Teatro La Fenice carries that name for a reason. It means Phoenix and it signifies its rebirth after fire; a disaster that it has now suffered three times.
It started life in the early 1700s, becoming Venice’s leading opera house, known then as Teatro San Benedetto. Sadly, it suffered its first battle with flames in 1774 and a replacement took some time to be agreed. Work finally began in 1790, followed by its inauguration in 1792 under its new name of La Fenice.
Fire struck again 1836, but this time it was rebuilt with speed and reopened in 1837. Its reputation and popularity continued to grow. In 1844, Giuseppe Verdi’s Ernani made its premiere performance during the Carnival season. The strong relationship between Verdi and La Fenice grew from there, with the premieres of Attila, Rigoletto, La Traviata, and Simon Boccanegra all taking place there.
Shockingly, fiery disaster struck again in 1996, this time due to arson and the devastation was massive. The theatre hall inside was completely destroyed, though outside walls and some surrounding rooms survived, albeit in a damaged state. Reconstruction work began in 2001, complying with the aims of “how it was, where it was”, a motto that had been used in the rebuild of St Mark’s Campanile after it collapsed in 1902.
The new seemingly extra-golden, and extra-kitsch according to some of its critics, La Fenice opened in December 2003 with an inaugural concert, whilst its first staged opera was La Traviata, in late 2004.
For fans of crime fiction, and those who love to read some fiction set in a location they wish to visit, try out Donna Leon’s Death at La Fenice. This was the first of her well known Brunetti series, based in Venice. Published in 1992, it is based on a death at a La Traviata performance in La Fenice, a few years before the arson attack.
This ornate theatre is open for visits during the day, and if going to a performance you can organise a personal guided tour for your arrival. Details available here.
Copyright Debbie Smyth, 9 March 2017
Part of Thursday Special