27 August 2017

Zanetta Farussi – actress

Venetian performer who gave birth to a legendary womaniser

Giacomo Casanova, whose mother was  the actress Zanetta Farussi
Giacomo Casanova, whose mother was
 the actress Zanetta Farussi
Zanetta Farussi, the comedy actress who was the mother of the notorious adventurer, Casanova, was born on this day in 1707 in Venice.

At the age of 17, Zanetta had married the actor Gaetano Casanova, who was 10 years older than her.

He had just returned to Venice after several years with a touring theatrical troupe, to take a job at the Teatro San Samuele.

Farussi’s parents opposed the marriage because they considered acting to be a disreputable profession.

But Farussi soon began working at Teatro San Samuele herself and the following year she gave birth to a son, Giacomo, who was to grow up to make the name Casanova synonymous with womanising and philandering.  Giacomo Casanova would later claim that his real father was Michele Grimani, who owned the Teatro San Samuele.

Zanetta and Gaetano accepted a theatrical engagement in London where Farussi gave birth to their second son, Francesco, who became a well-known painter.

They returned to Venice in 1728 and went on to have four more children. The youngest child was born two months after the death of his father. 

The Teatro San Samuele, where Farussi found work
The Teatro San Samuele, where Farussi found work
The same year, Farussi met the playwright Carlo Goldoni in Verona and he wrote a short comedy for her called La Pupilla (The Female Ward), which was inspired by the jealous infatuation she had inspired in a famous actor and theatrical impresario of the day. It was presented as an interlude with his tragicomedy, Belisario.

In 1737 Farussi signed a long contract to appear in Italian comedies in Saxony.

The following year she made her debut in Pilnitz, near Dresden, on the occasion of the proxy wedding of Crown Princess Maria Amalia.

Farussi eventually visited Warsaw, where she presented two short theatrical pieces she had written herself.

When the Seven Years War started, the Saxon court suspended the activities of the Italian comedy troupe and the actors all retired and were granted an annual pension.

The playwright Carlo Goldoni
The playwright Carlo Goldoni
During the war, Farussi sought refuge in Prague but as soon as it was safe she returned to Dresden where she was to remain for the rest of her life. She was joined by one of her sons, Giovanni, who taught at the Academy of Fine Arts there, and one of her daughters, Maria Maddalena, who married the court organist, Peter August.

Meanwhile, her eldest son, Giacomo Casanova, had graduated in law from the University of Padua. At various times during his life he worked as a clergyman, military officer, violinist, businessman and spy. Throughout his life it was a recurring pattern that he embarked on passionate affairs with women, ran out of money and was imprisoned for debt.

He was locked up for a time in the Doge’s Palace in Venice in terrible conditions, but he eventually escaped through the ceiling of his cell, broke back into the building through a window, walked out through the main entrance and made his escape in a gondola across the lagoon on his way to exile in France.

Farussi, who was known in theatrical circles as La Buranella, a reference to her family roots on the island of Burano, died in 1776 in Dresden.

Travel tip:

The church of San Samuele, just beyond the waterbus stop
The church of San Samuele, just beyond the waterbus stop
Teatro San Samuele, where Farussi began her theatrical career, was an opera house and theatre at the Rio del Duca, between San Samuele and Campo Santo Stefano. It was first opened in 1656 in Venice and the playwright, Carlo Goldoni, was the theatre’s director between 1737 and 1741. The theatre was destroyed by fire in 1747 but then rebuilt and it remained a theatre until the building was demolished in 1894. San Samuele is in the San Marco sestiere and has a waterbus stop on the right bank of the Grand Canal before you reach the Rialto.

Goldoni's home was the beautiful Palazzo Centani
Goldoni's home was the beautiful Palazzo Centani
Travel tip:

The playwright, Carlo Goldoni, who wrote more than 250 comedies, was born in the beautiful Gothic Palazzo Centani in Venice. The palace, in Calle dei Nomboli in the San Polo district, is now a centre for theatrical studies and has a collection of theatrical memorabilia on display. It is open to the public every day except Wednesday.

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