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.


1996 - 2003 - 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. 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.

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.

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