Thursday 23 July 2020

V - Second night movement: intermezzo

They love to deck out their boat with green branches, and coloured Chinese lanterns, and go singing in the Canalozzo. 

The second night of my stay in Venice, I went to the theatre.  Not ‘La Fenice’, which is used for opera and was in any case sold out; but the Teatro Goldoni.  It lies in a narrow street in the heart of Venice, near both the Piazza San Marco and the Rialto bridge.  Externally, the building is something of a shock.  It is built in the true sixties style, all concrete and steel, and is possibly one of the ugliest pieces of architecture in Venice.  It is hard to imagine what was going through the minds of the Venetians when they constructed this monument to their local dramatist, especially since it is clear from Lorenzetti that they tore down Goldoni’s own theatre of San Salvatore to do so.

There are two ticket offices in the entrance hall.  When I went along there earlier in the day to buy my ticket, everything was in chaos.  Nobody seemed to know which grille was selling which tickets; the queues, such as they were, looked terribly unstable, as if they might collapse into a seething mob at any moment.  All in all, it was a typically Italian scene.

Remarkably enough, that scene was repeated when the doors of the theatre were opened in the evening.  Despite all the queuing, none of the seats was numbered.  As a result, when I entered the auditorium, I was greeted with the extraordinary sight of elegantly attired couples, her in a swelling fur coat, him in an immaculate double-breasted suit, wading into the melee as everyone fought for the best seats.  The hall was soon filled by these means, with some time to go before the performance started.

The interior design of the hall was a strange mish-mash of styles and decorative elements.  Modern in concept, it had boxes at the sides which looked jarringly old-fashioned.  The seats were rust-coloured, the walls and the boxes a horrible green.  Above floated a diminutive chandelier.  At the front was a small proscenium stage with a set which may have been minimalist, but was probably just exiguous.

The play I was to see was Goldoni’s Le Donne Gelose - ‘The jealous women.’  I knew nothing about the plot, and there were no programmes on sale.  As the work started, my worst fears were confirmed: the play was totally in Venetian dialect.  There are few sounds more pleasing to the ear than the gently explosive jumble of Venice’s Italian; unfortunately, for the foreigner, that jumble also means that the individual words are almost completely lost.  As a result, I was forced to watch the play as if it were some mime where meaningless noises were added for sonorous effect rather than for propulsion of the plot.

Needless to say, when I later read the work it bore no resemblance to my own interpretation based on what I saw.  But the situation was not without its charm; I was no longer a passive spectator: I was forced to work on the material before me, to create my own play, to become another Goldoni.  Besides, many of the images were attractive, probably more so for being freed from meaning.  One in particular remains in my mind.  It was night, and most of the cast were masked.  Brightly coloured paper lanterns were hung about the stage.  Everything was quiet and rather magical.  The mingling of commedia dell’arte characters with ordinary Venetians only added to this other-worldly effect.  But one thing I did notice: barely anyone - even among the natives of the city - laughed during the whole length of the play.  A serious business, Venetian comedy.

Walks with Lorenzetti

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