Mantua is an Italian city with a vibrant history, stemming from the illustrious House of Gonzaga and the subsequent family dynasty. The Gozaga’s reign spanned over 400 years from the 14th to the 18th century, and their influence solidified the region as a hub of Renaissance culture. Mantua, a city in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, is a popular destination for those relaxing on an Italian river cruise due to its breathtaking frescos, enchanting architecture and classic Italian cuisine. However, one of the key draws for those exploring the city on an Italian river cruise is its inextricable links with the history of the opera; widely regarded as the birthplace of the genre, there is much to learn and discover in the unique setting of Mantua. |
An Esteemed Family
The House of Gonzaga is responsible for the growth and development of Mantua into the premier destination you see today. The esteemed members include a saint, twelve cardinals and fourteen bishops - quite the legacy for the young Gonzagas of the modern day to live up to! The prestige of the name was cemented through intermarrying with Ferrera’s prestigious d’Este family, bestowing power and status on those fortunate enough to be born into the bloodline.
A Palace and an Opera
Ferranti Gonzaga was the youngest of the union between the Gonzaga family and Isabella d’Este of Ferrara, and he commissioned a palace in the centre of Mantua in the 16th century. His son Cesare, upon inheriting the building, decided to include a theatre known as Accademia degli Invaghiti, or “academy of the enamoured ones”. The venue quickly became a hub of Renaissance culture and played host to the very first melodrama of history, “The History of Orpheus” by Claudio Monteverdi; thus, the opera was born. A stop at Mantua on your Italian river cruise is the perfect opportunity to revel in this magical development that changed Italian culture forever.
An Ending and a New Beginning
Unfortunately, the original theatre began to crumble and decay, to the extent that the Academy decided to rebuild it in the 18th century. The theatre, “Bibiena”, introduced a young musician by the name of Mozart a few weeks after its opening. Mozart raved about the theatre, claiming it was the most beautiful in the world. Ensure Teatro Bibiena is on your itinerary for your Italy river cruise, and see if you agree.
The Setting of a Tragedy
Mantua’s operatic history includes being the setting for Verdi’s 19th-century opera Rigoletto. This controversial piece was ultimately a huge success and launched the writer’s career into the next echelon, from where he wrote the inimitable Il trovatore and La traviata.
Mantua is a must-see in its own right, but for those looking to appreciate the birthplace of a cultural revolution, make this a non-negotiable stop for your next Italian river cruise. Ensuring you book your getaway with a reputable and experienced company will allow you to guarantee the most memorable and relaxing experience possible, soaking up the drama and suspense of the opera.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury itineraries for an Italian river cruise, as well as barge holidays in other great destinations. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.
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