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Back at our hotel, following mass at San Marco, we are getting ready for another extraordinary treat – an afternoon performance at La Fenice (The Phoenix). Much has happened to this most beautiful of opera houses since I was last in the audience. During closure for maintenance in 1996, an arsonist set a fire that destroyed much of the building – a national treasure. I knew the intent was to reconstruct it exactly as it had been, but I had my doubts. The painted surfaces in light turquoise blue ornamented with delicate pastel flowers, the ornate light fixtures, the acres of gold leaf – had all been so perfect. And no more so than at the gala celebration of its 200th anniversary in 1992 when real flowers garlanded the tiers of boxes. Stars, both Italian and international, gathered to perform, including our own Beverly Sills. I was representing the Consulate General in Milan with a seat in the royal box – the box built for Napoleon. At the dinner that followed at the next door Restaurante Antico Martini, I met Miss Sills – just as charming in person as on stage. An unforgettable evening.
The usher opens the door to our box and the sight takes my breath away. They have done it! The colors are there, the sparkle, the glittering gold, the chandeliers – even more beautiful than I remember.
And the opera? Verdi’s Il Trovatore (The Troubador), an opera I have never seen. The story of mistaken identity, revenge, murder, requited and unrequited love is pure opera fantasy. But the music. Is it the acoustics? Is it singers of such amazing talent? Is it just being in this place? Each note shines clear, piercing, drawing us into the improbable tale. And we aren’t the only ones captivated. Every aria is met with Bravos and lasting applause from the largely Italian audience. No one wants it to end, but, of course, it does, and we leave La Fenice after many curtain calls, hands stinging from our applause.
We step out into the late afternoon sun, leaving the magic behind. I give thanks for those who persevered through cost overruns, contractor peccadilloes, and eight years of painstaking reconstruction to allow La Fenice to rise from the ashes.