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THE HISTORY

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.

The leadership of the Fondazione includes General Manager Cristiano Chiarot, Artistic Director 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, and named the twenty-seven year old Diego Matheuz its Principal Conductor. 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.

 

(above left, an image of the Fenice in 1837; above, a photograph of the Sala Grande today– photo credit: Michele Crosera)

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1792 - Criticism and agreements

The foyer, too, was decorated with frescoes and stuccowork, with figures painted on clear backgrounds, a decoration that Antonio Diedo described as "bellissimo". An imposing staircase rose to the upper floor where the various social rooms were situated, including the ballroom, whose walls, divided by Corinthian pilaster-strips, were hung with large mirrors.

The architects who took part in the competition generally paid little attention to the question of the facade and its decoration. Only Selva declared "in the nominated Prospect I have taken care to avoid the representation of a Temple, of a House, and I have symbolized it according to the use it must have." And in fact the facade presents a solution of great coherence, since all the decorative elements unequivocally define it as the front of a theatre, as he intended.

It is difficult to say who was responsible for the decorations, although it is probably safe to refer to a "Bolognese school". The sculptor of the two Muses in soft stone may be Giovanni Ferrari, since there are some similarities with the series of illustrious men he created for the Prato della Valle in Padua. The relieves are undoubtedly the work of the young stonecutter, Domenico Fadiga. The land-facade, like the auditorium, came in for its share of harsh criticism, while the entrance on Rio Menuo was unanimously praised, with its rusticated portico and large windows that served to light the stage.

This, then, was the eagerly awaited new theatre by Giannantonio Selva, designed to host comedies and operas, and destined to be destroyed by fire on 13 December 1836. From the account of the engineers, Tommaso and Giambattista Meduna, we learn that around three o’clock that night the guardian was woken "... by the thick smoke that had invaded his room, and looking out of his window that gave onto the stage, he saw the fire raging. Overcome by fear, he at once sought to escape from danger, rather than to observe. His cries were joined by those of the caretaker, who, having woken, came running from his home next-door.

On hearing the voices, the firemen from the nearby station, having burst open the doors, entered ready to assist... but meanwhile the fire, having made merry with the stage curtains and the canvases ... and having found fuel in the dry wood, grew stronger and extended so rapidly as to leave no time. The grim light, which that night illuminated the buildings of the city and islands in the lagoon, created a very sad spectacle. The inhabitants of the nearby houses fled in terror, running through the streets, and taking shelter in other houses that could harbour them safely."

The fire, sparked off by a recently installed Austrian stove, burned for three days and nights, and smouldering patches were found among the ashes until the eighteenth day.