La Fenice has many friends. But none more unlikely than Woody Allen, who may now direct an opera there

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The Independent Culture
La Fenice burnt down a month before Woody Allen was due to play there with his Dixieland jazz band. When he was told the news, Allen commented: "It must be a music lover. They must have heard I was coming."

Allen rates Venice as "one of the three cities in which I feel completely at home" (the others are New York and Paris). Whenever he can he spends New Year there, putting up at the Gritti Palace Hotel. A couple of years ago the rumour surfaced that he was thinking of buying the deliciously lopsided 15th-century palazzo of Ca' Dario on the Grand Canal - which supposedly has a curse hanging over it, having witnessed a litany of disasters in its 500-year history, from the death (by heartbreak) of the original owner's daughter, to the death (by suicide) of the last owner, the millionaire financier Raul Gardini.

But Allen, in town recently for the European premiere of his new film, Everyone Says I Love You, which is partly set in Venice, was keen to scotch the story once and for all. "I don't need a house in Venice - I'm perfectly happy here at the Gritti," he said. "But I've already had decorators ringing me up offering their services."

Venice was a late love for Allen; he had already turned 50 when he saw it for the first time. "I was terrified by the idea of having to get around by boat; but the second I saw the city I was overwhelmed. It has a magical quality - especially in winter, when the fog makes everything so melancholy."

Allen drew heavily on the lurking menace of all those narrow alleyways and sudden, disorienting canals in his homage to the mitteleuropean thriller, Shadows and Fog. But his new film takes a more tourist-board view of the city. Woody and Julia Roberts jog over bridges; Woody hooks Julia by delivering a paean to Tintoretto straight out of the guidebook ("the rapidity of his brushwork, the chiaroscuro outbursts of colour, his capacity for controlled gesture ... born in 1519, died in 1594..."); and he clinches the affair down by the Rialto, while telling her how much he loves Mahler's Fourth.

A dance sequence filmed in the square in front of La Fenice ended up on the cutting-room floor. But in the real world Allen's initially casual connection with the gutted opera theatre is proving more difficult to shake off. First, in March, came the concert which was supposed to have been held at La Fenice; instead, Allen tooted his clarinet in the nearby Teatro Goldoni, and turned all profits over to the reconstruction fund. On the same visit, he took the opportunity of looking over the rubble with Mayor Massimo Cacciari - and both were promptly sued by an over-zealous local lawyer for entering a sequested building. Then came the benefit performance of Everyone Says I Love You, which itself attracted criticism because ticket prices were pitched fairly low. ("That was the mayor's idea," says Allen, "but I thought it was a good one. La Fenice belongs to all Venetians, after all.")

And finally, just when he thought he had done his bit, he has been asked by La Fenice's director, Gianfranco Pontel, to direct the opera which opens the rebuilt theatre - in the 1999-2000 season, if all goes according to plan. Allen has promised to give the proposal serious consideration, but was bemused as to "why they should have asked me, of all people. I've never directed a live event in my life."

He's not going to get out of it by playing the no-clue nebbish. Woody Allen may have so far dodged the curse of Ca' Dario, but La Fenice won't be as easy to placate. LM