Do you know what a barcarole is? It is a traditional song that a Venetian gondolier would sing. The songs are sung in the Venetian language (not Italian) and sound much like opera, they flow with the oaring of the gondolier. Folk music meets opera; it’s lovely. Listen to the song “Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour”. This barcarole is from Jacques Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann. You’ve probably heard it before. Now imagine you’re lounging in a gondola and floating through Venice…serenity!
I was sitting in the boat above. There was a gondola traffic jam…without the exhaust fumes, or road rage.
Now, these barcarole are based on traditional songs, not always what you’ll hear sung by gondoliers in Venezia today. As I describe in my book Venice, gondoliers get all kinds of requests for Italian songs that aren’t traditionally Venetian, and they aren’t happy about it. They often feel pressured to sing what is requested, because you’re paying for the ride. So if you want to keep things traditional and you’re inclined to request a gondolier sing for your float along the canals, be sure to ask for a Venetian barcarole!
There is a lovely little book by Donna Leon, Gondola. It also comes with a CD of Venetian barcarole! I’ve played it over and over! Ms. Leon has designed a very special compilation of Venetian paintings filled with canal scenes overflowing with gondolas and snapshots of historic daily life, as well as short chapters to compliment, which give you insight into all things gondola. This book is a treasure!