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.


1837 - After the fire

After the fire of 1836 the Theatre was swiftly rebuilt, proving a magnificent, elegant work, perfect in every part. On 26 December it was inaugurated with a performance of the opera Rosmunda in Ravenna by Giuseppe Lillo, along with the ballet, Il ratto delle venete donzelle by Antonio Cortesi. While Selva’s original theatre was designed to host both drama and musical works, the restoration carried out by Tommaso and Giambattista Meduna after the fire privileged the musical function.

In addition to reconstructing the interior, the two engineer-architects also took in hand the decorations, providing indications for the foyer and the Sale apollinee, which had been spared by the flames.

This time Giuseppe Borsato chose not to take part in the competition for the decoration, probably to favour his relative, Tranquillo Orsi, a perspective professor at the Academy, who did in fact win. For the auditorium ceiling he planned a structure of interweaving plants, which, starting from the central rosette, constituted a sort of trellis, while medallions and figures in the Herculaneum manner were to complete the decoration around it.

The final result, on which Sebastiano Santi and Luigi Zandomeneghi collaborated, differed slightly from the project, including a perimetral fascia with a series of mock-relieves. Giuseppe Borsato was appointed to decorate the Royal Box; he introduced a pair of caryatids in gilded wood and an imperial crown from which hung crimson curtains. One major innovation was that the pilasters supporting the balconies were set further back, thus improving visibility.

This was not the only benefit, as the Meduna brothers noted: ... the projection of the parapets gives greater conspicuousness to the ladies, whose attractions bring joy to the theatre, and add to its ornaments; nor did we doubt that this effect would fail or be diminished when, less interested in the performance than in conversation, they moved from the edge and were hidden by it. For their aim is not only to see, nor do they want the pains they have taken in dressing to be rendered vain or to go unobserved.

 adjusted on basis of the book of
Manlio Brusatin, Giuseppe Pavanello, Il Teatro La Fenice, Venezia, Albrizzi 1987, p. 191-212