On Sunday, February 4, 2018 Elisa Costantini, Maria of the Year 2017, will descend from St. Mark’s bell tower to the crowded square of Venetians and visitors from all over the world interpreting what is considered as the opening ritual of the Venice Carnival: the Flight of Angel.
The tradition originates from an edition of the Carnival in the mid-sixteenth century, when an extraordinary event was took place that caused quite a stir: a young Turkish acrobat succeeded in reaching the belfry of St. Mark’s bell tower by walking on a long rope that went from a boat anchored on the pier of the Piazzetta, in the frenzy of a delirious crowd below. During his descent, he reached the balcony of Palazzo Ducale, paying homage to the Doge.
After the success of this spectacular endeavour that immediately took the name of Svolo del Turco (The flight of the Turk), it was decided that the initiative, which usually took place on the last Thursday before Lent, would be repeated as an official ceremony for the editions that followed, with similar techniques, but in a form that underwent many variations over the years. In fact, for many years although the event kept the same name, it was only performed by professional tightrope walkers until even young Venetians took up the challenge with unpredictable variations.
When these changes led to the event being performed by a man dressed with angel wings who was hoisted to the top of the tower and, hanging from the rope by means of rings, descended the rope at great speed, the new term Flight of the Angel was coined. At the end of the descent into the gallery of Palazzo Ducale, the ‘angel’ would always receive gifts or money from the Doge. There were some editions in which the acrobats used animals, boats and various other figures for their performance, as well as making the feat increasingly difficult with daring acrobatics and even collective flights.
However, in 1759 an exhibition ended in tragedy when an acrobat fell to the ground among a horrified crowd. Because of this serious accident, such performances were forbidden and the acrobat was replaced by a large wooden dove, which on its way down from the belfry would shed flowers and confetti on the crowd. From the first of these editions, the name of the Flight of the Angel was again changed to the Flight of the Dove.
With the collapse of the thousand-year-long Republic of Venice (the Serenissima), this event, like many others, was interrupted for a long time. While in the past, the event took place on the last Thursday before Lent, in the modern editions it now takes place at noon on the first Sunday of Carnival and is one of the opening events that officially marks the start of Carnival. Until 2001, a mechanical bird resembling a dove, which, supported by a rope as in the previous version, or in the more modern version by a cable, would descend above a cheering crowd who had their eyes on St. Mark’s bell tower. About half-way down, a trapdoor in the bottom part of the dove would open out and release confetti and streamers over the crowd.
From the 2001 edition, the Flight of the Angel was introduced once again; the first of the millennium. For 17 years now the flight has again been performed by a real person has been secured to a mechanical cable descends towards the crowd from the bell tower.
The first Flight of the Angel that took place in 2001 was assigned to the Compagnia dei Folli and one of their performers, Katiuscia Triberti, was chosen for the event. Katiuscia was secured to a steel cable and descended slowly from the belfry of the tower towards Palazzo Ducale, suspended above a crowded area below. From 2001 to 2008, the year in which the rapper, Coolio was the angel (the only man to have performed the Flight of the Angel to date), the ‘flight’ has continued towards the Piazzetta landing in front of the Palazzo Ducale, but the angel being a woman from the show business, sport or fashion world: 2002 Antonella Elia (actress and showgirl), 2003 Frida Scarpa (fencer), 2004 Carlotta Mantovan (Miss Veneto 2001), 2005 Carolina Marconi (model and actress), 2006 Manuela Levorato (sprinter), 2007 Federica Pellegrini (swimmer), and of course in 2008 – Coolio (rapper).
In 2009, the artistic director Marco Balich, decided to revolutionise the scenario by flying his first “angel”, Margherita Maccapani Missoni, from the bell tower towards St. Mark’s Square, reaching the Correr Museum. In the 2010 edition, the role was given to the model Bianca Brandolini D’Adda.
From 2011 Piero Rosa Salva, president of Vela, thought of having the young Venetian girl, who was given the title of Maria of the Carnival the previous year, descend from the bell tower on the day of the Flight of the Angel. Since then the splendid angels of this fantastic and spectacular moment of the Carnival of Venice have been Silvia Bianchini (Maria of 2010), 2012 Giulia Selero (Maria of 2011), 2013 Marta Finotto (Maria of 2012) , 2014 Julia Nasi (Maria of 2013), 2015 Marianna Serena (Maria of 2014), 2016 Irene Rizzi (Maria of 2015), Claudia Marchiori (Maria of 2016) and lastly, Elisa Costantini (Maria of 2017) will be the Angel of 2018 and will ‘fly’ from the bell tower exactly at noon on February 4.
Source: Venice Carnival press office!