The first time you hear soprano Liesl Odenweller effortlessly hit a high note it sends tingles down your spine. The exquisite baroque musicians she accompanies further whip up your emotions with their sweeping strings, fervent flutes and lively lute player. Listening to them all play together is a wonderfully transporting experience and easily explains why the New York Times puts the Venice Music Project at number 3 of what not to miss if you only have 36 hours in the city. And if you’re lucky enough to be in Venice in March 2016, there is an extra reason why you have to get your hands on a ticket as they’re teaming up with writer Andrea di Robilant for an evening of music, mistresses and mystery. So what is “A Venetian Affair” all about?
Imagine being transported back to the mid-1700s. To Venice at the height of its fame and extravagance. To the Venice of Casanova, casinos and carnival. To a time when two star-crossed lovers and friends of the legendary womaniser – noble Andrea Memmo and Giustiniana Wynne, the illegitimate daughter of an English baronet – have just met.
What did you imagine? The architecture, the music, art or fashion? Or the people maybe? Well, you don’t have to just imagine as Venice Music Project and Andrea di Robilant take us back to exactly that time with their fusion of music, art, literature and history entitled “A Venetian Affair”.
Using intoxicating baroque scores, played on period instruments in the 15th century deconsecrated church of San Giovanni Evangelista, the musicians will evoke the atmosphere in which the youngsters would have courted and canoodled. Tintoretto’s Crucifixion and Pietro Vecchio’s St John the Evangelist cast an eye over proceedings from the church walls. Meanwhile historian and writer Andrea di Robilant, a distant relative of Memmo, will vividly conjure up the young lovers’ voices as he reads extracts from the daily love letters that passed between the two.
But this isn’t just some theatrical fiction or fanciful invention. The letters are authentic and original, filled with passion, yearning, scheming, jealousy and ultimately tragedy. They were written in secret by the real life Venetian Romeo and Juliet in the 1750s. And they lay undiscovered until the 1990s when Andrea di Robilant’s father Alvise unearthed them in the damp attic of the old family palazzo on the Grand Canal.
Alvise and Andrea set about deciphering the spidery, coded letters to reveal the lovers’ secrets. A long since disappeared world of stolen glances across a crowded salon, gloomy theatre or misty canal opened up. Gondoliers and maids aided the pair in their doomed subterfuge, as did relatives and friends including German composer Johann Adolf Hasse who became known as “Dear Saxon”. Even the British consul and avid art collector of the time, Joseph Smith became entangled with the pair as his home was used as for many an early rendezvous. And Giustiniana allegedly turned to Casanova for help when she found herself pregnant although he exploited the situation as an excuse to sleep with the girl claiming it would dislodge the baby! Needless to say it didn’t work!
As the impossible love affair between the two gradually revealed itself through the letters Andrea di Robilant turned it into a bestselling book combining the tale with family and cultural history from the Serene Republic of Venice. And then he met Liesl, the soprano, and so was born the wonderful idea to recreate a baroque evening and revive the lovers’ voices so they could tell their own tale.
The Venice Music Project will, as always, brings together a variety of international musicians all of who either live or have studied in Venice. Their aim is to research, protect and promote Venice’s baroque music traditions. And whilst you might not be familiar with the history of baroque – I admit I wasn’t – some of the composers writing at the time will probably be familiar. Their ranks include the lovers’ friend Hasse together with Bach, Händel and Venice’s very own Vivaldi.
The project’s resident soprano, Liesl Odenweller, consistently delights with her polished performances. And from the minute she starts to sing, she holds audiences and critics under her spell whether performing in Venice’s La Fenice, New York’s Carnegie Hall or in the UK where she’ll be playing next year.
“A Venetian Affair” promises to be a heady mix of art, music and romance as the lovers voices are combined with the music of their friend Hasse, one of the most esteemed operatic composers in Europe of the time, together with lesser-known Marcello and the illustrious Vivaldi. Get set for some magnificent arias from Liesl and the group!
So if you love a spot of romance, intrigue and music, this is the evening for you! The Church of San Giovanni Evangelista provides a perfect backdrop for “A Venetian Affair” whilst Andrea di Robilant offers a link back in time to his family’s passionate past. Sadly the young lovers were doomed never to be allowed to marry by the strict Venetian authorities but their love story lives on through its re-telling set to Venice Music Project’s beautiful baroque accompaniment. This is certainly going to be a evening not to be missed!
A Venetian Affair dates 2016
Friday, 18 March at 7pm (in English)
Sunday, 20 March at 4pm (in Italian)
Two special performances of “A Venetian Affair” will open the 2016 season, taking place at Palazzo Rota Ivancich near Campo Santa Maria Formosa, famous for its association with America writer Ernest Hemingway, amongst others. To book tickets see the website here
The Venice Music Project evening will involve musicians from the Venetia Antiqua ensemble together with Liesl Odenweller, soprano. Writer Andrea di Robilant will perform as narrator, whilst Barbe & Doucet provide staging and sets for the evening.
Music by Hasse, Vivaldi, Marcello, Albinoni
For more information on Venice Music Project and their general concert schedule check out their website here www.venicemusicproject.it
Tickets can be booked online via the Venice Music Project website, via email or in person on the night (although last year’s concerts sold out so I advice booking ahead to avoid disappointment!)
Note : A portion of the proceeds from the performances is set aside toward the restoration and preservation of the Church of San Giovanni Evagelista, in collaboration with Save Venice. For further information about how you can help with the restoration project, visit the “Friends” page on the Venice Music Project website.