The Real Gondoliers of Venice

The one thing probably EVERYONE knows about Venice is about the Gondoliers. Well I can tell you, they do in fact exist!

I didn’t take a gondola ride myself, because even the cheapest were 80 euros, but plenty of gullible romantic tourists opt for the typical Venetian experience, which means that lots of cheapskate single skeptical tourists get to stand on the canal bridges and watch the show!

They’re a special breed of guy – maybe it comes from wearing a costume all day, particularly one that involves tight pants and muscle-hugging shirts… And of course the adorable hats to complete the ensemble.

I swear this isn’t posed. They really were just standing like this…

The prices for gondola rides start at around 80 euro, and go about as high as you’re willing to pay. The basic ride for two would be one of these guys silently pushing you around the canals in a long black boat for a half hour. But gondola rides are like cars, where you can keep adding luxury features. Or like salads, where you can keep adding toppings (75 cents for veggies, 25 cents extra dressing, $1.00 for avocado or toasted almonds, $3.00 for a piece of grilled chicken or salmon… etc.) For instance, you’re gondolier can sing to you. Ka-ching. Or there can be another guy in the boat playing the accordion. Ka-ching. Or your gondola could have a sun-roof and red and gold velvet cushions upon which you and your lover husband recline and sip champagne while you feed each other fresh Adriatic oysters… Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching.

(That song, by the way, is a Neapolitan tarantella. In case you ever need to bust out that trivium at a cocktail party.)

One of the more pimped-out gondolas

And the gondolieri aren’t bad singers, either. Venetians are generally good at music, I’ve found. Unfortunately, I don’t have a video of an actual singing gondolier (ran out of room on my memory card… darn), but here instead is a picture of some Venetian opera singers singing a duet from Don Giovanni:

They were singing “La ci darem la mano.” Super cute. For your own edification, watch this version with Bryn Terfel. It’s the closest Mozart ever gets to soft-core pornography. It should be pretty obvious, but… the duet is about him seducing her.

And yes, the chamber ensemble is decked-out in 18th century costume as well.

I will remember Venice fondly, for sure. Not the exhausting heat and the soul-sucking crowds, but the costumes and the music and the novelty of the canals, which really are as beautiful as everyone says!


A Night at the Opera in Milan

How could a visit to Milan be complete without seeing a show at La Scala?!

It was Verdi’s Luisa Miller, and basically it was a cross between Lucia di Lammermoor and Romeo and Juliet.

SPOILER ALERT!!! Lol, just kidding. I’d never even heard of this opera, and I bet you haven’t either. So read on!

Rodolfo is the son of a Count, and Luisa the daughter of a peasant. They are already in love when the opera begins, though Luisa has no idea that Rodolfo is the son of her father’s liege lord. Rodolfo’s father the Count, of course, wants him to marry a Duchess, and has Luisa and her father arrested to keep the lovers apart. The Count threatens to kill Luisa’s father unless she writes a letter to Rodolfo saying she is in love with another. Rodolfo, receiving the letter and thinking that Luisa has been untrue, agrees to marry the Duchess. Luisa’s father is released but when she sees Rodolfo’s marriage procession from afar, thinks that he has been unfaithful to her. Rodolfo, still in despair and vowing revenge for Luisa’s unfaithfulness, slips into Luisa’s house and slips poison into some water, which they both drink. After drinking, he confronts her about her unfaithfulness, but she confesses that she wrote the letter under duress and was never unfaithful to Rodolfo. But of course it’s too late – they both die, and Luisa’s father is left alone holding his daughter’s body. Annnnnd CURTAIN!

Basically, it was VERY good – every single singer was phenomenal, particularly the baritone playing Luisa’s father, who actually got shouts of “Encore!” after his first aria. I’ve never heard that happen before at an opera performance, and La Scala audiences are supposed to be particularly tough. Check out this video of tenor Roberto Alagna (an intenational superstar and one of my favorite singers) getting booed off the stage at a performance of Aida at La Scala in 2006:

His understudy comes onto the stage wearing jeans to finish out the scene with Amneris!

But anyway, no such disaster occurred during Luisa Miller. Everything was fabulous, and I got to be glamorous in a cocktail dress sipping wine and sitting in a private box!

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