The Theatre - The History | Teatro La Fenice - Official Site


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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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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