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The Past, Present, and Future of Opera

Opera – the undisputable queen of the classical music genres! We associate it with rich, opulent stage sets, intensely emotional arias and duets, over-the-top acting, and orchestral interludes that take us on the most marvellous musical journeys. Fantastic ensemble events like the ‘Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago’ or ‘Puccini e la sua Lucca’ showcase collections of masterpieces back-to-back and amplify the genre’s grandeur. But was opera always so extensively produced, so colourful and overwhelming for all the senses? And what does the opera of tomorrow look like?

You might have a similar view of opera, and you probably believe it has its origins in post-Renaissance Italy. If so, you are only partially correct. Even though that time and place played a pivotal role in the genre’s rise to international fame, opera itself is considerably older, and its rich and varied history may hold the key to how it will develop in the coming decades. Let us take a trip through the centuries in our quest towards the future of opera!

From Ancient Greece through the Middle Ages to the Renaissance

Music historians trace the origins of opera as far back as Ancient Greece. The famous tragedies of Euripides, Aeschylus, Ovid and Sophocles were combinations of poetry, music, and drama fused together in one transporting stage performance. Even in those old times, the production was quite advanced: elaborate costumes, realistic stage sets, and inventive mechanical devices to represent ‘deus ex machina’, the divine intervention that resolves the central problem in one fell swoop. Dragon-drawn chariots, fiery towers and actors flying on strings, therefore, set the opera production values high already in ancient times.

Later on, the spread of Christianity also nurtured a tradition of musical dramas, in which sacred texts were performed as part of liturgy. Then came the Renaissance. Its renewed interest in the art and times of Ancient Greece and Rome revived the musical theatre of the old dramatists. Before long, contemporary composers began emulating the ancient genre, reinventing and modernising it along the way. With the generous support of the Florentine Medici aristocratic family, Jacopo Peri’s Dafne was staged in Florence in 1598. Though the score did not survive to present day, its impact certainly did.

Opera Takes Europe by Storm

Following in the footsteps of Peri, composers across Western Europe quickly picked up the new genre of musical drama. Claudio Monteverdi, Heinrich Schütz, Jean-Baptiste Lully and Henry Purcell all made a mark in their national contexts and helped popularise the new stage form. The Italian dominance continued in the coming centuries, and even non-Italians like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Christoph Gluck made immense contributions to the genre.

Alongside Italian Maestros like Gaetano Donizetti, Gioachino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini, we count Carl Maria von Weber, Richard Wagner, Georges Bizet and Richard Strauss who helped develop new movements within the rich operatic tradition. Through wars and attempts at nation-building, the whole of Europe was equally abuzz with singing and dancing.

The 20th Century and the Great Beyond

With the dawn of the 20th century, music as a whole became increasingly experimental. The first atonal operas by Arnold Schönberg and Paul Hindemith raised eyebrows. The minimalist, repetitive scores of Philip Glass and John Adams demonstrated that opera does not always need to be florid and colourful. This musical austerity soon spread to the stage production, too. Complex masterpieces like Verdi’s La Traviata or Puccini’s Tosca could now be performed against a monochrome background, with a single spotlight and a bottle as the only prop. Opera’s ‘holy grounds’, such as Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, are no longer reserved for classical music alone. On La Scala’s lavish opening night concert, the splendid outfits by Giorgio Armani garnered as much attention as the performers who wore them.

All this history begs the question: What will the future of opera be? We know for sure that, throughout the centuries, opera has been intimately connected to real life. Many of humanity’s greatest minds have worked in the genre in an attempt to reflect on society and on the human condition. As such, opera is one of the most inclusive art forms. Its heroes are aristocrats and royals but also paupers, prostitutes and criminals.

Because of this, opera will retain its place in our lives, and it will embrace the trends and technologies of the day as it always has. Perhaps in the near future we will enjoy it on our virtual reality headsets; perhaps we will even take part in the onstage action. Maybe holograms of great artists like Luciano Pavarotti, Maria Callas and Boris Christoff will share the stage with live actors and thus reprise their landmark roles. However opera performance develops in the future, one thing is certain: It will continue telling the stories that make us laugh and cry, and we will keep listening keenly.

 

The Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago: Follow in the Maestro’s Footsteps

Pretty rustic houses find their reflection in the marble-like waters of Lake Massaciuccoli, caressed by gentle rolling hills. Giacomo Puccini’s encounter with Torre del Lago was love at first sight. The great composer was looking for a serene, secluded place to let his creativity flow, and he had found just that. Masterpieces like Tosca, Madama Butterfly and Il Trittico trace their origins to this almost magical location.

Puccini thus made Torre del Lago his home for the last three decades of his life. During this time, he penned some of his most memorable operas and enjoyed the locals’ admiration and support. In honour of the composer’s legacy, the Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago takes place here regularly since 1930. In addition to live performances of the Maestro’s beloved operas, a visit to Torre del Lago can also include historical tours across important stations of Puccini’s life, a little museum dedicated to the composer, and pleasant escapades to the neighbouring towns. To borrow a famous line from Turandot, nobody will sleep during this most special event!

A Festival for the Ages

Much like its namesake, the Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago has become a timeless classic. Each year, the programme revolves around the composer’s greatest masterpieces, like La Bohème, Tosca, Manon Lescaut, Madama Butterfly, and the sadly unfinished Turandot. Some more of Puccini’s great titles make it into the setlist on a rolling basis, too. Even though the festival’s backbone is more or less stable, each edition manages to feel unique.

Perhaps it is the magic of the Italian summer in the countryside or the long, warm July and August evenings that make the Puccini Festival a unique experience every time. The multiple notable sites across Torre del Lago and the open-air theatre where the performances take place certainly make the event that much more impressive. Against the backdrop of the lake and the majestic hills around it, Cio-Cio San’s wistful ‘Un bel di vedremo’, Cavaradossi’s romantic ‘E lucevan le stelle’, or Prince Calaf’s triumphant ‘Nessun dorma’ reach a whole new level of beauty and emotional impact.

Puccini’s Traces in Torre del Lago

In addition to hearing the composer’s masterworks in the unique setting of his chosen hometown, Torre del Lago offers you the special opportunity to walk into Puccini’s footsteps. The house he bought after the success of Manon Lescaut and La Bohème now holds the Puccini Museum. You can gaze upon the pianos, on which the Maestro composed his melodies for the ages. You can also immerse yourself in the artistic atmosphere of his home, with paintings by Ferruccio Pagni, a close personal friend.

A walking tour of Torre del Lago reveals further little Puccini landmarks and highlights how well the composer fit into the local landscape. An avid hunter, he regularly took a boat from the small pier in front of his house to scout out his favourite game, the bald coot and the snipe. You can take a boat tour of Lake Massaciuccoli and admire the meandering shore yourself. Perhaps your gaze will dance among the gentle ways the same way Puccini’s once did.

A Place in and Out of Time

In a certain pleasant way, during the Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago time flows differently. It does not stop and does not go backwards. Rather, it dissolves and gives you the chance to immerse yourself into the past without ever fully leaving the present. The town’s unpretentious nature and its famous resident’s timeless art combine into a singular event that beckons you to dive in. Year after year, the Puccini Festival creates unforgettable moments.

On the Traces of Belcanto

‘Belcanto’ – also often ‘bel canto’ – is one of these words that merge form and meaning perfectly. It derives its name from the Italian phrase for ‘beautiful singing’, and it is just that: a vocal style that emphasises control, articulation, and agility. Originating in the royal courts of 16th-century Italy, belcanto made its way into opera and became the gold standard for generations of composers and singers. In the second half of the 19th century and beyond, the dramatic operas of Giuseppe Verdi and the verismo works of Giacomo Puccini required a more forceful vocal style and pushed belcanto out of the spotlight. However, recent revivals of Romantic operas have reminded the keen opera fan of the inimitable qualities of belcanto. Let us trace the origins and development of this landmark singing style together!

Belcanto: from the royal court to the opera stage

The symbolic birthplace of belcanto were the Italian courts of the Renaissance where kings and aristocrats demanded a special kind of musical entertainment. Practitioners of this form of ‘beautiful singing’ stood out with their vocal brilliance and ability to effortlessly change from legato to staccato, to achieve dramatic effect through skilful tempo variations and body language, and to articulate the text clearly with proper emphases and accents. The beauty in belcanto thus came from the full artistic control a performer exercised over the vocal delivery, tonally and linguistically.

Given these special characteristics, it was no wonder that belcanto quickly made its way into the major vocal genres of the 17th and 18th centuries. George Frideric Handel incorporated belcanto elements into his famous oratorios. Without this special style of singing, the operas of Gioachino Rossini and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would not sound like themselves. Could the Queen of the Night’s coloratura acrobatics ever be as impressive had they been forcefully belted out? Could the playful Barber of Seville make you laugh as hard without his clear enunciation and carefully metred lines? Innumerable opera characters you know and love made their way into your heart thanks to belcanto.

The rise and fall of belcanto

The 19th century marks at once the height and the gradual decline of belcanto in opera and beyond. Thanks to the works of Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti, the vocal style reached an unprecedented level of popularity. These two composers in particular struck a unique balance between belcanto’s smooth and pleasant qualities on the one hand and the emotional charge of the musical and narrative text on the other. Masterpieces like Norma, L’elisir d’amore, or Donizetti’s ‘three queens’ cycle are full of passion and carry their dramatic and comedic weight, and yet the vocal delivery they necessitate is belcanto, pure and unadulterated.

In the latter half of the 19th century, however, opera took a hard dramatic turn. Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner and Giacomo Puccini still wrote beautiful and emotional melodies, but the stories they told required a different singing approach. Beautiful and rounded phrasing had to make way for raw emotion and sheer vocal power. Thus, belcanto gradually went out of fashion, and by the turn of the 20th century, it had become a thing of the past. Today, the revival of the beloved Romantic operas by Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini, among others, let us enjoy ‘beautiful singing’ again.

Belcanto’s heroes

We cannot follow the traces of belcanto without acknowledging some of its star performers. Many of the style’s great names, such as the male soprano Farinelli, were undoubted virtuosi. Manuel del Popolo García was the Spanish tenor who inspired Rossini to write The Barber of Seville, while his daughter María Malibrán was the muse behind Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi and Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda. Surviving recordings by late-19th-century singers like Jenny Lind, Fernando de Lucia and Pasquale Amato serve as examples of belcanto and inspire modern vocalists to revisit and recreate this truly special style for our enjoyment today.

Antonio Vivaldi’s Secret Venice

Venice is a city of continued fame, and it counts many notable Italians among its sons and daughters. In that long list, the name of Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741) shines especially bright. The undisputed star of Italian Baroque, he spent most of his life in the city affectionately known as the ‘Queen of the Adriatic’. As a masterful composer and a violin virtuoso, Vivaldi achieved great success and international recognition during his lifetime. However, the marks he left on his hometown were scarce and subtle.

Thus, a Vivaldi tour Venice could involve a bit of detective work, but it is all the more exciting and rewarding. The composer’s Venetian life centred in Castello, a quarter on the city’s eastern outskirt where tourists seldom go. Still, to the history fanatic and Vivaldi admirer, the district is a veritable goldmine. Here are some landmarks and sightseeing ideas that will take you off the beaten path and into the Baroque giant’s footsteps.

Vivaldi’s ground-breaking early years

On the night Antonio Vivaldi was born, 4 March 1678, an earthquake shook Venice, as if to signal his arrival and the ground-breaking role he would play. Because of this ominous circumstance, his family brought young Antonio into the protective realm of the Catholic church. He was baptised at San Giovanni in Bragora, a small yet beautiful Gothic church. It is an important station in your Vivaldi Venice tour. Look for the commemorative plaque that confirms the future Baroque composer’s baptism there.

The Vivaldi family house is not known or preserved till the present, but young Antonio’s spiritual home was undoubtedly St Mark’s Basilica at Piazza San Marco. Giovanni Battista Vivaldi, a barber-turned-violinist and head of the Vivaldi family, was an active member of the church’s orchestra. He brought infant Antonio into the musical craft. Soon enough, father and son were staging violin concerts across town, and the student would greatly surpass his teacher.

The Red Priest takes Venice by storm

Young Antonio’s family directed him towards the study of theology from an early age. He pursued that path with zeal, driven equally by piety and by the opportunity to continue his musical studies as part of his religious training. With regular performances at St Mark’s, Vivaldi soon became a violin virtuoso. He also started learning composition from the basilica’s musical director Giovanni Legrenzi and quickly developed a bold, adventurous style of his own.

In 1703, Vivaldi concluded his religious education and became chief violin instructor at Pio Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage in his home district of Castello that also bears a commemorative plaque today. Over roughly three decades, il Prete Rosso (or ‘Red Priest’ as Vivaldi was known for his ginger hair) composed most of his timeless concertos, symphonies, and operas within the ospedale’s walls. The success of his compositions and his highly technical, flamboyant style on the violin also earned him a management position at the famous Teatro Sant’Angelo on the Grand Canal. Today, the theatre has been converted into a hotel, but it retains some of its original architecture and all of its opulence and charm.

Vivaldi’s abrupt departure and lasting legacy

After the decades of performances, compositions, and international fame, Vivaldi left Venice in the early 1730s and never came back until his death in Vienna in 1741. In his beloved hometown, he left a few landmarks and many memories that slowly faded over the centuries. As your footsteps echo on the volcanic rock that paves much of Castello since the early 18th-century, you can imagine walking in the Maestro’s elusive footsteps.

What better way to round off your Vivaldi tour around Venice than with the Maestro’s inspired compositions? The talented musicians of the Interpreti Veneziani string ensemble offer regular performances of Baroque classics by Antonio Vivaldi as well as his some of his fellow greats, like Johann Sebastian Bach, Tomaso Albinoni, or Luigi Boccherini, to name a few. After visiting stations of Vivaldi’s life, you can hear his best works live with newly found appreciation!

Puccini e la sua Lucca Festival

Mention the word, festival, and certain ideas immediately come to mind. An event, or series of events, not to be missed; something to be enjoyed, certainly; a party that everyone can join in but which sadly only lasts for a short time. The Puccini e la sua Lucca Festival in Lucca is different. The brainchild of Andrea Colombini, the Puccini e la sua Lucca Festival ensures that the music of Giacomo Puccini is heard in his birthplace every week of the year.

A permanent celebration of Puccini’s music

From Manon Lescaut to Madama Butterfly, from Tosca to Turandot, Puccini composed some of the world’s greatest operas. Colombini wanted to ensure that the idyllic city of Lucca became synonymous with the music of its famous son. Its name in Italian, Puccini e la sua Lucca (Puccini and his Lucca), perfectly sums up what Colombini wanted to achieve when he established the festival back in 2004.

In the tourism high season – roughly speaking, from April to October – not a single day goes by in Lucca without Puccini being performed. During the rest of the year, the festival continues on three days every week. Venues include the outstanding acoustic space of the Church of San Giovanni, where Puccini was baptised, and the Oratory of San Giuseppe, part of the Museum of Lucca Cathedral.

A different concert every day

Colombini has ensured that lovers of Puccini are always spoilt for choice. Each night has a different theme – “Puccini and Verdi”, “Puccini’s Women” and “A Night at the Opera”, to name just a few – allowing enthusiasts of the composer to indulge their love for his music as often as they like.

Each performance features one or two professional singers accompanied by a pianist. The composer wrote some of the most beguiling melodies in opera. The Puccini e la sua Lucca Festival in Lucca is an opportunity to hear his work in a way that a full opera doesn’t allow for: close-up, intimate and focussed just on the music. Every concert begins at 7 p.m. and lasts for about an hour, giving those attending the opportunity to explore Lucca’s restaurants later in the evening.

Where else can you find Puccini in Lucca?

Puccini is brought further to life in Lucca by the museum created in the home he was born in. Today, Number 9, corte San Lorenzo, outside which visitors are greeted by a magnificent bronze statue of the composer, is the Puccini Museum. The home was bequeathed to the city by Puccini’s daughter-in-law, Rita Dell’Anna, in 1974.

The museum includes many unique artefacts from Puccini’s career: scores of his music, the Steinway grand piano he worked at and, perhaps most exciting of all, the costume worn by Maria Jeritza at Turandot’s New York premiere at the Met on 16 November 1926. A visit to the museum by day is the ideal way to whet one’s appetite for the music that follows in the evening.

Customer recommendations for the Puccini e la sua Lucca Festival

Those who have experienced Puccini e la sua Lucca invariably leave events singing its praises. “Fantastic”, “Spine-tingling”, “Fabulous” and “Wonderful” are some of the words they use. One new fan of Puccini’s music has said that they had come to Lucca to see the city’s Renaissance walls, but would return in future for the concerts.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Puccini created music that captures all our emotions: at times, sad; at others, defiant. Throughout his work there is a pervasive sense of melancholy that Puccini chose to embrace rather than be overwhelmed by. It is the reason why his music is so enchanting; it has the quality of being ethereal and familiar at one and the same time.

Time spent in Tuscany demands that you visit this captivating city and take your seat for the Puccini e la sua Lucca Festival in Lucca. It is an experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Venice Carnival

The annual Venice Carnival offers as much fun today as it has for centuries, with dressing up and masked balls being only the start of the merriment.

Marking one of the most exciting times in the city’s calendar, the Venice Carnival is world-famous for its use of masks. The atmosphere generated at carnival time is second-to-none and it is unsurprising that the city gets particularly busy at this time. Held each year, the Venice Carnival begins two Saturdays prior to Ash Wednesday and finishes on Shrove Tuesday. It is not known when the carnival began, but its existence has been found on official Venetian documents as far back as 1296, so it can most certainly be described as a long-established tradition. Back in 1094, the then Doge of Venice allowed for some celebrating prior to Lent, but it took several centuries for the carnival to evolve into something that we might recognise today.

Carnival Over the Centuries

Over time, the Venice Carnival became more and more elaborate. Tumblers, jugglers and acrobats all joined in the mix and little tributes were staged, often celebrating the endeavours of the heroes of Venetian history, such as Marco Polo. Carnival soon became a time when the social differences of Venetian society were broken down. The wearing of masks became popular and this was regarded as something that brought all people together on the same level, even if this was a temporary phenomenon. The masks worn by ordinary and high-born Venetians alike became symbolic of equality – largely due to the fact that people could hide behind them. Soon wearing masks and costumes together meant that Venetians could completely alter their identities and overcome barriers of social class, along with those of gender and even religion, to some extent, too. With a mask and a costume, anyone could take on the identity they preferred. Therefore, it became the custom to interact with people by addressing their mask – and not their person – with the greeting, “Hello, madame mask.”

By the later Middle Ages, clubs began to organise balls during the carnival season and other events – including dog-baiting and bull fighting – were held. In the mid-Eighteenth century, the carnival was so popular with Venetians that it went on for almost two months. This came to an abrupt end in 1797 when Bonaparte took over Northern Italy and the carnival went into something of a decline. In the early twentieth century Benito Mussolini outlawed the use of masks and the carnival was no longer held at all. However, the appetite for a good time among Venetians remained undimmed and it was revived in 1979, soon becoming one of the world’s greatest festivities.

Contemporary Carnival

Today, anyone can join in during the carnival. All that you need to take part is a mask. There are many different types of mask that you can opt for, including historic ones such as the Moretta, an oval mask of black velvet; the Larva, which is typically worn with a tricorn hat and a cape; and the Bauta, which is more veil-like than being an actual mask. In addition, there are many mask styles which hark back to the seventeenth century carnivals which were often inspired by the famous characters of Commedia dell’Arte, such as Columbine, Zanni, Harlequin and Pantalone. Many public events are held at carnival time. These include the arrival of the twelve beauties, or Festa delle Marie, which uses fencing and many period costumes of Venice. There are also various award ceremonies for the best costumes and masks which the public can attend.

Despite the varied programme that visitors to the city can enjoy, one of the best things about the Venice Carnival is the private events that are also put on. These run throughout the carnival period, almost every day, and are ticketed events that it is advisable to book in advance for. Popular private events include ‘Minuetto’, a refined dinner and dance, and the Tiepolo Ball which is widely-regarded as one of the finest balls held in Venice. Staged in the Hall of the Ridotto, Carnival Dream is a stunning theatrical experience which is full of Venetian glamour and performed in English. Many of these events are held in the carnival season each and every year.

Why Classical Music Benefits Children

Parents know instinctively that a lullaby can be one of the best ways to soothe a baby and help it fall asleep. But how often have they given thought to who wrote its music?

Johannes Brahms’ “Wiegenlied: Guten Abend, gute Nacht”, more popularly known as Brahms’ Lullaby, is often the song of choice on a child’s music box. Meanwhile, it is probably thanks to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s twelve variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je maman” that we can all hum the tune to “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”.

Classical music isn’t just for adults

From our earliest moments, classical music is all around us. Some composers wrote music specifically for children. Claude Debussy’s collection of six piano pieces, Children’s Corner, and Serge Prokofiev orchestral suite, Peter and The Wolf, are well known while Camille Saint-Saëns’ musical menagerie, Carnival of the Animals, has been adopted by school teachers everywhere to introduce their children to the world of classical music.

Children’s experience of classical music should not be limited to these compositions. We make the mistake of assuming that most of the classical repertoire is too complicated for children. But at no point did any classical composer suggest that their music was beyond a child’s understanding. Even the youngest are able to say how a piece of music makes them feel: sad, happy, excited, even a little scared. They may not have the analytical skills of a musicologist, but they can immediately get to the heart of what music is all about.

How classical music helps children

Learning to share your views with others is a skill that demonstrates empathy and emotional intelligence. But classical music can help children build other types of IQ too. The “Mozart Effect” showed that listening to classical music could increase spatial intelligence.

Mastering a musical instrument will improve one’s dexterity and fine motor skills while listening to, reading and playing music is, for some, the equivalent of a whole brain workout: the best possible way of strengthening communication between the right and left hemispheres. Performing in front of others can help children overcome their fear of social situations.

Why classical music and not pop music?

Marc Neikrug, a contemporary classical composer argues that listening to Schubert and Schumann, amongst others, is the perfect antidote for one of the major concerns of our times: our shortening attention spans.

Classical music may indeed have benefits over popular music for the development of children’s minds. The repetitive nature of popular music, both rhythmically and melodically, is part of its appeal. But classical music, in comparison with modern jazz or Schoenberg serialism, is just as accessible. It shares the same harmonic rules as popular music, but it tends to do a little more with its themes; by modulating a motif into a different key, improvising a variation or inverting the accompaniment and the melody, there is an inherent variety of ideas in classical music that popular music struggles to compete with. Put another way, classical music thrives on the element of surprise; popular music on the tried and tested.

We can never be quite sure when we hear a piece of classical music for the first time where it might decide to go. So we keep on listening. Young children, unencumbered by conventional ideas or current trends, are always eager to discover new things. The sheer variety of classical music can provide the ideal accompaniment for their journey of exploration into the world around them.

Graffiti, vandalism or art?

All over Italian urban centres it is possible to see a wide variety of graffiti. Some of it is displayed on underpasses and other city infrastructure, such as bridges and embankments. However, you also see graffiti, in all of its various forms, depicted on public and private buildings, too. In contrast to many other European cities, much of Italy seems to be overrun by it. Why is this? Are Italians more tolerant to this street art or are they simply in no hurry to get rid of it? The answers lie in Roman culture which dominated the Italian peninsula for centuries. This is because urban graffiti dates back to the earliest Roman times, well before even the first Emperors took over in the wake of the assassination of Julius Caesar.

The Graffiti Culture of the Ancient Romans

The Italian noun graffito literally means a scratch and graffiti, the better-known plural version of this word, derives from it, too. Early examples of people scratching words and images into walls can be found in Pompeii, the well-preserved ancient ruin of a Roman city that was destroyed almost instantaneously by a volcanic eruption. However, humans have always made their mark on their surroundings and older versions of scratched out graffiti can be found in ancient Greece, too. Even further back, neolithic man has left graffiti in caves. Nonetheless, what marks ancient Roman graffiti out from its predecessors is that can be found in such abundance. Furthermore, it seems to cover a wide variety of subjects – anything from important and often insulting political propaganda to banal personal messages. In Pompeii, examples of graffiti include one which simply says, “Marcus loves Spendusa”. Elsewhere, a pearl of wisdom such as, “a small problem gets bigger if you ignore it” can be read. It seems that almost everyone in Pompeii’s society was at it. So much so, in fact, that a graffito legend on the wall of its basilica reads, “You have held up so much tedious graffiti, that I am amazed that your walls have not already collapsed in ruin.”

Why Was Graffiti so Popular?

A restoration project of the famous Colosseum in Rome has revealed centuries of graffiti. By clearing away the accumulated grime and calcification that had built up on the structure’s stonework, experts have found multiple layers of inscriptions, much of it faded from ancient time and with lettering inscribed over the top that had been left by more modern visitors. Ultimately, graffiti was popular in public places, like the Colosseum, because it gave people a chance to express themselves and for their expressions to be viewed by as many people as possible. For people without access to other forms of mass communication, scratching an idea or a rude picture – possibly of your rival – was a means of reaching out. Although social media has largely replaced this function in today’s culture, the spirit of graffiti, especially in the form of large artworks, lives on in Italian towns and cities. You can see it in many places just as you would have done walking through the street of ancient Rome, Herculaneum or Naples. Whether it refers to the crude sexual prowess of the artist or makes a political point during an election, newly formed graffiti in Italian cities shows no sign of stopping.

 

The Historical Regatta of Venice

The Historical Regatta of Venice, or the Venetian Regata Storica, is traditionally held on the first weekend of September each year. A riotous pageant of colour, the regatta takes place along the most famous canal in the city, the Grand Canal. The event is one of the most popular in Venice with both visitors and locals following it. Every year, the regatta sees thousands of tourists attend as spectators, but the event is very much a participatory one. Many of the inhabitants of Venice take part and plenty of people from outside of the city get involved, too. The regatta consists of two separate events. The first one is a parade of historical crafts, often with crews, gondolas and boats dressed up in traditional 16th century Venetian costumes, in which the Doge, his wife and the highest offices of the Venetian judiciary are carried up the Grand Canal, commemorating the welcome given to the wife of the King of Cyprus by Venice’s population in 1489. This event recaptures the moment when she chose to renounce her throne in favour of a life in the city and serves as a reminder of Venice’s past strength as a maritime republic. Following this water parade, competitive events take over when teams row their boats in a series of exciting races which run from Saint Mark’s Bay all the way down the Grand Canal.

The Best Time to Come

The Historical Regatta in Venice is a busy event with the main activities taking place on the first Sunday in September. At this time, it is advisable to book your accommodation and to be prepared for many tourists, even by Venice’s standards. However, if you want to see some of the boats that will take part in less crowded conditions, come on the Thursday before the main event when the official presentation of the regatta teams and the blessing ceremony for the boats take place at the Campo della Salute. Alternatively, there is also now a regular prologue to the main regatta held the previous weekend which sees some of the rowing teams race in the Darsena Novissima of the Arsenale.

Good Vantage Points

Given the large numbers of crowds you might expect, it is inevitable that you will have to squeeze in among other sight seers. This has been the way since the locals were first documented as having organised a rowing race in their city in 1274. To view the start of the regatta’s races, head to the area around Sant’Elena gardens. From the viewpoints close to Santa Lucia railway station, by the Grand Canal, you can see the paleto or turning point. This is where rowers must change direction rapidly. It is a pylon placed in the middle of the Grand Canal, making for an exciting spot to watch the races at their height. Alternatively, head to the Ca’ Foscari where the finishing line and presentation stage can be viewed.

The Regatta Races

Blending past and present, the races are no mere re-enactment of bygone years and are taken seriously by the participants. The first race on Venice’s waterways is for junior competitors who are split into three categories – under tens, under twelves and under fourteens. The youngsters need to master boats with a narrow prow that fully test the skills of the next generation of regatta goers. Following that race, the women’s regatta takes place. Women row light, twin-oared boats. The next contest is run on six-oared boats called caorline which are traditional vessels that were once used for transporting goods as well as fishing. After that is the most anticipated event, when the rowing champions race on on twin-oared gondolini. These boats are similar in appearance to Venice’s gondolas but have a much lighter structure, meaning that they are ideal for racing in and for demonstrating the full range of technical abilities of the competitors. Especially created for the Regatta, they first took part in it in 1825 and are still regarded as the best vessels for the top boatmen to race in. Given that they are over ten metres long, only the most highly skilled racers are able to control them fully.

A wonderful time to visit Venice, the Historical Regatta is a true highlight of the Venetian sporting calendar and offers fun for all ages with plenty to marvel at and to cheer on.