Venice Plays the Villain, in Donizetti's 'Caterina Cornaro'

WOO-1434-caterina-cornaro-250Like virtually every opera, Donizetti's Caterina Cornaro is a vehicle for opera's true stars -- its singers. But this opera also showcases a star of a different kind: the legendary city of Venice.

There's little doubt that Venice has a special magic all its own, and the numbers prove it. With a permanent population of about 300,000, Venice entertains 15 million visitors every year.

Venetian history goes all the way back to the 6th century, when the city was founded by wartime refugees. Later, Venice grew to be one of Europe's most powerful city states, ruled for hundreds of years by a succession of colorful doges (dukes) and ruthless councils, including the famous Council of Ten. The city's fascinating political history is ripe with conflict and intrigue.

The city also has a rich musical history. In the 1500s, it gave birth to some of the most spectacular music ever composed -- the antiphonal brass and choral works of Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli. Claudio Monteverdi wrote operas for Venice in the early 1600s, and the city gave birth to the first public opera house in 1637. During the next century, Venice became home to of one of the most famous opera houses anywhere, La Fenice, which is still going strong today.

Given all that history, both musical and political, it's no surprise that Venice also became a popular setting for operas. The most famous opera set in Venice is probably Ponchielli's steamy drama La Gioconda. But there are plenty of other examples. Verdi took advantage of the Venetian mystique in his powerful but neglected drama I Due Foscari. And Donizetti not only features the city as a setting for Caterina Cornaro, he gives Venice's powerful Council a leading role as the opera's primary villain.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Caterina Cornaro from the Radio France and Montpellier Festival, in France. Soprano Maria Pia Piscitelli gives a riveting performance in the title role, with tenor Enea Scala as the man Caterina loves, and baritone Franco Vassallo as the man she actually marries. The production is led by conductor Paolo Carignani.