It all started last summer when I booked a two week holiday in Venice but let my finger slip on the British Airways website only to find that when I went for my return flight I had mistakenly bought a ticket for a month later. It was an expensive mistake but, when I got home I managed to extend the return ticket for a year by buying a single flight back to Venice.
So last week, here I was again in this wonderful city on a two night break that I would never have considered without my own foolishness.
I’d had plenty of time to plan this trip and, consequently, everything ran like clockwork – including the weather. April is a great time to visit Venice as you can see in last Wednesday’s blog where I posted some of my photographs of the sensational display of Wisteria blossoming all over the city.
It was especially enjoyable because I was so familiar with the city (this is my sixth visit) and I was determined to treat the three days as a relaxed and pleasurable interlude – stolen time, in fact.
At the hotel Agli Alboretti, just behind the Academia art gallery, I had a room with a leafy balcony and a lot of space.
It was almost enough just to sit out there, right in the middle of the city, and to listen to the silence.
I was, however, just minute’s walk from the bar where I ordered Negronis and enjoyed the view of the Accademia bridge and the Grand Canal.
The food was superb – strange how Italian food is often at its best when it looks simple. Both these dishes were a hundred times better than you might think.
Just down the road in the other direction was the Peggy Guggenheim Collection of Modern Art – a must for anyone with even the slightest interest in art.
It’s based in an unfinished palace on the Grand Canal that was home as well as exhibition space for American heiress and art collector, Peggy Guggenheim.
As you can see, she had avant-garde taste and didn’t mind what other people thought of her when she introduced Modernism onto one of the most unspoiled historic townscapes in the world.
If you look behind me here at Marino Marini’s frisky sculpture of an excited man on horseback, The Angel Of The City (1948), you will see that Peggy Guggenheim, quite literally, liked to cock a snook at city’s more shockable visitors by placing the work right out front on the banks of the Canal for all to see.
Inside, the gallery space has a remarkable collection masterpieces by the most celebrated artists of the 20th Century.
Paintings by Picasso, Braque, Ernst, Dali, Pollock, Duchamps, De Cherico, Kandinsky and Rothko, sculpture my Moore, Calder and Giacometti amongst many others.
Is is a valuable resource for Italian students, some of them, maybe, less than enthused by the guided tour supplied by their unstoppably enthusiastic art teacher.
There was plenty of time and space for everyone else to enjoy the art undisturbed. Here are just a few of the works that brought me particular pleasure:
As I had just come from a week in Lisbon where I had been doing a poetry workshop, it seemed appropriate to pose in front of Picasso’s The Poet but I’m not sure that he has caught my likeness.
Outside in the museum’s exquisite garden, there was a heady mix of wisteria, sculpture and bird song.
Peggy Guggenheim is buried here along with her many beloved dogs. I can imagine how she must have planned this garden knowing that, one day, she would be laid to rest here at the centre of her creation.
Booking seats for the opera was the main incentive for this trip when I saw that the opera house was putting on a production of Verdi’s La Traviata, one of his greatest, and one that had its first performance (in 1853) here at La Fenice.
I was more than pleased to be here to see one of my favourite operas directed by the great and challenging Canadian director, Robert Carsen.
It was perfect having seats at the front of a box with a very good view of the stage and orchestra.
There was a great view too of the beautifully restored auditorium – it was an exciting night.
Robert Carsen’s production places La Traviata (The Fallen Woman) in Paris in 1970 and portrays the heroine Violetta not just as a courtesan but as a fully fledged prostitute. It was a terrific performance that more than justified Mr Carsen’s brilliantly faithful rethinking of the opera which had shocked its original audiences by its contemporaneity. Violetta was sung by the glamourous young Russian soprano Ekaterina Bakanova who had the voice for vocally demanding brilliance of the first act as well as the subtlety and pathos for the later scenes. She was great as the consumptive tart with a heart as well as the tragic victim of man’s prejudices and lusts. She was often very human and frail but also capable of tremendous vocal strength when she had to dominate the ensemble and full orchestra. In a very strong cast, she was supported by the young Italian tenor, Pietro Pretti, whose bright and ringing voice made Violetta’s lover, Alfredo, a romantic presence even when Robert Carsen made him act like a member of the paparazzi. Alfredo’s father, Giorgio, was impressively acted and sung by the magnificent Verdi baritone, Marco Caria whose voice almost literally raised the roof as well as the hairs on my spine.
After a great night, all I could do was to find a late night bar – this one, apparently was a haunt of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in the 1950s. That night, there was not much philosophy being discussed but the glass of red wine put me in philosophical mode.
On my last night in Venice, there was even time to enjoy an alfresco supper on my balcony under a new moon. It was amazing how much I fitted into such a short time and, somehow, it was all the better for being a booking mistake.
If you are wondering about the young and promising soprano Ekaterina Bakanova, here she is in another of her roles at La Fenice – a rehearsal of Puccini’s La Boheme with her as a very seductive Musetta. Here she is teasing her ‘sugar daddy’ with a mock striptease. Maybe she will play a nun next time – just for a change: