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.


1808 - The arrival of Napoleon

Although remaining the property of the Societas that had built it, during the period of French domination the Fenice clearly took on the function of a State theatre. In order to give a fitting reception to Napoleon, it was decided to adorn the auditorium in blue and silver in accordance with the Imperial style now in vogue. The visit took place on Tuesday 1 December 1807 and in honour of the illustrious guest the cantata Il giudizio di Giove by Lauro Corniani Algarotti was performed.

In the following Thursday, there was a great ball. The sumptuously decorated auditorium, in the words of the Royal Librarian, Abbot Morelli, gave the appearance of a place destined to receive personages of the highest bearing.

In order to make up for the lack of a royal box, a temporary loggia was constructed to receive the Emperor, and it was not until the following year that Selva, who had superintended the preparations for the 1807 visit, was appointed to plan a permanent structure purpose-built to host the sovereign. At the same time it was decided to redecorate the auditorium.
This Napoleonic transformation of the structure of the Fenice had been preceded the previous year by work carried out at La Scala in Milan, the capital of the Kingdom of Italy.
And it was from Milan that the money came for the work (150,000 Italian lire), along with the directives for the construction of the Governor’s box in the Fenice Theatre, occupying six small boxes and for the new decorations.

The competition, announced on 4 June 1808 by the Academy of Fine Arts, brought in four projects. The committee that examined them included Selva among its members.
On 28 June the committee had already chosen the designs of the decorator, Giuseppe Borsato, presented with the motto, nec audacia defuit, sed vires. Once the project had been approved by the Viceroy, Eugène de Beauharnais, Borsato’s contract was sealed on 25 September.

His project, in distinctly Empire style, envisaged a structure in regular geometrical compartments around a Triumph of Apollo on a coach surrounded by the chorus of the Muses. The subject was clearly suited to a theatre and, at the same time, was easily recognizable as an allusion to the new ruler who, in the best Baroque tradition, was compared to the Sun God. The central scene was surrounded by ten medallions with laurel-crowned heads and, on the border, four mock relieves alluding to music, the whole design framed by a frieze with masks and festoons borne by phoenixes and genii.

The decoration, which was completed in time for the regular re-opening on 26 December 1808, was carried out with the assistance of other painters known as figuristi. Of the three summoned by Borsato, it seems that Giambattista Canal worked on the main fresco with the coach of Apollo; Costantino Cedini painted the new curtain, while Pietro Moro was in charge of the mock relieves.

The decorations of the Imperial Loggia were clearly ideological in their contents, and were the work of Giovanni Carlo Bevilacqua who wrote that he had painted Hercules killing the Hydra, and Hercules picking fruit in the Garden of the Hesperides on the three walls in bas-relief style and in tempera, and above the door a military Genius in a chariot drawn by four horses, crowned by Fame, and led by the God Mars. As early as 6 July 1808 Selva had declared that the loggia would be harmoniously divided in the interior with pilasters, quadrature, carvings and four mirrors, all set in gold and paint... the Baldachin and a Layer ... of velvet lined in satin with rich braids, fringes and gold tassels.

adjusted on basis of the book of
Manlio Brusatin, Giuseppe Pavanello, Il Teatro La Fenice, Venezia, Albrizzi 1987, p. 171-176