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.


1792 - News and newspapers

Nonetheless, in the eyes of the spectators who attended the inaugural evening of 16 May 1792, or at least in the eyes of the reporter from the Gazzetta Urbana Veneta, the decoration of the Fenice ... has all the requisites necessary to make an effect; clarity of tints, harmony, solidity and lightness, things that are difficult to combine, and which are wonderfully united in this work ... The vaulted ceiling has a gently rising curve, but by the artifice of the painting it seems to rise beyond its limits. In the great opening in the middle a sky can be seen with various Genii bearing symbols alluding to the subject. It is so clear that it seems truly open. The partitions and ornaments of this painting are of the purest and finest character, and consist of bas-reliefs, rosettes, and arabesques of antique taste.

The parapets of the boxes are not divided into separate squares of the size of each box, as is usually the case, but form a frieze that runs all round each tier. The quality of the arabesque is highly pleasing, as is the relief. The quality of the paint is not entirely satisfactory; but since the overall effect meets with general approval, it is difficult to decide whether a different style in this feature could equally well contribute to the overall Beauty that is so much admired. All of the 174 boxes that compose this Theatre are perfectly similar. A double decoration of cornices in relief, on light grounds, with small patterns most daintily finished, rendered luminous by a delicate paint that does not dazzle the eye, adorn their interiors with elegance and lustre.

The great opening of the Stage, formed by an architrave and two finely carved pilasters, resembles a picture-frame, dividing the stage from the Theatre; everything is gilded in pure gold, which links it with the gold strewn around the rest of the Theatre, in the ceiling, in the parapets, and in the cornices of the box-interiors.

The same newspaper tells us that the Theatre had two curtains: the first by Sig. Cav. Fontanesi, which rose at the start of the opera, and was lowered at its conclusion, represents a Tapestry in the Gobelin style. It has a large square frieze with a beautiful festoon of naturally coloured flowers on a gold background. In the centre is Harmony, depicted in a coach drawn by two swans. A cloud rises bearing Venus, Cupid and the three Graces. Behind the carriage appear the Arts, and on the opposite side various Genii in playful attitudes with symbols suiting the subject. The background is a charming setting.

The other curtain, used in the intervals between Acts, is by our Sig. Gonzaga and is of a completely different and equally beautiful and splendid kind. The design is excellent and the painting by a master’s hand. It represents a rotonda, with two sides visible. The Corinthian cornice is supported by two circles of columns between which appear the statues of the most excellent Greek tragic and comic Poets. The figures of greatest naturalness are Priests, Sacrificers, Muses, Genii, Arts, etc. The whole thing is so well conceived, so perfectly disposed, so egregiously coloured, that the effect of the illusion, which arouses admiration and delight, could not be improved.

adjusted on basis of the bookS of

Manlio Brusatin, Giuseppe Pavanello, Il Teatro La Fenice, Venezia, Albrizzi 1987, p. 67-134
Anna Laura Bellina, Michele Girardi, La Fenice 1792-1996, Il teatro, la musica, il pubblico, l’impresa, Marsilio, Venezia, 1997, p. 15-24