History and Architecture
The history of the Gran Teatro La Fenice (fenice stands for “phoenix” in Italian) dates back to the end of the eighteenth century. In 1789, the Venetian Noble Society (La Nobile Società) issued a competition notice (bando di concorso) for the construction of a new opera house in Venice. A Venetian neoclassical architect, Giannantonio Selva, won the contest. Neoclassicism was the intellectual current that, in contrast to the ornaments of the Baroque era, found inspiration in the more moderate models of Roman and ancient Greek art.
The Teatro was designed in a classical Italian style; different from the French Theater, the Teatro Italiano presented a number of sealed logge (balconies that reminded of the Italian piazza, the square). In the loggia, the audience of the theater could enjoy shows in full discretion, although the audibility was not as good as in open circles.
The opera house of Venice was ready in 1792. During the French domination of Italy, however, the Fenice Theater had to undergo some changes in order to function as a state theater. In 1807, a makeshift imperial loggia was built in order to welcome Napoleon. After that episode, a new notice was issued for the construction of a definitive regal stand. A neoclassic painter, Giuseppe Borsato, won the contest. Borsato painted the decorations in imperial style: a triumphant Apollo surrounded by the muses suggested Napoleon’s victories. After this first reconstruction, the Fenice Theater reopened on December 26, 1808. Everyone praised Borsato’s work, which was considered both sophisticated and original.
Great triumphs and unfortunate disasters marked the history of the Teatro la Fenice in the following decades. The theater saw the premieres of masterpieces as Rossini’s Tancredi in 1813, Donizetti’s Belisario in 1836, Verdi’s Rigoletto in 1851 and La Traviata in 1852, Leoncavallo’s La Bohème in 1897, and Mascagni’s Le Maschere in 1901. At the same time, nonetheless, the theater had to experience painful reconstructions and renovations caused either by the aging of the structure (as in 1825–1828; this was the occasion in which Borsato installed a huge chandelier as a central element of the hall) or by fires.
The first fire happened on December 13, 1836, because of a damaged heater. The last terrible fire happened on January 29, 1996. A court ruled out that this recent fire was caused by arson; two culprits have been condemned for the cultural catastrophe, which disconcerted theater lovers all over the world.
It took seven years to rebuild the Fenice. The inauguration took place on December 14, 2003. On that date, Maestro Riccardo Muti, in front of an audience that included Italy’s president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, directed auspicious music as the world celebrated the rebirth of the wonderful Teatro. Since that day, the Fenice Theater has been the venue for the Italian New Year’s Day concert, which is broadcast worldwide to an audience who waits eagerly to enjoy famous such pieces as Va’ Pensiero from Nabucco or Libiamo ne’ lieti calici from Traviata.
FAMOUS CONDUCTORS AT THE FENICE THEATER
The world’s most renowned maestros have had the honor of working at La Fenice Theater. Among them:
- Herbert von Karajan (starting from 1953, when he conducted a symphonic concert starring Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli as a pianist)
- Arturo Toscanini (already starring at the Fenice Theater in 1895, when he conducted Verdi’s Falstaff)
- Leonard Bernstein (first appearance: 1954 with the premiere of Bruno Bettinelli’s La Sinfonia Breve)
- Sir Georg Solti (with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1975, in the outdoor location of the famous San Marco Square)
- Kurt Masur (starting in 1966 in the Palazzo Ducale location)
- Lorin Maazel (on various occasions since 1955)
- Roberto Abbado (who studied orchestra conduction at the International Course of the Fenice Theater)
- Zubin Mehta (who conducted a concert in the Palazzo Ducale Courtyard at 25 years of age in 1961)
- Diego Matheuz (who is also the present musical director of the theater)
- Riccardo Muti (who conducted the premiere in 2003 to celebrate the reconstruction of the theater after the arson in 1993)
How to reach La Fenice in Venice
The Fenice Theater is in the heart of Venice. It possible to reach Venice by car, but all vehicles must stop at the Tronchetto location or in Piazza Roma. From the Tronchetto, you can get to the theater using line 2 of the Vaporetto del Tronchetto (steamboat of the Tronchetto), direction Rialto, San Marco, Lido. From Piazza Roma, you can hop on both lines 1 or 2 of the Vaporetto. For both lines 1 and 2, your stops are Rialto or San Marco. Enjoy!