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.


1789 - Criticism on judging committee

In any case, the committee held that Bianchi’s project, although encountering the favour of a vast public, did not respect the necessary rules of statics, and there were many who thought that Selva’s victory was the fruit of a previous agreement.

Selva belonged to that group of competitors who included a decorative scheme in the wooden model which he presented to the jury (it is the only one still to survive). From this we can see how he planned to include a panel with Apollo and the Muses Civilizing Mankind on the facade towards the canal, while the San Fantin facade was to be decorated with scenes of Apollo and Marsyas and Orpheus Taming Cerberus. These panels, according to the project, were to be done in fresco, since, as he observed in his notes to the jury, it is desirable that this manner of painting, which characterizes the Veneto school, should return gradually to the exterior of buildings as well.

As regards the decoration of the ceiling, Selva’s model opted for a simple interweaving structure forming lozenge patterns, enclosed by a luxuriant crown of vegetation. The influence of the Teatro Valle in Rome and the Teatro della Scala in Milan is evident.

The judging committee was composed of Simone Stratico, an expert in naval and civil architecture and a physics teacher in Padua, Benedetto Buratti, a Somasco priest, with a good knowledge of architecture, Francesco Fontanesi, the painter and scenery-designer, who, with Pietro Gonzaga, was to help stage I Guochi d’Agrigento on 16 May 1792. They were fiercely criticized by the public, stirred up by the supporters of the Theatre of San Beneto, who had little desire to see a potential rival created. The rising tide of criticism, however, did not slow down construction work, which began promptly under the direction of Selva, but it did drive the Committee to distinguish between the assignment of the commission and the award-money. The latter was given to Bianchi, who thus won the competition but did not have his building created.

adjusted on basis of the book of
Manlio Brusatin, Giuseppe Pavanello, Il Teatro La Fenice, Venezia, Albrizzi 1987, p. 67-134