Monteverdi at St Mark’s


When I visited Venice in 2013, San Marco was fronted with scaffolding and most of the square and surrounding streets were flooded – not exactly a recipe for success (except for the vendors selling waterproof booties).

The city has an odd museum atmosphere – it gets more like a Renaissance theme park the further you get from the mainland. Staying overnight feels like you missed the last monorail to the car park and now you’re waiting until they unlock the gates in the morning. That’s not to say it’s not a beautiful and interesting place, there’s just something unreal about it.

At least the lack of traffic noise makes it easier to imagine what it would’ve been like 400 years ago, which is where I’m aiming for. We’re on the trail of Monteverdi here – he took up the post of Director of Music at St Mark’s in 1613, in his mid-forties. I can’t claim to be any sort of authority on Monteverdi but I love Orfeo (one of the first ever operas) and his Vespers (which were potentially written as an audition for the job at St Mark’s), plus who can resist this sensual duet from The Coronation of Poppea: Pur ti miro.


The view from my listening spot

The hustle and bustle of the tourists can be overwhelming here, so after queuing to get into the basilica, I took myself off to find a seat and listen to a recording of the Vespers (which were first published in Venice in 1610). It’s nice to take some time to reflect, but also to think of how new and shiny the music would have sounded to contemporary ears. The building is pretty shiny too – and of course the fact that Monteverdi himself would’ve been in this same space himself makes it all the more breath-taking.

Monteverdi lived for 30 years in Venice, and is buried in the Basilica dei Frari.

You can find out more about Monteverdi on the Radio 3 website.

Pins on this post

  • St Mark’s
  • Basilica dei Frari

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