Once its dominion over the high seas ended, Venice discovered the power of high Cs, hiring as San Marco choirmaster Claudio Monteverdi and opening La Fenice ('The Phoenix') in 1792. Rossini and Bellini staged operas here, Verdi premiered Rigoletto and La Traviata, and international greats Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Britten composed for the house, making La Fenice the envy of Europe. From January to July and September to October, opera season is in full swing. Tours are also possible with advance booking.

In 1996 La Fenice grabbed headlines when tragedy befell and the beautiful gilt-encrusted theatre was reduced to ashes in a mysterious blaze. Two electricians, apparently behind on repairs, were found guilty of arson. Venice without La Fenice was unthinkable and worldwide donations poured in, enabling the reconstruction of a €90-million replica which reopened in late 2003. Although some critics had lobbied for Gae Aulenti's avant-garde design, the reprise performance of La Traviata was a sensation.