The jewel of historic opera theaters, La Fenice in Venice, reopened on December 14, after being almost totally destroyed by fire in 1996. Worst of all, the fire was an act of arson, set by two electricians whose company was so far behind in its renovation work in the theater that they decided it would be better to burn the building down than pay the fines. They were sentenced to a maximum of seven years in prison, but I don't know if they made it out in time to go the gala reopening.
La Fenice was first opened in 1792 with the premiere of I Guochi d'Agrigento by Paisiello and was the site of numerous premieres, including Rossini's Tancredi (1813), Sigismondo (1814), and Semiramide (1823); Bellini's I Capuleti ed i Montecchi (1830) and Beatrice di Tenda (1833); Donizetti's Belisario (1836) and Maria di Rudenz (1838); Verdi's Ernani (1844), Attila (1846), Rigoletto (1851), La Traviata (1853), and Simon Boccanegra (1857); Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress (1951, with the composer conducting), and Britten's The Turn of the Screw (1954, with the composer conducting). Marie-Aude Roux has published an excellent article (La Fenice de Venise renaît enfin de ses cendres, December 15) in Le Monde, about the rebuilding of this theater, which the Venetians claimed would be restored "as it was, where it was" (not quite, as it turns out), and how it has influenced operatic and film history, especially in Luchino Visconti's film Senso. In fact, the scenes Visconti shot inside the theater of La Fenice (see the still shown here) turned out to be very useful to the rebuilding:
"After the fire of January 29, 1996, which had destroyed the entire theater, the reconstruction of an identical theater was immediately required," declares Giampaolo Vianello, the director of La Fenice. "We realized that the historical documents, dating from the reconstruction after the first fire in 1836, were insufficient. As for the visual archives, they concerned only what was happening on stage. That's why those fifteen minutes of Visconti were very precious. Analyzed, decoded, picked over with a fine-toothed comb, the film allowed us to reconstruct in detail the objects, the materials, the decoration, and the colors."The information about how such a monumental building project can happen in a city like Venice is also interesting:
Hard to imagine that it took nearly three months to tear down the calcified remains of the theatre, that adjoining canals were drained, that a floating platform had to be constructed on the Grand Canal, to anchor some pipes down in the water to mix the cement, because the demands of the location did not allow it to happen on the spot.Although it has been eight years since the fire and the struggle to rebuild La Fenice often looked hopeless (work was completely halted in 1998 and again in 2001), the theater plans to produce a full season of opera next year.