a fellow tourist, also looking for the palazzo. She had been assured that this was the location. And although there were no markings or signs, we agreed to come back that evening.
We arrived early, 7:00, to find a single light at the end of the dead end, and a sandwich board with information about the opera. We pressed a buzzer, a gate unlocked and we were guided through a courtyard, up a massive staircase, to a Baroque drawing room where we paid for our tickets. We were advised to return at 8:00, which we did, and joined 38 other audience members for an intimate evening of La Traviata.
The opera was scaled down and performed by only 3 singers, who were accompanied by 4 musicians (violin, viola, cello and piano). Act One took place around a grand piano in the drawing room. Lit by candles, we were complicit in the action, with Violetta handing a Prosecco to Tim as part of the action of the play. We moved to a smaller drawing room for Act Two, where Violetta could compose her tragic letter to Alfredo. Act Three took place in a marvelously decrepit boudoir, cracks in the plaster, smokey trails on the walls, with a huge bed for Violetta to sing and die on.
The whole experience was absolutely marvelous, the soprano’s high notes almost blasting our brains out in that small space. “Musica a Palazzo” regularly performs different opera evenings in Palazzo Barbarigo Minotto. Click the link and watch their trailer to get a feel for what they are doing. It was a treat to be in this environment and a unique way to experience opera.
The other great musical treat of our stay in Venice was “Le Quattro Stagioni di Vivaldi”, the Four Seasons, performed by the San Marco Chamber Orchestra in the church of Ateneo San Basso. Originally built in 1076, the building is no longer a church but is used for classical music concerts. The San Marco Chamber Orchestra works to reproduce the conditions under which Vivaldi’s music was first performed and the Ateneo San Basso has the exact same dimensions as the Pieta Institute Music Hall, where Vivaldi composed.
The concert was sublime. Growing up on the Four Seasons and overwhelmed by CBC’s incessant playing of various seasons, neither of us had ever seen the concertos live. It was like a dance between the soloist and the two violins, viola, cello, bass and harpsichord. We were carried away with the emotion, with the technical virtuosity, with the layers of sound. We walked out into the night of San Marco and it all made sense. The music, the architecture, the art.
Leaving Venice was very, very hard. We wanted to treat ourselves to what we hoped would be a special meal for our last night. In general, Venetian restaurants were overpriced, with uninspired food and arrogant waiters. We decided to try “Gam-Gam” the Kosher restaurant just down the street from our apartment. It was by far the best meal we had in the entire time in Venice.
We had gotten used to small, unappealing portions and so were stunned when our huge Contorni arrived. My “Eggplant, Ghetto Style” was in fact 4 different eggplant dishes which included baba ghanoush, marinated eggplant slices and baked eggplant with tomato. Tim’s Hummous with mushrooms included piles of hot, freshly baked pita breads. The main course of Tagliatelle with Salmon was lemony and light, one of the best pasta meals I have ever tasted. Tim had the exquisite Cous-Cous with fish, harissa sauce and vegetables. Our sorrow was that we were too full to face the Dolci Ebraici, assorted cookies and cakes that looked fabulous as they passed by our table.
We were delighted to find a restaurant that we know we will go back to, soon, on our next trip to Venice.