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La Fenice, Venice Opera House

La Fenice, the Venice Opera House has one of the most interesting names; it translates as “The Phoenix” after the myth of the bird that “rose from the ashes”. It is ironic that the theatre has lived up to its name in a more literal sense after having being destroyed by fire and rebuilt, not once, but three times.

Teatro San Benedetto was originally located on the site of La Fenice built by the Grimani family in 1755 and assigned to the “Noble Association of Box Holders”. However in 1774 the Teatro San Benedetto was destroyed by a fire, and was rebuilt by the Noblemen. However the Noblemen were forced to give up the Opera House to the Venier Family, the owners of the land, in 1786 following a court ruling. (The theatre then went through a series of names over time Teatro Venier, Teatro Gallo and Teatro Rossini before becoming a cinema).

When forced to give up the Opera House the “Box Holders Association” immediately proposed building a much larger and more luxurious opera house on new land in its place 

and put the design out to a competition. The brief was that it should include 5 tiers of boxes with at least 35 boxes per tier. The closed boxes were unique to Italy creating “private theatrical spaces” where the Venice Noblemen could entertain, whilst other theatres had open boxes.

All previous 30 new Italian theatres were located down small streets and for the first time it was suggested that La Fenice would have an impressive Façade on a square to impress, as well as the side facing a canal to allow water access to the backstage. This was a brief intended to eclipse all previous theatres.

The architect Selva won the tender, and the name La Fenice Venice was chosen to reflect the Association ability to rebound back and “rise from the ashes” as it opened very quickly in 1792.

The Venice Opera House was built opulently with gold and mirrors and reopened with the opera “The Games of Agrigento” by Paisiello.

However a second fire struck 44 years later in 1836 with the theatres interior destroyed with only the Foyer and Angel rooms remaining in the interior. Work started in February 1837 and was rushed through to re-open in December with the “Rosmunda in Ravello” Opera by Lillo. However the speed of the implementation of the work meant some of the work had to be done again as early as 1854.

The third fire was much more recently in 1996 and was as a result of deliberate arson whilst the theatre was actually closed for restoration. Two electricians Carella and his cousin Marchetti were convicted of setting fire to Teatro La Fenice as their company was facing heavy fines for delayed restoration work and were looking to find a way out of paying. Whilst Carella fled, and was only arrested 6 years later at the Mexico/Belize border and then served 16 months in prison, Marchetti served a 6 year prison sentence for the deed. The façade of the building was the only element that survived both of the fires.

This last rebuild and renovation of the Teatro La Fenice costed 90 million euros also included the seating capacity

being increased from 840 to 1,000, individual air seat air conditioning being added as well as extra rehearsal areas.

La Fenice Venice reopened on 14 December 2003 with a concert of Beethoven, Wagner, and Stravinsky works, but the first opera was not until La Traviata was performed in Nov 2004. Feedback on the rebuild was mixed and whilst the architect Rossi had studied photographs from the opening scenes of the film Senso which had been filmed in the Venice Opera House many found the new look to be too bright and “kitsch” and considered it to be not as good as the old and not refreshingly new either. However overwhelmingly La Fenice Opera House is adored now by all who visit who applaud its beauty and style.

Over the years the theatre has hosted outstanding performances and famous guests; In 1807 Napolean was hosted at the La Fenice and in his honour the auditorium was decorated in blue and silver, the colours of the Imperial Style.

It was the location of many of the 19th century major productions as well as world premieres which were staged at the Teatro la Fenice in the 19th century by composers such as –

Rossini; Sigismondo 1814 and Semiramide in 1823 Bellini; I Capulei I Montecchi- based on Romeo and Juliet, Beatrice di Tenda Donizetti who returned to stage Belisario in 1836  in the Venice Opera House after his triumphs at La Scala Milan and the Teatro San Carlo in Naples.

Verdi premiered Ernani during the Carnival Season in 1844 and over the next 13 years, the premieres of Attila 1846, Rigoletto 1851, La Traviata 1853, and Simon Boccanegra 1857 were performed at La Fenice Venice.

Whilst it was closed during the First World Way it reopened afterwards and in 1930 when the Venice Biennale produced the First International Festival of Contemporary Music it was the obvious hub.

More recently La Fenice Opera House has had world premieres such as Stravinskys “The Rakes Progress” , Brittens “The Turn of the Screw”, Prokofiev’s “The Fiery Angel”, Nonn’s “Intollerance” and Maderna’s “Hyperion” as well as Kagel’s “Kidnapping in the Concert Hall” and Ambrosini’s “The Killer of Words”.

The current schedule heavily features the well-known classics such as La Traviata, Il Trovatore, The Barber de Seville and Faust but more unusual contemporary operas are also shown. To see our Opera trips to La Fenice Venice click the link.

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