• Catherine Flutsch

La Fenice Opera House: Live Concerts for Comfort and Hope

★★★★★

Review: La Fenice Opera House, Live Streamed Concert Season, continuing throughout March, watch here.



La Fenice Opera House in Venice has been quietly creating an exquisite revolution in the delivery of live music to a locked down world. Half way through January, La Fenice began streaming weekly free live concerts from its stunning theatres with its full symphony orchestra or choir, exciting programming and eminent guest conductors.

Wind instrument players separated by Flexi-glass partitions. Screenshot from concert on 27 February 2021.

This concert series is a master class in how orchestras and choirs might operate safely during a pandemic. The orchestras are fully spaced out, each musician wears a mask and instruments that create directed sprays of droplets are separated by flexiglass partitions - with acoustic holes at points away from the direct flow - to allow the sound to flow naturally. Disposable mats are positioned under the bell of brass instruments to catch drips. If new musicians come to the stage in between pieces, all parts of their "work station", including the stands are disinfected.

Music stands disinfected between pieces when different musicians come in to play. Screenshot from concert on 27 February 2021.


It is a strangely moving and an impressive sight to see a symphony orchestra fully and, I would say, properly, spaced. Surely it must add something positive to the music to allow the musicians the space to express themselves without feeling cramped; which is their usual lot.

Screenshot of concert on 27 February 2021

I love to see the natural, unencumbered sway of the musicians - it helps me understand the phrasing of their parts.

Screenshot of concert on 28 February 2021


Similarly, the choir is properly spaced, and, incredibly, all wearing masks. This does not affect the sound quality nearly as much as I thought it would. In the choice between hearing a high fidelity performance or no performance at all - then wearing masks is a fantastic compromise. In an acknowledgement that mask wearing does affect the sound quality, soloists do not wear masks and their voices surround you in rich, luxurious layers. The slight muting of the masked choir is a poignant accompaniment to the unencumbered soloists.

Screenshot of concert on 28 February 2021


Careful decisions have been made in order to perform weekly live concerts of beautiful and exciting music in a way that is sustainable. These decisions allow all the participants to live relatively normal lives - rather than having to rehearse and perform in a bubble.

Screenshot of concert on 27 February 2021

Another wise decision is that these concerts are short - barely one hour long. This is just the right amount of time for audiences who are exhausted by reality, have fractured concentration spans and too much screen time.

In these circumstances it would be tempting for La Fenice to rely on crowd pleasing favourites. Instead, perhaps as a compensation for the slightly muted sound, the programming features exciting and, often, rarely performed works.

Joana Carneiro conducting.

There are at least 3 more concerts scheduled including Joana Carneiro conducting The Rite of Spring on 21 March, one day after the official astronomical beginning of spring.

View of the Royal Box at La Fenice

.© Pietro Tessarin

For some reason, these concerts have not been widely publicised outside Italy, but they are well worth experiencing.

All arts organisations are struggling at the moment, even the most venerable. If you enjoy any of these concerts, please consider donating a few pounds to La Fenice here.

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