1818-1881 - Strand (Covent Garden)
The Savoy Theatre on the Strand was opened on 10 October 1881. On 7 December 1889 the theatre premiered The Gondoliers which ran for 554 performances, closing on 30 June 1891. It was Gilbert and Sullivan’s last great success. The title of the opera highlights the long-lasting British passion for Venice and its gondolas.
In Byron’s time the city had a vibrant gay community although punishments for sodomy were severe. However, the topography of the city provided unparalleled opportunities for clandestine meetings. According to Casanova, himself a Venetian, gondolas were used primarily for sex acts on water. Venetian gondoliers sold a range of services to both male and female clients (John Addington Symonds was for years the lover of a gondolier named Angelo Fusato).
Byron greatly enjoyed the traditional Venetian Carnival in which gay men happily took part. The traditional costumes disguised the features of the masked wearer making it impossible to guess his or her gender. In Beppo: A Venetian Story (1817) Byron praises the Carnival in terms of its ‘Gaiety’.
During his lifetime, the words gay and lesbian were already understood in their current use. Giovanni Battista Falcieri, known as Tita, was a Venetian gondolier. He was described by contemporaries as muscular and Herculean. Having met him in 1818, Byron made him his personal attendant. The poet dressed his man in a splendid uniform, a cocked hat with a plume of feathers, a scarlet coat embroidered with gold lace, and Hessian boots.
Byron died in Tita’s arms at Missolonghi. He returned the poet’s corpse to England and attended his funeral in 1824. Tita found himself stranded in Britain, but Byron’s friends took care of him. John Cam Hobhouse (Lord Broughton), one of Byron’s mates at Trinity who had accompanied the poet on his journeys in Greece and Turkey, organised a job for him as a messenger at the India Office in London. He subsequently joined Count Pietro Gamba, who had been Byron’s companion for his last four years and acted as his secretary on the second expedition to Greece. Gamba’s A Narrative of Lord Byron’s Last Journey to Greece (1825) is regarded as accurate. After Gamba died of typhoid fever while fighting for Greek independence in 1827, Tita entered the service of Benjamin Disraeli, future Prime Minister of England. Falcieri died in 1874.