It is amazing how some of the treasures I have truffled out in the past seem to stick in my mind and intertwine with my life. About 9 years ago a local house clearer sold me several things which had belonged to a 19th century Opera singer, Bianca Donadio - pictured above in 1877. Sadly the items had simply been dumped along with a host of other items in house clearance boxes.
This was long before my first trip to Venice - and before my Venice addiction took hold! I discovered however that Miss Donadio, once described as a 'prima donna soprano', had sung at the "Fenice" opera house in Venice and was captivated by the city and the beautiful opera house decorations.
I knew little about her but managed to find out that she had sung at the Theatre Italien in Nice in 1881. As she took to the stage there was a huge explosion and the theatre burst into flames. I have found this description of the incident:
"The worst enemy of an opera house is fire. These dramatic fires are sometimes laden with tragic irony when gruesome death greets those who have come seeking pleasure. In 1881 at the Théâtre Royale in Nice an eager audience awaited Bianca Donadio as Lucia de Lammermoor. The first act curtain fell not to brightly illuminated scenery but to a raging fire on stage that quickly engulfed the auditorium. Fifty-nine bodies of an estimated 200-400 victims were recovered, mostly those sitting in the poulailler (pigeon roost)".
The fire was so fierce that within an hour the theatre was reduced to the ground and 59 people had died in the flames. Bianca took this as a bad omen and decided that she would never sing in public again.
I have also found this very detailed news report of the fire on this link
On our last trip to Venice I wanted to visit the newly refurbished Fenice theatre where Bianca had sung. This wonderful theatre had been completely destroyed by fire in 1996 - the second time the theatre had caught fire.
At a cost of 90 million euros teams of master craftsmen worked to recreate its splendour. We booked to see two performances; Carmen on one day followed by Madame Butterfly the next. I could hardly pay attention to what was happening on stage as I gazed around at the decoration; it was magnificent. I think these pictures say it all!!
As we sat there I could imagine Bianca on stage, her beautiful solo voice filling the whole place. Having handled her costumes , her silver hairbrushes and her silk shoes I felt quite guilty for having sold them although I did know that they had gone to a very deserving home. I wished I had kept them to donate to the newly decorated Fenice.
I almost feel that having had the privilege of handling some of her personal effects before passing them on and then having visited the Fenice myself that she had not been totally forgotten.
Aa prochaine mes belles