Movies, books, and songs to capture the essence of Venice and get you in the mood for travel
David Lean’s romantic drama stars Katharine Hepburn as an awkward spinster on a solo trip to Venice, where she loses her heart in a doomed affair with suave shopkeeper Rossano Brazzi. Along the way, Hepburn famously tumbles into the canal near Campo San Barnaba.
Bread and Tulips (2000)
A sweet and quirky Italian film about a middle-aged housewife who inadvertently gets left behind by her tour group at a truck stop, so she heads to Venice on her own, renewing her sense of adventure, making oddball friends, and finding new love.
Dangerous Beauty (1998)
Based on the life of famed courtesan and writer Veronica Franco, this costume drama offers a lushly filmed if lightweight glimpse of courtesans, the Inquisition, and women’s roles in 16th-century Venice.
Don’t Look Now (1973)
The city of canals provides an ominous backdrop for this creepy classic about a couple (Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland) reeling from the heartbreak of their young daughter’s drowning death and tormented by what may or may not be messages from her from beyond.
The Merchant of Venice (2004)
Al Pacino is a bitter and tragic Shylock and Jeremy Irons is a resigned Antonio in this critically acclaimed adaptation of the Shakespeare play.
The Comfort of Strangers (1990)
Rupert Everett and Natasha Richardson are lured to Christopher Walken’s palace on the Grand Canal in this nightmare set in decaying Venice, based on the novel by Ian McEwan.
A silly romp through the lives and loves of perhaps the most famous lover in history, Venice’s own Giovanni Giacomo Casanova; stars the late Heath Ledger in the title role.
Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann (1912)
A middle-aged German count nurses an obsessive infatuation with a beautiful young boy that proves fatal when the city suffers a cholera outbreak; Luchino Visconti made the novella into a film in 1971.
The Wings of the Dove, by Henry James (1902)
James frequently wrote in and about Venice, a city he loved; this ethereal tragedy of a terminally ill American heiress and the money-grasping maneuverings of those around her was adapted for a film in 1997.
Death at La Fenice, by Donna Leon (1992)
The first in Leon’s ongoing series of Venetian murder mysteries featuring the unflappable police commissioner Guido Brunetti, who seeks justice but doesn’t always find it.
The World of Venice, by Jan Morris (1960, revised 1995)
A classic portrait of the city, its history, and inhabitants.
City of Falling Angels, by John Berendt (2005)
A peek into the lives of prominent Venetians and their feuds in the aftermath of the fire that destroyed the La Fenice opera house.
A Venetian Affair, by Andrea Di Robilant (2003)
Fascinating love story about a Venetian nobleman and his illegitimate half-English secret lover, reconstructed from letters the author’s father found in the family’s Grand Canal palazzo; reveals much about Venetian social mores.
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons/Fritz Kreisler: Concerto for Violin, Gil Shaham and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Gil Shaham and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra breathe new life into Vivaldi’s oft-played classic.
Il Liuto a Venezia, Massimo Lonardi
Performance of Renaissance lute music by Massimo Lonardi, recorded in the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore.
Prometeo, Tragedia dell’ascolto, Various Artists
The libretto to 20th-century Venetian composer Luigi Nono’s 1984 opera was written by Venice’s current mayor, philosopher Massimo Cacciari.
Wagner: Tristan und Isolde, Placido Domingo and the Covent Garden Royal Opera House Chorus and Orchestra
Placido Domingo and the Covent Garden Royal Opera House Chorus and Orchestra perform Wagner’s opera; the second act was composed in Venice, and gondolier’s calls inspired the shepherd’s horn at the start of the third.
Ciao Venezia, Umberto De Preda
Catchy if corny production of traditional folk classics including “Gondolì Gondolà,” “Do Basi De Fogo,” and the title song and gondola standard “Ciao Venezia.”
From madrigals to opera to gondola music, Venice has a long and varied history of inspiring local composers and foresti (foreigners) who have flocked to the quiet city for inspiration. Here’s a sampling through the ages:
1. “O passai sparsi, madrigal for 12 voices” (Andrea Gabrieli) by Robin Blaze, Nicholas Mulroy, English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble
2. “Lamento Della Ninfa, madrigal in 3 sections for 1-4 voices (from book 8)” (Claudio Monteverdi) by La Venexiana
3. “Keyboard Sonata in A Flat Major” (Baldassare Galuppi) by Peter Seivewright.
4. “La Lugubre Gondole” (Franz Liszt) by Krystian Zimerman
5. “La biondina in gondoleta” (Antonio Lamberti) by Joyce DiDonato
6. “Com’é Triste Venezia” by Charles Aznavour
7. “Ciao Venezia” by Umberto Da Preda
8. “The Carnival of Venice” (Jean-Baptiste Arban) by Wynton Marsalis
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