Opera Lovers and Disco Dudes

By now you may have discovered I have a thing for impromptu dance scenes and oddly dressed eccentrics. So, with this in mind, you won’t be surprised to learn that the highlight of attending La Bohéme at the famed Fenice theater wasn’t the opera, but rather the activity at the bar next door. Before and after performances, and during intermission, the place fills up with theatergoers who order flutes of champagne and glasses of wine. They stand around talking and looking beautiful, being seen, and also seeing.


Speaking of oddly dressed eccentrics, may I introduce you to Elverace Cash (remember?? Elvis + Liberace+ Johnny Cash

Speaking of oddly dressed eccentrics, may I introduce you to Elverace Cash (remember?? Elvis + Liberace+ Johnny Cash


On the evening of the said opera, I snuck out early, tired of dramatic crescendos and high-pitched notes. I preferred to wait for my friends sipping prosecco in the moonlit square. It was my chance to pretend to be of noble birth, from an obscure, hard to find country. “The name is too difficult to pronounce,” I would insist if anyone ever looked at me with intrigue and asked where I came from.

When I entered the tiny bar, tucked behind its open-air patio restaurant, I found the staff of white-jacketed waiters draped along the counter looking a little bored. In the background I could hear faint music. At first it was Pavarotti, then the Bee Gees.


Fenice Theater

Fenice Theater


The Bee Gees? What were they doing hanging around an historic opera house? I wondered if they had managed to hook up with Sonny and Cher who were singing in my bedroom last week, or Donna Summer over at my favorite grocery store, Billa.

Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk,

I’m a woman’s man: no time to talk.

Someone turned the music up and the waiters came to life, their slouched posture now straight, their eyes twinkling and their ears perked.

Ah, ha, ha ha, stayin alive, stayin alive.

They began to dance. It was subtle at first, slight movements of the head and feet. Then one bold man, graying at the temples with intellectual looking black-framed glasses, extended his arm in the air, pointing his finger and striking “The Pose.” You know the one…we’ve all done it before…the John Travolta “Saturday Night Fever” pose.


You know..."The Pose"

You know…”The Pose”


Then he really started to move–his hips, his shoulders, his chin in and out. Another man joined him and then another until we had a little stroll down memory lane party going on. The waiters were all middle-aged, which I guess means my age…oh, that’s a hard one to say. We had grown up in the 70s when the Bee Gees were cool, their albums topping the charts month after month. For one brief moment, I was their adoring audience, their sole customer, who was having much more fun than the opera lovers next door.

Then the hum started, the sound of hundreds of voices being let loose from the theater. The music was lowered. The waiters smoothed their jackets and wiped the grins from their faces and went back to work. I caught a wink in my direction, acknowledgement that I now shared a secret with the disco-loving staff.

“The opera was so lovely,” my friends raved when I saw them. “We hope you were alright waiting for us.”

“More than alright,” I offered without an explanation.


Fenice ceiling

Fenice ceiling


The famed Fenice, one of Europe’s oldest opera houses, was burnt to the ground in 1996, the second time in its history. The first was in 1836. Some claim it was an electrical fire, others insist it was mob related and linked to a contracting dispute. John Berendt discusses the speculation and intrigue in, “The City of Fallen Angels.”

I read his book a few years ago during a cat-sitting stint in Venice—three weeks, three cats, and John’s book.  I had the opportunity to meet him during a writers conference in San Miguel–we sat next to each other at a book signing. I introduced myself and mentioned we had Venice in common. “You must have been living in the same building where I always stay,” I told him with the utmost authority. I knew this for a fact because of the descriptions he gave–the views from his windows were the same as mine.

“Hmm,” John said with a forced smile before turning away, choosing to stare at the wall instead of discovering our commonalities.

No, wait, I thought when I realized he had abruptly ended our conversation. You don’t understand, I’m a Venetian cat-sitter. We shopped in the same stores, hung out in the same café. It seems Venice was John’s town and he didn’t appreciate intruders.

He did appreciate the Fenice though. John artfully describes its reconstruction, the seven years it took to rebuild everything, piece by piece, with the aid of 300 construction workers, restorers, and decorators. Now it’s once again reliving its former glory as one of the most important opera houses in the world.

So it seems the Fenice with its new incarnation is stayin alive.

“Hmm,” as John would say…maybe that’s why the Bee Gees sing their song in the bar next door.


Nothing to do with the Fenice or this story, but it's an interesting shot of television trucks with satellites parked on a barge in the Grand Canal...the closest they can get to St. Marks if there's an event going on.

Nothing to do with the Fenice or this story, but it’s an interesting shot of television trucks with satellites parked on a barge in the Grand Canal…the closest they can get to St. Marks if there’s an event going on.



Tourist Tip #5:

Tickets to the Fenice can be quite pricey…unless you know the secret. Almost every floor has partial view seating near the front, which gets you a not-so-prime seat for 10-20 euros depending on the event. The ticket counter rarely mentions these seats, offering the better options instead. But now that you know, you can request them and see 3/4 of an opera, sometimes just a leg or extended arm, but really, it’s enough.



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