I am the occasional, grateful benefactor of a ticket to a Fenice performance, grazie a my voice instructor, Sara Bardino. She’s a season ticket holder, and due her own complicated schedule, can’t always attend. When I receive one of her prized, last minute text messages, spotting the words, abbonamento – Fenice – stasera, I never even check to see what’s on, I just reply with a quick, Si, ci sono, con tanto, tanto piacere.
Last night was the Brahams’ Symphony no. 3 in F major, and the Bartók Concerto; severals weeks ago was a Mozart symphony and Tchaikovsky “PathÃ©tique.” All good stuff, my goodness; but the Bartok was especially breathtaking, considering it’s an absolutely impossible piece to begin with, and second, that the 110-or-so piece orchestra played it with a conductor other than the Guido Alberto Fano, who was scheduled. Not sure what happened, but it certainly didn’t seem to make any difference in the brilliance of the performance either to the Fenice orchestra or conductor Matthias Barnett (not that we’d it expect it to).
The Fenice is a grand, yet intimate space. Sara’s palco is is on the second level, about half-way from the stage to the back of the theatre, a narrow, enclosed box with a door at the back, just large enough to hold four velvet-upholstered chairs. Her seat is in the front on the right, and I’m forever trying squish myself in the smallest space possible, so as to allow the lovely Venetian man sitting behind me (who’s 90 if he’s a day) some glimpse of the stage. I should probably just concede my chair to him, because you hear just as well from behind, and my favorite view is not of the stage itself, but of the spectators across the way.
It’s marvelous, really; all these tiny, swirling vignettes stacked one over another, left to right, like live, European versions of some Norman Rockwell paintings, each enveloped appropriately in an 18th century frame. During the performance, elegant spectators of all sorts are soft-lit, relaxed, attentive, musing, devoted; now leaning out, now leaning back, bathed appreciatively in music and stagelight.
During the intervallo, they effervesce with interaction. Box contents play Fruit Basket Upset with visits from neighbors of the regulars, emptying out to fare un salto for una bollicina, a cigarette, or a run to the bath; other occupants remain to animatedly opine on the performance thus far or engage in creative sign language in an attempt to communicate with acquaintances recognized across the way, from below, from above. No one is bored, no one is impatient; it seems quite clear that the lot of them, visitors and regulars, Venetians and foreigners, are all happy and proud to be here, alla Fenice, for this event, this evening. This is ours, they seem to saying, our Fenice. Isn’t it grand?