The Theatre - The History | Teatro La Fenice


Select Icon


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.


1790 - Works and controversy

Demolition-work to clear the area began in April 1790 under the supervision of Antonio Solari, and the theatre, built with exemplary rapidity, was completed in April 1792, so that on 16 May, the Feast of the Ascension, it was officially inaugurated with I Giuochi d’Agrigento by Count Alessandro Pepoli.

But the speed of the construction did not placate the protests of the groups opposed to the new theatre, who now focused their criticism on the costs, which had soared far above the initial estimate of four hundred ducats.

The criticism and controversy gave rise to sonnets (Belle pietre, bei legnami / Bassa orchestra, i Palchi infami / Scale nuove d’invenzion / Per taverna e per preson / Carta impressa tutta intorno / Remondini de Bassan / Rode e macchine inventae / Perch‚ tutto vada pian / Gran speranza, gente assae / E assai pochi battiman - Lovely stone and lovely wood, / Players and stalls, though, no damn good / Fine new stairs with brand new rails / Fit for taverns and for jails / Paper stuck where’re they can / Cheap-style fixings from Bassan / Every kind of new machine / For a slower change of scene / Hopes are high, lots of people/ But the clapping’s really feeble) and to satirical gibes; even the innocent word SOCIETAS which is still on the facade of the building came in for its share of banter, being interpreted as standing for Sine Ordine Cum Irregularitate Erexit Theatrum Antonius Selva.

With the creation of the Fenice it could be said that the first steps were taken to implement a far-reaching project of eighteenth-century enlightenment thought, which saw architecture and public works as a means for promoting the idea of reform.

The leading spirit in this circle was Andrea Memmo, who had so strongly supported the idea of the new theatre and who was to die as a Procurator of San Marco in 1793. In other words, the ideal of a republican theatre was put into practice; the boxes were deliberately egalitarian in design, and a notion of severe austerity was communicated also by the decoration, which was created, undoubtedly in accord with Selva, by the scenery-designer, Francesco Fontanesi from Emilia (1751-1795). This circumstance was announced by the Gazzetta Urbana Veneta on 26 November 1791, which remarked how interest is growing in the magnificent new Theatre, which is rapidly coming to completion. The celebrated Sig. Cav. Fontanesi is being urged to return to this city, as he is to paint it. As the political climate changed, Selva himself was later to abandon this egalitarian ideal; in 1808, in order to make room for the Royal Box for Napoleon, he was to modify the area of the central boxes, using decorations by Giuseppe Borsato.

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