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Opera and Theatre

Eighteenth-century Venice was a city of performance and spectacle. The staging of opera was a thriving part of the city’s cultural scene. Venice had nineteen opera houses, and the opera season coincided with Carnival. Both took place from St Stephen’s Day on 26 December until the beginning of Lent.

The demands of the opera season provided plenty of work for Venetian artists. Like Canaletto, the painters Sebastiano and Marco Ricci began their careers as stage painters, and Canaletto’s manipulation of perspective in his paintings and drawings can be traced to his theatrical origins.

Joseph Smith was an avid theatregoer. In 1717 he married Catherine Tofts, a retired opera singer, and he collected stage designs and operatic caricatures. Many of the most famous singers were men who had been castrated as boys to preserve their high voices. Although the practice was illegal, their voices were admired for their purity and endurance, and castrati such as Farinelli achieved great fame and fortune.

Marco Ricci (Belluno 1676-Venice 1730)

Farinelli in walking dress

Marco Ricci (Belluno 1676-Venice 1730)

A stage design: a fountain and the steps of a villa

Anton Maria Zanetti the Elder (1680-1767)

Seven standing figures

Marco Ricci (Belluno 1676-Venice 1730)

Nicola Grimaldi and Lucia Facchinelli

Marco Ricci (Belluno 1676-Venice 1730)

A stage design: room with a balcony