The colours and opulence of this great festivity, jn the multi-coloured folds of its robes… in the background, enveloped in its pale and mysterious atmosphere, is one of the town’s symbols, the Bridge of Sighs, the backdrop, together with the adjoining Prisons palace, for an epic escape by a character who went down in history as one of the greatest seducers of all times, Giacomo Casanova.
From this great seducer fully in the Eighteenth century, to a great seduction: by one of the most famous Venetian traditions, Carnival, an immensely ancient festivity, which takes its cue from the very opulence of that age to pass into history. We are naturally starting from here, as is customary, as we do with every issue in February.
“Play”, with its multiple facets and expressions, is the leading theme of this edition, play – as artistic director Marco Maccapani announces – seen as a disguise, as invention, a change of identity but also as entertainment, and therefore as theatre, music, art and the circus. And the scenographies for this year, from the one in Saint Mark’s Square to the one in Piazza Ferretto in Mestre, the two Carnival hubs in the lagoon and on the mainland, are inspired exactly by all this. Some elements from the Togni circus, distinguished by the classic yellow and red stripes employed in the film-sets of Federico Fellini’s famous film “La strada”, will be used according to this theme.
In order, here are the main attractions of this edition, which began a few days ago with the suggestive Venetian water Pageant set in the popular district of Cannaregio.
Its debut (on Saturday 3) is with the Fête of the Marys, in memory of the tribute that the Doge offered every year to twelve beautiful maidens selected from the populace. Its re-enactment will feature a procession in costume, which will accompany the chosen ones from the ancient basilica of Saint Peter of Castello to Saint Mark’s Square.
The Angel’s flight, the event that officially opens Carnival revels, will follow (on Sunday 4) with the thrilling, scenic flight of a Mary (in this case in the guise of an Angel) from the loggia of Saint Mark’s Belltower.
That same day will see the Competition for the Best Mask (until the end, on Tuesday 13 February), which will see the most beautiful Carnival costumes promenading during its two daily rendez-vous.
On Thursday 8, it will be the turn of the Thursday Fête with the spectacular Ballad of the Masks which draws from and re-enacts an ancient anecdote dating back to the year 1162, in which the victory of Doge Vitale Michiel II over Patriarch Ulrico of Aquileia was celebrated.
Another spectacular historical re-evocation (an absolute premiere) will take centre-stage on Friday 9 in Saint Mark’s Square: it will recall the fights between two factions, the “nicolotti” (from Dorsoduro) and the “castellani” (from Castello) representing their respective sestieri (districts) in town.
On Sunday 11 it will be possible to watch another thrilling moment, the Eagle’s flight. This time, the protagonist of the leap from the Belltower of Saint Mark will be an exceptional figure: Renzo Rosso, the owner of Diesel.
That same day, but in the afternoon, the programme will feature the awards for “The Best Mask” and a novel Sprint Carnival Regatta with caorline boats along the Grand Canal stretch between Ca’ Vendramin Calergi and Rialto.
Grand finale, as customary on Shrove Tuesday, 13 February, with the crowning of the winning Mary, who will arrive at Saint Mark’s Square at the end of the water pageant departing from San Giacomo dell’Orio. This will be followed by the Svolo del Leon flight, which has always symbolised the end of celebrations in Saint Mark’s Square. A huge banner with the lion of Saint Mark will cover the roughly ninety metres dividing the centre of the stage with the belfry, from the bottom upwards, on the notes of the Hymn of Saint Mark.
Among the other occasions we may recall: the Dinner Show&Ball, the special evenings organised at Ca’ Vendramin Calergi, the historic Casino venue, from 3 to 14 February (this final, exceptionally off-calendar date, is dedicated to the Saint Valentine festivity); the Arsenal Carnival Experience evenings with music dedicated to youngsters, from 9 to 13 February; The Kids’ Carnival, by the Venice Biennale, from 3 to 11 at the Gardens in Castello; The Burano Carnival with its traditional parades of masks on floats programmed for Thursday 8 and Tuesday 13.
The event will accommodate many cultural rendez-vous, with programmes at theatres and certain important cultural institutions at their core, and, naturally, parties inside palaces, where the refinement, the magnificence and the magic of ancient Eighteenth century feasts may be experienced anew.
The month of February will thus see the city experiencing two different aspects, in contrast with each other: the exuberant, festive, sometimes transgressive one, during its first part, dedicated to Carnival itself, and the romantic and pensive one, typical of the winter season, during the second one.
On the basis of one’s personality and one’s taste, it will be possible to choose between these two souls, in the certainty of one thing in any case, that, as always, Venice will not fail to amaze.