Here is February, and with it, inevitably, so is Carnival too. It has always been so, in Venice.
At one time, this great fête actually used to start on Boxing Day, or rather, from the previous night, when the Doge, accompanied by the Lords and a procession of noble ladies with their faces covered by a black veil, used to go to the island of San Giorgio by torchlight.
But if its opening was reserved for the upper classes, popular tradition soon gained the upper hand thanks to spectacular revels which found their stage throughout the outdoor areas in town, from the Piazza (meaning Saint Mark’s Square) to smaller ones, and even to the canals.
And this new edition of the Venice Carnival will spring to life from the canals themselves, or rather, from the water, an element that the city experiences in a primordial symbiosis, on Saturday 8 February with its Venetian fête on water.
Considered the ideal prologue to the festival, for at least a decade by now, it is perhaps the event which interprets its folksy spirit best, thanks to the suggestion of its location, the Cannaregio canal, part of one of the most genuine urban textures in town, the Cannaregio district itself.
The fête’s highlight towards evening will be its spectacular pageant on water, with performances in costume on the themes of dancing and love.
On the following Sunday it will be repeated in the morning, with the addition of some delicious food-and-wine booths permitting the discovery of some of the delicacies in Venetian cuisine. The grand finale will finally feature the arrival of the goliardic “Giant Pantegana”, a humorous character in the guise of a gigantic lagoon rat.
From the most popular (and populous) district of the city, during the following week Carnival will pass to the location that has always celebrated the city’s history and splendour: Saint Mark’s Square. Here, from Saturday 15 to Tuesday 25 February, usually always from 11am onwards, events and shows will be centred together with all the most important Carnival performances around a special scenographic “machina”: from a historical re-enactment of the Marys’ Fête to exciting Flights (from the bell-tower), the Angel’s one (Sunday 16) and the Eagle’s; from the Doge’s Procession to the Ballad of Masks, enacting an ancient anecdote on Fat Thursday; up to the re-enactment of erstwhile neighbourhood disputes between the Nicolotti and Castellani factions(Friday 21 February), and the traditional “Lion’s Flight” ending the event.
In addition to the Square programme, which will also feature the Valentine’s Day Lovers’ Fête, as a surprise event included among the other things this year, there will be many more opportunities. Among them, are the inevitable parties in palaces, real cult moments within the Venetian Carnival, where one may experience the sophistication, opulence and magic of ancient Eighteenth-century parties again, including the exclusive Doge’s Ball scheduled for Saturday 22 February at the Scuola Grande della Misericordia, and The Dinner Show, a dinner-show which the Venice Casino is presenting throughout this period at its headquarters in Ca’ Vendramin Calergi in the Renaissance rooms overlooking the Grand Canal.
Even more locations will provide a stage for the event: from the squares – for example, an ice rink is laid out at San Polo – to museums, theatres and hotels, up to the Arsenal, where a special area reserved for young people will be organised.
In addition to the public Authority, represented by the Vela company, many institutions and associations present in town will contribute to the festivity with themed itineraries, guided tours and special openings, music shows and prose plays. Among these, La Fenice Grand Theatre, the Carlo Goldoni Resident Theatre and the City Museums Foundation will be particularly involved, and finally the Venice Biennale too, present with its International Kids’ Carnival taking place in its venues at the central Pavilion inside the Giardini.
However, Carnival will not only be what is visible in the heart of town.
The islands and the mainland, starting from the centre of Mestre, will be an integral part of the programme as well. In this regard, we may recall the Lido Carnival and the characteristic Carnival of Burano, respectively scheduled on the 21st and 25th of this month.
But February is not just Carnival. Before and after this great event, the city will still offer its extraordinary artistic and monumental scenario.
Exhibitions, museums, theatres and concerts will warm up even the coldest of winter days… the kind reader will just need to browse the following pages and let oneself go with what one likes best.
Choose well and, above all, enjoy it!