The Theatre - The History | Teatro La Fenice


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The Teatro La Fenice was founded in 1792. In the nineteenth century, the theatre staged the world premieres of numerous operas, including Rossini’s Tancredi, Sigismondo and Semiramide, Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi (The Capulets and the Montagues) and Beatrice di Tenda, Donizetti’s Belisario (Belisarius)Pia de’ Tolomei, and Maria de Rudenz, and Verdi’s ErnaniAttila, RigolettoLa traviata and Simon Boccanegra


In the last century, the Fenice has also placed a special emphasis on contemporary productions, welcoming the world premieres of Stravinski’s The Rake’s Progress, Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, Prokofiev’s L’angelo di fuoco (The Fiery Angel), Nono’s Intolleranza (Intolerance) and Maderna’s Hyperion. Recent premieres have included Kagel’s Entführung im Konzertsaal (Kidnapping in the Concert Hall), Guarnieri’s Medea, Mosca’s Signor Goldoni and Ambrosini’s Il killer di parole (The Killer of Words)

With a seating capacity for over one thousand people, the Fenice boasts excellent acoustics (which were improved when the theatre was rebuilt after the devastating fire of 1996), a 98-member orchestra and 66-person opera chorus, a dedicated local audience and a large international following. The theatre is a leading creative venue, staging more than one hundred opera performances per year, a major symphonic season conducted by prominent conductors from across the globe (including frequent collaborations with Myung-Whun Chung, Riccardo Chailly, Jeffrey Tate, Vladimir Temirkanov and Dmitrij Kitajenko), the full cycles of symphonies by Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms and Mahler, a contemporary repertoire focused especially on Venetian artists such as Nono and Maderna, ballets, and chamber music concerts.

The theatre is owned by the Municipality of Venice and managed by the Fondazione Teatro La Fenice, a private body whose members include the State of Italy, the Veneto region, the Municipality of Venice and numerous public and private institutions. The foundation also runs a second theatre, the Teatro Malibran (formerly known as the Teatro di San Giovanni Grisostomo), which dates back to 1678.

Superintendent and Artistic Director is Fortunato Ortombina and Chorus Master Claudio Marino Moretti.

In keeping with the theatre’s storied history, the Fondazione Teatro La Fenice is proud to stage the most important works of the Italian and international operatic repertoire, including pieces by French, Slavic, British and German composers. (Venice has enjoyed a long-standing, deep-rooted relationship with both Britten and Wagner.) The Foundation also hosts cutting-edge experimental directors while continuing to offer first-rate musical experiences. Furthermore, it conducts ongoing research into contemporary music, commissioning new works and staging Italian and Venetian premieres, and, in collaboration with Italian and international experts, is especially interested in producing Baroque works, particularly those from the Venetian repertoire.


In recent seasons, the Foundation has also endeavored to meet another of the goals set out in its statutes by developing new artistic frameworks and promoting emerging young artists. To this end, the Fenice has hired emerging young professionals (including conductors, directors, set designers and singers) to stage avant-garde productions, commissioned young composers to write symphonies and chamber pieces. Furthermore, the Fenice collaborates with leading Venetian educational institutions (including the Conservatory, University and Academy of Fine Arts) and involves students in designing, producing and staging performances, particularly as part of the recently founded Atelier della Fenice at Teatro Malibran.


1828 - The restoration

And certainly the new Imperial Loggia must have caught the attention of all those present on the inaugural evening of 26 December, as it had become the focal point of the auditorium; all the more so because the decoration, thanks to a choice in perfect keeping with neo-classical taste which also allowed a notable saving in financial terms, included refined monochrome variations.

It met with the sincere approval of the Secretary of the I.R. Academy, Antonio Diedo, who defined it a most worthy work, which combines comfort and elegance, and it was also appreciated by Clemens von Metternich who on 16 December 1822, as the new representative of authority, attended a performance which he himself described as sans pareil in a loggia that struck him as merveilleusement belle.

Nonetheless, only three years after Metternich’s visit, a radical restoration was needed since the government authorities had repeatedly expressed their displeasure with the way the decoration of the theatre auditorium had deteriorated on account of the smoke from the oil-lamps.

Giuseppe Borsato, the official scenery-designer of the theatre, was once again put in charge of the job, and his project was approved by the committee of the Academy of Fine Arts on 8 July 1828. A key element of the auditorium became the grand chandelier hanging from a canopy-vault supported by eight panels framing lunettes with musical instruments and winged genii. In place of Apollo’s coach, Borsato, with a sensibility that was already Romantic, painted the twelve hours of the night summoned to give free rein to their gay dances, instead of resting and awaiting the morning-star, while for the parapets of the balconies he chose monochrome decorations figuring acanthus-leaves, musical instruments, festoons, masks, genii.

The new auditorium was inaugurated on 27 December 1828, and the event was recorded by the Gazzetta Privilegiata di Venezia two days later:

We enter the extremely elegant auditorium now enlivened by Borsato’s illustrious brush. The chiaroscuro vault lightly represents a dome, which has a rich rosette in its centre, around which are beautifully and allusively represented the hours dancing gaily; and I know not where they pass better or more gaily, and it is a pity they fly so swiftly, and we needs must wait for them from one year to another! A large fascia of ornaments, also treated in chiaroscuro on a gold field, encircles the dome and ends in a compartment of eight lunettes, supported by rich corbels, with a background containing beautiful emblems referring to the art of singing with various winged goddesses. A victory on a gold field joins the lunettes to one another most beautifully, giving greater relief and greater variety to the general tints. Other emblems, other genii, some painted, some in mock relief, occupy the spaces left by the general vault over the orchestra, and the exterior of the stage-boxes of the highest tier; just as a compartment of fine effect divides the sky of the proscenium with the new clock in the middle.

The painting on the ceiling is connected to that on the boxes by means of a noble quadratura with modillions and gold rosettes, which rests on the half-peak drawn in chiaroscuro with gryphons and swans. A vivacious yellow, which one might wish less warm, and more in keeping with the tints of the ceiling, colours the exterior of the walls of the boxes, and the whole design consists in various chiaroscuro ornaments alluding, in each tier, to tragedy, music and mime, interrupted by an occasional medal on a gold field, with busts of those great men, who in the triple art have risen above the vulgar ranks ... In the midst of this new world, the only thing that still testifies to the venerable ruins of time is the old arch of the stage.

adjusted on basis of the book of
Manlio Brusatin, Giuseppe Pavanello, Il Teatro La Fenice, Venezia, Albrizzi 1987, p. 183-190