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.


1937 - The restoration by Miozzi and Barbantini

All the comments agree on the markedly baroque or rococo character of the auditorium, which Meduna had emphasized when passing from the planning stage to the execution, pandering to a style that had come back into favour; the Imperial Box was the acme of gilded luxuriance.

He himself, presenting his project on 2 June 1854, wrote: The whole Theatre, by character and style, specially chosen for it, by the multiplicity of the ornaments themselves and the many gildings, will be of uncommon richness. The writer of these lines thought that the Loggia assigned to the Monarch should dominate in the Theatre, and to achieve this effect no part must be left without carvings, gildings, valuable paintings, and everything should stand out against a velvet background. He thus imagined a Pavilion in which the ornaments act as an expression of the purpose.

This result was acknowledged by his contemporaries; Locatelli, for instance, wrote: The Imperial Loggia is all that one can imagine of grandeur and luxury: pomp united with the most elegant distinction; and when we say that the ceiling is decked with a painting symbolizing the apotheosis of the sciences and arts, in the likeness of two charming maidens; that the velvet that covers the walls disappears under the endless abundance of gold, which dazzles everywhere and in every guise, in pilasters, in statues, in festoons, in garlands and cornices, around the doors, in pictures, in mirrors with enameled flowers; that above and to the side it is closed like a royal pavilion of velvet: when we have said all this, we have only given half of the effect of wonder. Those who have seen them, declare that the magnificence of the decorations of Versailles is not more surprising.

Evoking an imaginary eighteenth century, the Theatre newly restored by Meduna harked back to the myth of a happy and forever departed age, when Venice was still a great city of art and culture. Thus the rich auditorium of the Theatre could give the spectator the momentary illusion of reliving that glorious past, allowing him to escape from the reality of the profound crisis and decline that the city was in fact dramatically experiencing. The Theatre that was inaugurated in December 1854 was practically the same as the one that was destroyed in the recent fire.

All that remains to record are a few significant changes made by Lodovico Cadorin between 1854 and 1859 to the rooms on the piano nobile and the stucco-work on the staircase leading up to the Sale Apollinee, whose traces were in any case destroyed in the 1937 restoration.

Further work was done shortly after Venice joined the Kingdom of Italy, when, although a little belatedly, it was decided, in Risorgimento spirit, to celebrate the sixth centenary of Dante’s birth by frescoing the walls of a room in the Fenice with six episodes from the Divine Comedy and painting an allegorical composition on the ceiling with a bust of the poet being crowned by Italy. This work was attributed to Giacomo Casa and in 1976 was covered by paintings by Virgilio Guidi.

When the Autonomous Board was constituted in 1937, a general renovation was decided, accepting Engineer Eugenio Miozzi’s project for the architecture, and Nino Barbantini’s for the decoration.

The land-foyer was extended, reproposing Selva’s architectural structure. The frescoes were eliminated in some of the upper rooms, which were decorated with stucco fasciae in neo-classical style and furnished with Imperial-style furniture.

In the 1937 restoration, the only changes made to the auditorium concerned the entrances to the stalls, which were replaced by a grand doorway under the Royal Box, then adorned with a large Savoy coat-of-arms.

When the Republic was proclaimed, the royal coat-of-arms made way for the Lion of St. Mark.

adjusted on basis of the book of
Manlio Brusatin, Giuseppe Pavanello, Il Teatro La Fenice, Venezia, Albrizzi 1987, p. 125-135