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San Cassiano and its campo

And the world's first public opera house

Resurection by Tintoretto

This lacklustre, façade-less old box of a church that looks more like a storage facility was founded in the 13th century but reincarnated in the 17th century (except for its detached medieval campanile).

The interior has more than a touch of comfy Great Auntie, with its chandeliers and pillars wrapped in flocked fabric, but it also has a startling masterpiece by Tintoretto: a dynamic Crucifixion, composed as if the viewer were just under the cross, looking up as the Roman soldier climbs the ladder to nail on the sign reading INRI. Two other Tintorettos (The Descent into Limbo and The Resurrection) that keep it company have suffered from an unhappy restoration, although in the former the painter’s usual flair for drama finds expression in the fury of Christ bursting out of the tomb.

The chapel to the right of the altar contains a more typical Crucifixion by Palma il Giovane, and Leandro Bassano’s Announcement of the Birth of St John the Baptist, with quirky rows of Venetian heads underneath.

Another chapel to the left, generally closed, has an ornate little chapel with a fascinating painting of the Martyrdom of San Cassiano by 18th century painter Antonio Balestra. Cassiano was a martyr and the patron saint of schoolteachers, stabbed to death in the 4th century by his pupils' styluses.

Campo San Cassiano once held the first public opera house in the world, opened in 1637 while Monteverdi was the maestro di cappella at St Mark’s.

Known as the Teatro San Cassiano (or Teatro di Tron) it was built of stone after the original wooden theatre, designed by Palladio for plays, burned to the ground in 1629. It was funded by the Tron family, and unlike other opera houses of the day, which were reserved exclusively for the aristocracy, it was open to anyone who bought a ticket—similar to its surviving rival, the Teatro Malibran. Francesco Cavalli wrote a number of operas for its stage, greatly contributing to its early renown.

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Campo San Cassiano

vaporetto: San Stae

Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Images by: PD Art, Didier Descouens, Creative Commons License