26th December 1816: the feast of Santo Stefano, or St Stephen, and also the first day of the six-week long Venetian carnival. And so Byron finds
…all kinds of conceits and divertissements on every canal of this aquatic city…
He spends the evening at the opera, at the magnificent Gran Teatro La Fenice, which commences its carnival season on that day with a brand-new opera commissioned from the prolific and very popular composer Stefano Pavesi, Le Daniadi Romani.
Byron has a splendid evening. During the opera’s obligatory ballet (a chance for the gentlemen in the audience to gaze at ladies’ legs) he is entertained by the hysterics of the principal danseuse, who
… went into convulsions because she was applauded on her first appearance – and the manager came forward to see if there was ‘ever a physician in the theatre’ – there was a Greek one in my Box whom I wished very much to volunteer his services – being sure that in this case these would have been the last convulsions which would have troubled the ballerina – but he would not.
He is also hugely diverted by the plot of the opera, which he recognises from his days studying classical literature at Harrow, since it is taken from Livy’s History of Rome:
…a hundred and fifty married ladies having poisoned a hundred and fifty husbands in the good old times… This is really & truly the subject of the Musical piece at the Fenice – & you can’t conceive what pretty things are sung and recitativoed… the conclusion was a Lady’s head about to be chopped off by a lictor – but (I am sorry to say) he left it on – and she got up and sang a trio with the two Consuls – the Senate in the background being chorus.
And, behaving like a typical Englishman abroad, he almost gets involved in a fight on his way out of the theatre:
The crowd was enormous – and in coming out – having a lady under my arm – I was obliged in making way to ‘beat a Venetian and traduce the state’ – being compelled to regale a person with an English punch in the guts… he did not ask for another, but with great signs of disapprobation and dismay appealed to his compatriots – who laughed at him.
All things considered, it has been an evening to remember.