History

Since 1792 I have risen twice from the ashes

La Fenice Opera House was founded in 1792. In the nineteenth century, the theatre staged the world premieres of numerous operas of Gioachino Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti and Giuseppe Verdi.

In the last century, La 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).

17
1789
1789

An italian theatre

“The Noble Society of the new Theatre to be erected in Venice on the ground purchased in the districts of S. Angelo and S. Maria Zobenigo has charged its chairmen and assistants with procuring designs and models …” inviting “both national and foreign architects to compete in proposing the form of a theatre … that shall be most satisfying to the eye and ear of the audience…”

 

1789

An italian theatre

So ran the text announcing the competition for the construction of the Fenice Theatre, published on 1 November 1789, once a way had been found to circumvent a sumptuary law limiting the number of working theatres in Venice to seven. In its fourteen articles, the document established that the future building should contain five tiers of boxes that are known as pepiano, with no fewer than 35 boxes in each tier. It showed a clear decision in favour of the small loggias in accordance with the custom in Italy, in order to achieve a result that would offer a fair compromise between the two features generally required of a theatre: fine visibility and good acoustics.

1789

An italian theatre

Some said it was a theatrical solution in keeping with Italian traditions; elsewhere, in the eighteenth century, theatres were built to different criteria; in France, for example, the usual system was one of galleries with open boxes above a semi-circular or slightly lengthened area of stalls. It was thus a typically Italian choice, recreating within the building the conditions of an Italian piazza – a natural amphitheatre where people could be both at home and in the open; it also offered the spectator a close view, typical of anatomical theatres. The closed-box system had its disadvantages, but was justified by the fact that the public of the day would never have agreed to forego the comforts of the separate loggias, which made each box a miniature home, where one could sit alone or in company, eat or play, and thus recreate, in a portion of privatized theatrical space, the network of relations and behavior typical of society at that time.

adjusted on basis of the book of
Manlio Brusatin, Giuseppe Pavanello, Il Teatro La Fenice, Venezia, Albrizzi 1987, p. 67-134

1789

Services for the audience

Since access to the theatre was primarily by water, the announcement recommended that the designers should design an entrance from Rio Menuo at least twenty feet wide, since the gondola, the main form of transport, measured thirty-two.
And considering the risk of fire to which all theatres of the day (and not only theatres) were subject, on account of their prevalently wooden fabric and the dangers of their lighting systems, the Noble Society required the architects to make a special study, promising, in exchange, to attribute merit to any project which, while using constructive components that were necessarily of inflammable material like wood, would render the building less prone to fire, thank to ready and easy remedies.

1789

Services for the audience

Attention was also addressed to the people who would use the theatre, for whatever reason; the architects were thus advised to improve the structures used by those who worked on and off stage, and also to increase the comfort and tranquility of the spectators, rendering access easier and providing areas for coffee and the sale of other comestible items.

1789

Services for the audience

The projects, concluded the announcement, must be presented within four months (later extended to six), and the winning architect would receive a gold medallion weighing three-hundred zecchini in addition to the payment of a just recompense for superintending the construction of a decorous theatre which would at last be worthy of a capital where Palladio, Sansovino, Sammicheli, Scamozzi and other artists of the Great Century have left such noble monuments…

adjusted on basis of the book of 
Manlio Brusatin, Giuseppe Pavanello, Il Teatro La Fenice, Venezia, Albrizzi 1987, p. 67-134
1789

Competitors

The competition stirred up a lively debate, with rival factions supporting different competitors, some of whom fanned the flames by publishing illustrative pamphlets supporting their own projects. By the time the deadline expired, twenty-eight studies had been presented. Nine of the various competing scholars, architects and mathematicians presented projects that included drawings and wooden models. Among the twenty-eight competitors, mention must be made of Pietro Checchia, the theatrical architect, experienced in reconstructing and renovating Venetian theatres.

Checchia had rebuilt the San Benedetto Theatre after its destruction by fire, a theatre that was considered the best in Venice. Checchia’s project for San Fantin was not without its merits on the mechanical side. The reason it was considered weak, apart from a few mistakes, was its lack of “tone”, so that the project did not meet the desire of the Committee for an example of civil architecture that would impose its image on the city.

1789

Competitors

The young architect Sante Baseggio should also be mentioned; although strongly supported by his fellow-citizens, he had to wait until 1817 to see one of his projects realized, with the Teatro Sociale in Rovigo. Nor must one forget the elderly Abbot, Antonio Marchetti, a diocesan architect, who had planned the Ridotto in Brescia as a hall equipped with small boxes.

The Paduan school of architecture was represented by Daniele Danieletti, who ignored the stipulations of the competition and proposed a main entrance onto Rio Menuo, instead of Campo San Fantin. In so doing, Danieletti, a collaborator of Abbot Domenico Cerato, rejected the double entrance by land and water and opted for an egalitarian solution, with just one entrance. This ran directly contrary to the Committee’s intentions, who wanted a balance struck between the aristocratic water-entrance and the democratic and republican land-entrance.

1789

Competitors

Another noteworthy project was presented by Giuseppe Pistocchi, the designer of a fine theatre in Faenza (1780-88); this was turned down by the Committee on account of the graded stalls which set the spectators on a level with the first gallery, and the system of six giant columns which, providing five intervals, emphasized the curve of the boxes, a curve he described as spheroid. As for the decoration, Pistocchi re-proposed the decorative style adopted in Faenza, so that the new theatre was to be adorned with suitable decorous characters. In his project, the parapets of the balconies were to be constituted by lattices interwoven with vegetal ramifications, wound about with plants and flowers disposed with elegant and refined skill, making use of abundant gilding and sky-blue drapery; above the colonnade twelve statues were to represent the months of the year. The ceiling of the auditorium was imagined as a great awning, expressed with pictorial mastery, held up in the middle by three figures representing the Graces.

1789

Competitors

However, the real loser of the competition was undoubtedly the official architect of Papal Rome, Cosimo Morelli, who already had to his name the theatres of Forl, Jesi, Imola, Ferrara and Macerata. His project made the short list of the four most carefully considered by the Committee, although it could be considered the most anti-Venetian of all, since it made no use of the water, included in his project simply as a useless canal. Publishing a Memorandum accompanying the drawing and model of the Theatre conceived by Cavalier Morelli and humiliated by the Nobile Societ… Veneta, he did not neglect the question of the decoration, suggesting the great auditorium should be painted by a worthy decorator. The ceiling of the Auditorium could be adorned with a painting in the manner of the one sketched in the model – which he had presented to the jury – and all the boxes uniformly designed, and decorated with delicate tints, avoiding anything that might detract from the correct reflection of the voice.

Not much is known of the project of another finalist, Andrea Bon from Treviso, other than the perhaps excessively severe verdict of the committee, which considered the author’s idea to be barely sketched in the plan on the San Fantino side and not executed at all in the model, so that… the huge expense that would be incurred in creating this fabric where there is neither taste nor order could never be re-compensated by the two extra boxes that he plans in each tier. Bon, a pupil of Giordano Riccati, had to intervene to guarantee his paternity of the project, which proposed a structure supported on columns with a large space underneath, much wider than the area envisaged in Morelli’s project.

1789

Competitors

Pietro Bianchi, an architect who had already drawn up a project in 1787 for a basilica-theatre in the area of the Gardens of the Procuratie Nuove on the bank of the Grand Canal, carried a certain amount of weight, if only for the spirited opposition he stirred up against the jury’s verdict. Bianchi was the son of the gondolier of Doge Grimani, the restoration of whose palazzo he had supervised in San Polo, and he did not enjoy the favour of the academic and professional world. On the political level, what help he could count on certainly did not come from the circle of Andrea Memmo, who had helped to create the most surprising Piazza in Europe, the Prato della Valle in Padua; it was he who had supported the idea of the new theatre, removing the obstacles to its creation. In his project, Bianchi opted for a basilica figure, like a sort of fusion between a theatre and a church, while for the boxes he chose the well-tried form of the logarithmic spiral of the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. As regards the decoration, in his publication addressed to the Chairmen of the Society of the new Theatre to be built in Venice, Bianchi imagined an auditorium decorated in the Doric manner, thus distancing himself sharply from the aesthetic preferences of Andrea Memmo, who had intervened in the debate with the full weight of his authority. Adopting the pronouncements of Algarotti, Memmo rejected “ornaments that were scalloped or sinuous, suggesting that the Auditorium of the boxes itself should be painted with light grotesques in the style of Raphael … while the full magnificence could be reserved for the Staircases, the Foyers, and the exterior of the Theatre thus banishing from the interior every sort of ornament that might impede the voice in any way, and especially any hangings of silk, linen or paper.

adjusted on basis of the book of
Manlio Brusatin, Giuseppe Pavanello, Il Teatro La Fenice, Venezia, Albrizzi 1987, p. 67-134

1789

Criticism on judging committee

n any case, the committee held that Bianchi’s project, although encountering the favour of a vast public, did not respect the necessary rules of statics, and there were many who thought that Selva’s victory was the fruit of a previous agreement.

Selva belonged to that group of competitors who included a decorative scheme in the wooden model which he presented to the jury (it is the only one still to survive). From this we can see how he planned to include a panel with Apollo and the Muses Civilizing Mankind on the facade towards the canal, while the San Fantin facade was to be decorated with scenes of Apollo and Marsyas and Orpheus Taming Cerberus. These panels, according to the project, were to be done in fresco, since, as he observed in his notes to the jury, it is desirable that this manner of painting, which characterizes the Veneto school, should return gradually to the exterior of buildings as well.

1789

Criticism on judging committee

As regards the decoration of the ceiling, Selva’s model opted for a simple interweaving structure forming lozenge patterns, enclosed by a luxuriant crown of vegetation. The influence of the Teatro Valle in Rome and the Teatro della Scala in Milan is evident.

The judging committee was composed of Simone Stratico, an expert in naval and civil architecture and a physics teacher in Padua, Benedetto Buratti, a Somasco priest, with a good knowledge of architecture, Francesco Fontanesi, the painter and scenery-designer, who, with Pietro Gonzaga, was to help stage I Guochi d’Agrigento on 16 May 1792. They were fiercely criticized by the public, stirred up by the supporters of the Theatre of San Beneto, who had little desire to see a potential rival created. The rising tide of criticism, however, did not slow down construction work, which began promptly under the direction of Selva, but it did drive the Committee to distinguish between the assignment of the commission and the award-money. The latter was given to Bianchi, who thus won the competition but did not have his building created.

adjusted on basis of the book of
Manlio Brusatin, Giuseppe Pavanello, Il Teatro La Fenice, Venezia, Albrizzi 1987, p. 67-134

1790
1790

Works and controversy

Demolition-work to clear the area began in April 1790 under the supervision of Antonio Solari, and the theatre, built with exemplary rapidity, was completed in April 1792, so that on 16 May, the Feast of the Ascension, it was officially inaugurated with I Giuochi d’Agrigento by Count Alessandro Pepoli.

But the speed of the construction did not placate the protests of the groups opposed to the new theatre, who now focused their criticism on the costs, which had soared far above the initial estimate of four hundred ducats.

 

1790

Works and controversy

The criticism and controversy gave rise to sonnets (Belle pietre, bei legnami / Bassa orchestra, i Palchi infami / Scale nuove d’invenzion / Per taverna e per preson / Carta impressa tutta intorno / Remondini de Bassan / Rode e macchine inventae / Perch‚ tutto vada pian / Gran speranza, gente assae / E assai pochi battiman – Lovely stone and lovely wood, / Players and stalls, though, no damn good / Fine new stairs with brand new rails / Fit for taverns and for jails / Paper stuck where’re they can / Cheap-style fixings from Bassan / Every kind of new machine / For a slower change of scene / Hopes are high, lots of people/ But the clapping’s really feeble) and to satirical gibes; even the innocent word SOCIETAS which is still on the facade of the building came in for its share of banter, being interpreted as standing for Sine Ordine Cum Irregularitate Erexit Theatrum Antonius Selva.

With the creation of the Fenice it could be said that the first steps were taken to implement a far-reaching project of eighteenth-century enlightenment thought, which saw architecture and public works as a means for promoting the idea of reform.

1790

Works and controversy

The leading spirit in this circle was Andrea Memmo, who had so strongly supported the idea of the new theatre and who was to die as a Procurator of San Marco in 1793. In other words, the ideal of a republican theatre was put into practice; the boxes were deliberately egalitarian in design, and a notion of severe austerity was communicated also by the decoration, which was created, undoubtedly in accord with Selva, by the scenery-designer, Francesco Fontanesi from Emilia (1751-1795). This circumstance was announced by the Gazzetta Urbana Veneta on 26 November 1791, which remarked how interest is growing in the magnificent new Theatre, which is rapidly coming to completion. The celebrated Sig. Cav. Fontanesi is being urged to return to this city, as he is to paint it. As the political climate changed, Selva himself was later to abandon this egalitarian ideal; in 1808, in order to make room for the Royal Box for Napoleon, he was to modify the area of the central boxes, using decorations by Giuseppe Borsato.

adjusted on basis of the book of
Manlio Brusatin, Giuseppe Pavanello, Il Teatro La Fenice, Venezia, Albrizzi 1987, p. 67-134

1792
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.

 

1792

News and newspapers

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.

1792

News and newspapers

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.

1792

News and newspapers

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
and
Anna Laura Bellina, Michele Girardi, La Fenice 1792-1996, Il teatro, la musica, il pubblico, l’impresa, Marsilio, Venezia, 1997, p. 15-24

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..

1792

Criticism and agreements

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.

1792

Criticism and agreements

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.

adjusted on basis of the book of
Manlio Brusatin, Giuseppe Pavanello, Il Teatro La Fenice, Venezia, Albrizzi 1987, p. 67-134

18
1828
1828

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.

1828

The arrival of Napoleon

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.

1828

The arrival of Napoleon

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.

1828

The arrival of Napoleon

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

1828

The restoration

And certainly the new Imperial Loggia must have caught the attention of all those present on the inaugural evening of 26 December, as it had become the focal point of the auditorium; all the more so because the decoration, thanks to a choice in perfect keeping with neo-classical taste which also allowed a notable saving in financial terms, included refined monochrome variations.
It met with the sincere approval of the Secretary of the I.R. Academy, Antonio Diedo, who defined it a most worthy work, which combines comfort and elegance, and it was also appreciated by Clemens von Metternich who on 16 December 1822, as the new representative of authority, attended a performance which he himself described as sans pareil in a loggia that struck him as merveilleusement belle.

1828

The restoration

Nonetheless, only three years after Metternich’s visit, a radical restoration was needed since the government authorities had repeatedly expressed their displeasure with the way the decoration of the theatre auditorium had deteriorated on account of the smoke from the oil-lamps.

Giuseppe Borsato, the official scenery-designer of the theatre, was once again put in charge of the job, and his project was approved by the committee of the Academy of Fine Arts on 8 July 1828. A key element of the auditorium became the grand chandelier hanging from a canopy-vault supported by eight panels framing lunettes with musical instruments and winged genii. In place of Apollo’s coach, Borsato, with a sensibility that was already Romantic, painted the twelve hours of the night summoned to give free rein to their gay dances, instead of resting and awaiting the morning-star, while for the parapets of the balconies he chose monochrome decorations figuring acanthus-leaves, musical instruments, festoons, masks, genii.

1828

The restoration

The new auditorium was inaugurated on 27 December 1828, and the event was recorded by the Gazzetta Privilegiata di Venezia two days later:

We enter the extremely elegant auditorium now enlivened by Borsato’s illustrious brush. The chiaroscuro vault lightly represents a dome, which has a rich rosette in its centre, around which are beautifully and allusively represented the hours dancing gaily; and I know not where they pass better or more gaily, and it is a pity they fly so swiftly, and we needs must wait for them from one year to another! A large fascia of ornaments, also treated in chiaroscuro on a gold field, encircles the dome and ends in a compartment of eight lunettes, supported by rich corbels, with a background containing beautiful emblems referring to the art of singing with various winged goddesses. A victory on a gold field joins the lunettes to one another most beautifully, giving greater relief and greater variety to the general tints. Other emblems, other genii, some painted, some in mock relief, occupy the spaces left by the general vault over the orchestra, and the exterior of the stage-boxes of the highest tier; just as a compartment of fine effect divides the sky of the proscenium with the new clock in the middle.

The painting on the ceiling is connected to that on the boxes by means of a noble quadratura with modillions and gold rosettes, which rests on the half-peak drawn in chiaroscuro with gryphons and swans. A vivacious yellow, which one might wish less warm, and more in keeping with the tints of the ceiling, colours the exterior of the walls of the boxes, and the whole design consists in various chiaroscuro ornaments alluding, in each tier, to tragedy, music and mime, interrupted by an occasional medal on a gold field, with busts of those great men, who in the triple art have risen above the vulgar ranks … In the midst of this new world, the only thing that still testifies to the venerable ruins of time is the old arch of the stage.
adjusted on basis of the book of
Manlio Brusatin, Giuseppe Pavanello, Il Teatro La Fenice, Venezia, Albrizzi 1987, p. 183-190

1837
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.

1837

After the fire

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.

1837

After the fire

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

1837

Opinion from the newspaper

Opinions differed on the new decoration. For the Gazzetta Privilegiata di Venezia on 28 December 1837, … it would be truly difficult to find anything more beautiful and charming than the new auditorium of the Fenice. Its tints are so delicate and its splendours so harmonious that one’s spirits, on entering, are lifted and cheered. And referring to the stage: The ceiling is a jewel, in which the grace and beauty of the idea are equal to the felicity of its execution. It contains some compartments in mock-relief in which the optical illusion is truly perfect. The simplicity of the painting is matched and harmonized by the simplicity of the silk curtains of a clear sky-blue, which wonderfully assists the effect of the painting, and adds to its freshness and lightness.
The reporter of the Milanese Pirata saw things very differently: The renovated theatre is beautiful, gentle, gallant, but since it over abounds in gentleness and gallantry, in my opinion, it lacks that imposing beauty that the vastness and the nature of the place would require.

1837

Opinion from the newspaper

It is all white with gold decorations interspersed with small paintings of figures in very delicate tints, and as the decorations are also very fair everything shines with a fine light which blurs the distinctions between one decoration and another, and while it seduces the eye it does not fix it in any place, or on any object, and when the eye rises to the vault it finds the same fine brilliance, and only there can it fix on the bronze-coloured star in gold from which hangs a beautiful and well-lit chandelier. The curtains of the boxes, following the same system of gentleness, and of gallantry, are of a light-blue colour, which is lost in the brilliance of the chandelier, of the footlights, and of the orchestra, so that those boxes appear to be decorated with a white material that has suffered the ravages of time. The Imperial Box is miserable in every sense of the term, both for the narrowness of the space it occupies, and for the ornaments that deck it.

adjusted on basis of the book of

Manlio Brusatin, Giuseppe Pavanello, Il Teatro La Fenice, Venezia, Albrizzi 1987, p. 191-212
and
Anna Laura Bellina, Michele Girardi, La Fenice 1792-1996, Il teatro, la musica, il pubblico, l’impresa, Marsilio, Venezia, 1997, p. 63-85

1837

The vestibole and the facade

When it was rebuilt after the fire, the stucco-work in Selva’s foyer was redone by Giambattista Lucchesi and Giambattista Negri, who were universally praised for the stupendous result they had achieved, substituting the 18th-century frescoed scenes with mirrors and marble work that brought out the architecture. A … majestic stone staircase with side-balusters, also in stone…led up to the “… great rich room used for musical academies and balls… The walls of the room are decorated with Corinthian stucco pilasters, between which hang eight mirrors, each of nine sheets with foil, and with gilded wooden frames.
Changes were made to the facade on Rio Menuo as well; groups of monochrome putti were frescoed in the seven lunettes of the portico by Sebastiano Santi; while in the vestibule of the land-entrance two stelae were situated. The one on the left, by Luigi Zandomeneghi, represented Carlo Goldoni; the one on the right, sculptured by Antonio Giaccarelli on a drawing by Giambattista Meduna, paid homage to Selva. On the facade the new sign of the Theatre in gold and blue made its appearance.

adjusted on basis of the book of

Manlio Brusatin, Giuseppe Pavanello, Il Teatro La Fenice, Venezia, Albrizzi 1987, p. 191-212
and
Anna Laura Bellina, Michele Girardi, La Fenice 1792-1996, Il teatro, la musica, il pubblico, l’impresa, Marsilio, Venezia, 1997, p. 63-85

1854
1854

The restoration of Imperal Box

The next work carried out in the auditorium of the Fenice was in 1854, and was due to the need to restore the ceiling, which provided an opportunity for a new decoration more in keeping with the aesthetic taste of the day. The fashion now was for revivals of past styles and exoticism, and thus the neo-classical decoration of the theatre must have seemed extremely pass.
The only changes made after the 1837 reconstruction had regarded the Imperial Box, which had been done away with after the uprising of 1848, as a symbol of Austrian oppression.
However, the six boxes that were constructed to replace the Imperial Box, and which took the Fenice back to its 18th-century origins, did not last long. On 22 August 1849, with the return of the Royal Austrian Government, orders came for the loggia to be reconstructed in its previous form, and the work was swiftly carried out… by the Meduna brothers.

1854

The restoration of Imperal Box

Giuseppe Borsato, now an old man, was summoned again to decorate the Imperial Box and he did it on a richer and more complicated design than before.
To return to the 1854 intervention, the competition for the restoration and new decoration was announced publicly on 7 January 1853 but none of the fifteen projects submitted was considered good enough.

Thus the project presented by Giambattista Meduna was accepted, although, due to the insistence of the government which supported a project by Luigi Scrosati and Giuseppe Bertini from Lombardy, a new competition had to be proclaimed in January 1854.

1854

The restoration of Imperal Box

Giambattista Meduna won it, with the committee expressing high praise for the whole project, commending the novelty of the concept, the elegance of the ornaments, the harmony of the lines, the well-conserved character of the style chosen, although it did not fail to suggest a few modifications of which the designer took due notice. Indeed, the final decoration showed numerous variations with respect to the designs presented originally.

The rosette of the ceiling was modified, to give it a fretted outline; this, along with the other new decorations, conferred a distinctly eighteenth-century appearance on the auditorium – more so, indeed, than it had originally had.

If you want an idea of the decoration,states a report of the committee to the Society that owned the Theatre, here is a hint: the ornamental style has something of the Berain taste, it is close to what is commonly known as Rococo, but with an eye towards the Renaissance to give it greater suppleness and delicacy.

adjusted on basis of the book of

Manlio Brusatin, Giuseppe Pavanello, Il Teatro La Fenice, Venezia, Albrizzi 1987, p. 213-240

1854

For and against Meduna

On Boxing Day 1854 the theatre was reopened to the eager and curious public in all the splendour of its striking beauty with a performance of Marco Visconti by Domenico Bolognese, with music by Enrico Petrella. The restoration had been carried out by Venetian artists such as the painter, Leonardo Gavagnin, the decorator Giuseppe Voltan, the stucco-worker Osvaldo Mazzoran, while Pietro and Antonio Garbato with Alessandro Dal Fabbro had seen to the furnishings and carvings.
Tommaso Locatelli expressed himself favourably on Meduna’s work in the Gazzetta Ufficiale di Venezia, while an article in the newspaper I Fiori bore a quite different tone: …the first duty … of the artist-decorator of a theatre is to decorate it in such a way that it does not harm the effect of the stage, and everyone knows that over-dazzling colours in the auditorium, gilded excesses … and too lively and seductive a proscenium are elements that undermine the effect of the stage-decorations, destroy all illusion, and tire the visitor’s eyesight. In this sense our splendid and renovated theatre can be censured. The profusion of gold and silver-plate, their brilliant glow; the overabundance of painted flowers, the numerous medallions or paterae, in colours that distract and allow little rest; all this, made more striking by splendid illumination, may dazzle, may please – indeed, does dazzle, does please; but it is not perhaps faithful to the good rules of decorative art, and is perhaps adverse to the rule of well-reasoned theatrical decoration.

Pietro Selvatico, probably with greater critical spirit, observed that the style, instead of being, as is intended, a rococo in the Louis XV style, is a hotchpotch of garish baroque ornaments superimposed on the rigid classical lines … I do not wish to say that the Fenice Theatre is lacking in a certain garish elegance; nor do I wish to deny merit to the many finely conceived ornaments; I just wish to say that all those decorations are not in keeping with the old classical structure that one would rather had been left intact.

adjusted on basis of the book of
Manlio Brusatin, Giuseppe Pavanello, Il Teatro La Fenice, Venezia, Albrizzi 1987, p. 213-240

19
1937
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.

1937

The restoration by Miozzi and Barbantini

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.

1937

The restoration by Miozzi and Barbantini

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

1996
1996

The reconstruction

On 29th January 1996 a devastating malicious fire destroys the theatre, temporarily closed for maintenance work. The fire brigade fights the blaze for the entire night. The world over laments the loss of one of the most beautiful theatres, with its extraordinary acoustics and protagonist, from time immemorial, of the opera, musical and cultural life of Italy and Europe. From the sorrow of the loss comes the desire to reconstruct the historic theatre inspired by the motto the way it was, where it was, drawing on the reconstruction of the church tower of St. Marks.
Immediately after the fire all the necessary work is carried out to prevent and avoid dangerous situations to public safety, like for example work propping the perimeter walls. Only after the site is released from seizure does the removal of rubble begin, disposed of in three months. On 6th February, the first financial resources are allocated with a legislative decree and the Delegate Commissioner for the reconstruction appointed.

1996

La ricostruzione

On 7th September 96 the call for bids is published in which ten Italian and foreign firms participate, judged on 30th may 1997. Following a number of appeals, A.T.I. Holzmann wins the contract with the project of architect Aldo Rossi. On 4th October 2000 the Lord Mayor of Venice, Prof. Paolo Costa, is appointed Delegate Commissioner for the reconstruction in replacement of the Prefect. The work progresses slowly and the hand back date of the theatre is continuously postponed. On 26th march 2001 the Delegate Commissioner having fulfilled the procedure foreseen by the regulation, rescinds the contract for serious breach of the firm on the times of execution and working conditions and gives orders for the ousting of A.T.I. Holzmann from the building site and for its redelivery, which occurs co-actively with the use of Public Force on 27th April 2001 Rossi’s project remaining good, a new call for tenders follows, which is won on the 5th October 2001 by the cartel A.T.I. Sacaim (mandatory) – C.C.C. – Gemmo Impianti – Mantovani, as best bidder (54,8 million Euro). The legal proceedings and polemics on the reconstruction do not stop the work which continues quickly with the organisation in five parallel building sites which see approximately 300 people at work on a daily basis between labourers, restorers and decorators.

On 8th December 2003 the theatre is handed back to the Municipality of Venice and La Fenice Theatre foundation for the events of the inaugural week, from 14th to 21st December, which sees the participation of internationally renowned conductors, orchestras and choirs. On 8th January 2004, Sacaim starts work again on the building sites to finish the work. Final delivery: 8th May 2004. Return of the great La Fenice theatre: November 2004 with La traviata, the opera by Verdi which premiered in this exact theatre.

1996

The reconstruction

On 7th September 96 the call for bids is published in which ten Italian and foreign firms participate, judged on 30th may 1997. Following a number of appeals, A.T.I. Holzmann wins the contract with the project of architect Aldo Rossi. On 4th October 2000 the Lord Mayor of Venice, Prof. Paolo Costa, is appointed Delegate Commissioner for the reconstruction in replacement of the Prefect. The work progresses slowly and the hand back date of the theatre is continuously postponed. On 26th march 2001 the Delegate Commissioner having fulfilled the procedure foreseen by the regulation, rescinds the contract for serious breach of the firm on the times of execution and working conditions and gives orders for the ousting of A.T.I. Holzmann from the building site and for its redelivery, which occurs co-actively with the use of Public Force on 27th April 2001 Rossi’s project remaining good, a new call for tenders follows, which is won on the 5th October 2001 by the cartel A.T.I. Sacaim (mandatory) – C.C.C. – Gemmo Impianti – Mantovani, as best bidder (54,8 million Euro). The legal proceedings and polemics on the reconstruction do not stop the work which continues quickly with the organisation in five parallel building sites which see approximately 300 people at work on a daily basis between labourers, restorers and decorators.

1996

The reconstruction

The reconstruction is completed with the accomplishment of the project of the architect Aldo Rossi, who died in 1997. The project of reconstruction of the theatre though strongly limited by the motto the way it was, where it was, carves out a possible scope of new design tied to the interpretative abilities of the architect. Reading of Aldo Rossi’s project can be seen in the sections that define La Fenice Theatre, five different ambiences with different limitations and freedom: to each correspond different criteria of intervention which mirror just as many issues of architecture.

Apollinee Rooms: conservative renovation and Reconstruction

The avant-corps of the Theatre, whose main façade looks onto Campo San Fantin from where the audience enters, on the ground floor contains the atrium and the foyer, which through the honour staircase, leads to the Apollinee rooms appropriately called and seriously damaged in the fire: for these parts it has been necessary to carry out a conservative intervention of the left-over areas and a philological reconstruction of the remains, with the use of traditional materials and techniques. The restoration project of the embellishments is called an act of love towards the fragments which survived: using the same words of Aldo Rossi, so that even after the intervention of restoration and integration a reading of the history of the building is always possible. In the attic, freed from its old use of stage laboratory, a new exhibition room has been built and is open to the public thanks also to the new external safety staircase. This space, one of the most interesting of the theatre, with its imposing visible linear trusses, has been reconstructed as it was and for its size and its architecture it is perfect for housing cultural events.

Theatre room: philological reconstruction

The theatre room completely destroyed by the fire is characterised by a philological reconstruction based on the rigorous how it was where it was motto, maintaining all the five orders of stages, furnished with the same decorative scenes in papier-mâché and wood also on the basis of a minute photographic study. The informing concept was that of re-proposing the original room above all in its specific technical solution, based on the prevailing use of wood carefully chosen and knowingly treated to achieve the best sound yield. The project has also resulted in the refurbishment of the original access to the theatre room by the so-called water entrance from the canal facing the theatre. This access, originally wanted by Selva, over time had no longer been used by audiences. A number of rehearsal rooms for the musicians have been made under the stall floor which allow orchestra professors to access the Mystic Gulf without interfering with the room. Modification of the emergency exit system, in addition to the adjustment of the equipment, has allowed to increase the audience numbers from 840, before the fire, to 1000.

1996

The reconstruction

Scenic tower: reconstruction and accomplishment of a new scenic machine

It too was devastated by the fire of 1996 and its architectural size limited by the previous configuration. The new scenic machine, completely renovated with a view to improving the technological features of the theatre, collaborates with the wall structures and has been designed contextually to the North Wing to allow maximum use of the stages and nearby compartments, suitable for sheltering the sets. With such a view, a new side stage has been built, which can move onto the main one, obtained thanks to the demolition of the pre-existing Gothic arches, which marked the boundaries of the stage space.

North Wing: restructuring

It is the corresponding building complex right against the actual theatre. It was also damaged in the fire but a greater freedom of design is possible here as there are no historical structures of importance. Since the time of the Selva and in subsequent modifications and enlargements of the theatre due to Meduna, Cadorin and finally Mozzi, this part of the building has always interacted with the stage area and progressively occupied the old seat of the Lavezzera court. The theatrical services have been entirely redesigned considering the functional needs of the theatre itself (changing rooms, dressing rooms, rehearsal rooms) rationalising and adapting safety stairs and lifts in general to the rules in force.

South Wing: restructuring and new Accomplishment

This part of the theatre complex, which was also damaged in the fire, contains, in addition to the managerial offices of the Theatre, relocated and organised, the strongest architectonic sign of the reconstruction: the New Room now called Red Room. This room is composed of a flat area for the orchestra, and a gallery with steps for the choir or for the public during the performance of chamber concerts or conferences. It is characterised by the internal stage wing which reproduces a fragment of the Palladian basilica of Vicenza. Used longitudinally, it re-proposes the same position of the stage in the theatre room for the choir and the orchestra and has been designed with the objective of giving the same acoustics of the theatrical room. At the same time the New Room can be used independently with access from the calle opposite the canal of La Fenice, where chamber and conference concerts can also take place extending the function of La Fenice. In this way it becomes another important activity centre of the theatrical body to the service of the city.

AA.VV. I progetti per la ricostruzione del teatro La Fenice, 1997
Published on the occasion of the Exhibition held in Venice in 2000 Venice, Marsilio, 2000 p. 241-293

20
2003
2003

The (Re)opening

To celebrate the re-opening of the historical Theatre, the Teatro La Fenice foundation and the Municipality of Venice, in association with the Region of Veneto, organise a week of musical events in the new Fenice.
In the presence, on the royal stage, of the President of the Republic Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and broadcast live on television, Riccardo Muti opens the Inaugural Week in the newly renovated La Fenice Theatre on 14th December 2003, with the Orchestra and Choir of La Fenice theatre.
The concert begins with a well-wishing page of: The consecration of the house by Ludwig van Beethoven, followed by a program marked by the great tradition of Venetian musical civilization; of Igor Stravinskij, composer who rests in the cemetery of the San Michele island, the Salmi Symphony, followed by the Te Deum by Antonio Caldara, Venetian composer and protagonist of the artistic life of the lagoon city between the 17th and 18th century. The evening ends with Three Symphonic Marches by Richard Wagner, who was very attached to Venice for having holidayed here many times and created the second act of Tristan and Isolde and part of Parsifal here in addition to having conducted one of his young Symphonies in 1882 in the Apollinee Rooms of La Fenice. The voice soloists are Patrizia Ciofi, Sara Allegretta, Sonia Ganassi, Sara Mingardo, Mirko Guadagnini, Roberto Saccà, Michele Pertusi, Nicolas Rivenq.

2003

The (Re)opening

On 15th December, La Fenice hosts a concert of the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Christian Thielermann. More Richard Wagner during the second evening which opens with the Prelude of the first act of Lohengrin, followed by the Intermezzo of Manon Lescaut by Giacomo Puccini. Then more Wagner with the Vorspiel and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde. The evening closes with two symphonic poems by Richard Strauss: Tod und Verklärung and Till Eulenspiegel.

2003

The (Re)opening

The participation of the Orchestra and Choir of the Santa Cecilia National Academy of Rome and the Choir of Voci Bianche Aureliano, on the third evening of the inaugural week, Wednesday 17th December is due to the wish of Luciano Berio, who died on 27th May 2003, expressed in a letter to Giampaolo Vinello, the Superintendent of the La Fenice Theatre foundation. Conducted by Myung-Whun Chung, they perform Symphony no. 3 by Gustav Mahler, with the soloist Petra Lang.

Thursday 18th sees the first ever performance of Ouverture, work written especially for the event by Emanuele Casale, a young composer from Catania The Orchestra and Choir of La Fenice Theatre conducted by Marcello Viotti then present a tribute to composer and orchestra conductor from Venice Giuseppe Sinopoli, with the performance of Lou Salomè Suite n. 2. The evening ends with Viotti conducting the Messe Solennelle by Gioachino Rossini with vocal soloists Sara Allegretta, Sara Mingardo, Mirko Guadagnini, Nicolas Rivenq.
On 19th December, the stage of La Fenice Theatre welcomes Elton John, one of the most representative and famous pop artists in Europe.

2003

The (Re)opening

For the first time in Venice, the Wiener Philarmoniker, conducted by Mariss Jansons, are the protagonists of the concert of the 20th December with the performance of the overture de Euryanthe by Carl Maria von Weber, followed by Symphony no. 2 by Robert Schumann and Pictures at an exhibition by Modest Petrovic Musorgskij.

The Opening Week draws to a close on 21st December with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Yuri Temirkanov. The master, guest many times of La Fenice Theatre of which he is particularly fond, returns with his own orchestra to perform the 4th Symphony by Poetr Ilic Cajkovskij and Le sacre du printemps by Igor Stravinskij.

2003

The (Re)opening

The month of La Fenice
by Paolo Costa, Lord Mayor of Venezia

When we think about La Fenice, today, we feel the exciting sensation of anticipation of a long-awaited event. A moment for which many people have worked with intelligence and skill, commitment and perseverance. The re-construction and re-opening of the theatre to the city and to music is the result of collective work, which has engaged the Administration, companies, all those, individuals and committees, who have collected funds and organised events. Reconstructing La Fenice is a symbolic fact for the city. For two reasons. First of all because it means that Venice has the energy, the strength and the ability to face the difficulties and tackle them and win, in other words it is a live and vital city able to express a real will to change. Then, because it means that even in an objectively difficult logistically complicated situation, characterised by innumerable technical problems, it is possible with vigour and decisiveness, to obtain excellent results quickly following all the procedures required for carrying out the public work. The programme entitled “Il mese della Fenice” (the month of La Fenice) shows that the entire city takes part joyfully in this event. The cultural institutions bear witness to to this by giving ideas and resources to go along side its rebirth, demonstrating to have participated in all these years to the succession of emotions which have marked the history of our theatre, from the anguish of the night of the fire and the subsequent hopes and delusions during its reconstruction, to the most delightful and significant moment. We must be happy, satisfied and grateful.

2003

The (Re)opening

Greeting of the Minister of National Heritage and Culture
Giuliano Urbani

On 29th January 1996 the entire world witnessed with astonishment the terrible fire that devastated La Fenice Theatre of Venice, one of the locations that has made history of our opera and symphonic music. Today, the eyes of the world contemplate its resurrection, thanks to the positive and active collaboration between the State and Civic Administration, to the proven experience of who managed the restoration work and to the intense skilful work of hundreds of labourers, craftsmen specialised in stucco, marble, wood, metal and plaster work. The extraordinary all-Italian appraisal of the restoration of the cultural, artistic and monumental patrimony, with our excellence in the technique of restoration work which brings much international prestige to the Country, has responded to a difficult challenge: hand-back to Venice, as it was and where it was, La Fenice Theatre. Now it is up to all of us, representatives of Institutions and citizens, to contribute to and animate the life of this great cultural asset, a life which has shown itself to be much stronger than the adversities.

La Fenice Press Office

16
1678
1678

The original Teatro Malibran goes back to the seventeenth century, it underwent considerable restoration and the structure we can see today goes back to 1890. It was opened during the 1678 carnival season and given the name Teatro di San Giovanni Grisostomo, the third theatre belonging to the Grimani family, the others being San Giovanni e Paolo and San Samuele.

1678

The “biggest, most beautiful and richest in the city”, according to the “Mercure Galant” of March 1683, it was built behind the church of San Giovanni Grisostomo. The project for the new theatre was signed by Tommaso Bezzi, called lo Stucchino, an architect, engineer and painter working for the Grimani’s. The theatre of San Giovanni Grisostomo was opened with Vespasiano by Giulio Cesare Corradi and music by Carlo Pallavicino. It stood out due to the grandeur of its architectural structure and the elegance of its decorations.

17
1704
1704

The most active librettists here from the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth century were mainly aristocratic dilettantes and well-read literary men. However, also the works of more up to date opera writers such as Alessandro Scarlatti (Il Mitridate EupatoreIl trionfo della libertà, 1707) and Händel (Agrippina, 1709: performed no less than twenty-seven times in a row) were performed for the first time in this theatre.

1704

Around 1715 the stars of a new style of singing began to appear in this vast theatre that had already made its name for the high quality of its singers – Faustina Bordoni in 1716 and Francesca Cuzzoni in 1718. During the period of Napoletan singers, including the outstanding castrato Nicola Grimaldi – it was decidedly scarce, but soon gained momentum during the following years when the audience was able to applaud Farinelli, Caffarelli, Tolve and other singers. This theatre – described in the Glories of poetry and music by Bonlini (1730) as a “true kingdom of marvels […] that due to the vastness of its magnificent dimensions can rightly be compared to the splendour of Ancient Rome” – housed the première of two of Metastasio’s dramas, Siroe (1726, music by Vinci), and Ezio (1728, music by Porpora). Although the lnames of Apostolo Zeno and Pietro Metastasio stand out in this theatre’s repertoire during the first half of the eighteenth century, one should also remember that young Carlo Goldoni was also active there as “theatre poet” from 1736 to 1741.

1747
1747

He not only had the task of rewriting and adding arias and recitatives when requested by the singers, but also of co-ordinating the staging of the performances. In 1751 the Imer company established themselves in the San Giovanni Grisostomo Theatre and opera was rarely performed until the end of the century. During the last twenty-five years of the century the theatre was entrusted to Maddalena Battaglia who continued to present an eclectic repertoire including French tragedies and dramas and some Italian novelties.

1797
1797

In the spring of 1797, after making its name as one of the best aristocratic theatres, it was entrusted to the provisional Municipality and from July 10th to October 1st it was transformed into the Teatro Civico and offered a Jacobin style repertoire.

1797

In 1807 a decree by Ludovico di Breme of the Internal Ministry of the Italian Kingdom limited the number of Venetian theatres to four: apart from La Fenice, Teatro di San Benedetto and San Moisè, this theatre was also chosen since it was extremely popular with the people. In 1819 the Grimani family sold the theatre and some of the nearby houses to Luigi Facchini and Giovanni Gallo.

18
1819
1819

The new owners immediately set about restoring the theatre to its former splendour and it reopened in 1819 with Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie.

1834
1834

Around a decade later, due to deterioration of the building, Giovanni Gallo decided to restore the theatre completely so that it could also be used for day-time performances. The restored theatre was then opened in December 1834 with Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. In 1835 Gallo managed to engage the most famous singer of the time, Maria Garcia Malibran, for two evenings. One of the evenings went to La Fenice in exchange for half of the takings.

1834

Thus, on April 2nd Malibran gave an extraordinary performance at La Fenice and on April 8th in the festively decorated theatre an exceptional performance of La Sonnambula, with staging by Giuseppe Bertoja. To express his gratitude to the great singer, especially since she had also refused to be paid, Gallo called the theatre after the famous singer. When Giovanni Gallo died in 1844 the theatre was passed on to his son Antonio, musician and orchestra conductor who was trying to increase the artistic quality of the performances and programme by dedicating more attention to the opera seasons.

1834

In Autumn 1852 he then wanted to restore the decorations of the theatre and to add a great “chandelier, that with the great copy of light, of all animating things, increases the magnificence and beauty of the performance”. The most important artistic event in the following decades – during which the Malibran was also dedicated to operetta and plays in dialect – was certainly the performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Messa da requiem in July 1875 with outstanding singers, the choir of the Scala and the orchestra conducted by Franco Faccio.

1886
1886

In 1886 Teatro Malibran was auctioned off together with San Benedetto and was bought by a company created by Francesco Baldanello, Emerico Merkel and Giuseppe Patrizio. With various hereditary passages this company was able to maintain the ownership of the theatre until recently.

1886

The theatre was reopened in 1890 after radical restoration that changed the appearance of the concert hall with Egyptian-style decorations. In spring 1913 after an important opera season, the Malibran was closed once again due to the need to carry out certain security measures.

1886

A public competition was then announced for a project of internal restoration, the only bind being that the external walls of the theatre had to be kept. The winner was the young engineer Mario Felice Donghi.

Due to the First World War work on the theatre was interrupted and it was only reopened in December 1919 with a greatly appreciated production of Verdi’s Otello. With this, the theatre continued its renewed activity all through the first half of the twentieth century. In the 1980’s, thanks to an initiative of the Teatro La Fenice, many important performances and novelties took place in the Malibran, including the world première of Salvatore Sciarrino’s Cailles en sarcophage, in collaboration with the Biennale Musica.

19
1992
1992

In 1991 together with the La Fenice’s company Teatro Danza, Carolyn Carlson presented her first performance, Undici Onde, created specifically for La Fenice. This was followed by Underwood. The ample scenic space of the Malibran has also seen performances by Pina Bausch, some of which were Italian premières.

When the City Council of Venice bought the Malibran, it marked a new phase for the theatre: the restoration of the roof was meant to be the starting point of an extremely detailed project by Antonio Foscari to completely restore the building and modify the structures, in particular the extension of the gallery and the stage. When La Fenice was destroyed in a fire in January 1996, the Malibran was placed in the limelight because it had become even more indispensable. Thus, the decision was taken to respect the entire original architectural structure rather than radically change the installations and increase the scenic machinery so that the project would be approved more rapidly and with innovative procedures.

1992

During restoration the orchestra pit was also enlarged and an enormous underground basin was made to collect the water from high water that could have flooded the entire theatre. During the digging of this basin extremely interesting archaeological findings came to light, including perfectly conserved structures going back to the Roman age and to the fifth century A.D., the remains of warehouse walls belonging to the Polo family and some glass objects that went back to the most antique production of glass in the lagoon.

1992

The interior decorations of the Malibran were also restored, paying particular attention to the colours foreseen by Donghi, previously hidden by various layers of plaster. By supporting the conservative restoration of the magnificent curtain by Giuseppe Cherubini in tempera on canvas with golden and silver yarn, the association Amici della Fenice made an important contribution to the re-opening of one of the most important historic Venetian theatres that seats 900 people and is now once again an active part of the city life.

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