Dueling Orchestras of Venice

Piazza San Marco in Venice is a captivating place. Many people sadly only see it during the day, swarming with tourists, but there is another Venice for those who stay when the crowds depart.

My favorite time to go is in late May to early June, because the orchestras only play during the warm months. If you have never experienced the magic that is St. Mark’s Square at night, it will take your breath away.

The piazza is dotted with cafe’s, each with their own orchestra. Many of the orchestras play off and on throughout the day, but wait until after dark to go and sit down. Each cafe has its own style and appeal. I suggest strolling around the square and listening to all of them before choosing the one.

Caffe Florian, first opened in 1720, is gorgeous, classical, and lively. Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, and many other artists and writers once frequented the Florian. It is the oldest, most famous and prestigious of the cafe’s. Gran Caffe` Quadri, across the piazza from the Florian, is a bit more vivacious and my personal favorite.

Expect to pay for your experience. Remember that you are paying for the excellent service and entertainment as well as your wine or cocktail of choice.

Music varies from Italian classics like “O Sole Mio”, “Volare”, my favorite, “Con Te Partiro”, to opera arias, Andrew Lloyd Webber favorites, movie themes, and romantic ballads. My husband and I somehow caught the eye of a musician at Lavena on our anniversary, and having no idea that we were from Tennessee, home of Elvis Presley, they dedicated “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” to us.

The magic is in the music, but also in the combination of orchestras playing together, a friendly competition. Basilica San Marco shimmers in the moonlight and you somehow feel as if this entire evening was made just for you. Couples dance throughout the piazza to three songs at once as the stars twinkle above.

Decades after my first time at Piazza San Marco at night, I still recognize the same musicians, who still make music and hearts come alive in Venice. I love the gondola rides, the watery lanes, the jasmine that lingers in the air, but nothing to me compares with sitting at Caffe Quadri, teary eyed, as I recognize the first notes of Con Te Partiro and surrender my heart once more to La Serenissima.