Traviata at Theatre La Fenice
by Gillian Price [LEO — LA RIVISTA DI VENEZIA]
The excitement in the damp autumn air is palpable. Venice's beloved Fenice theatre is soon to be open for business and the city's faithful opera-going public rewarded for its patient eight-year-long wait. Gloriously resurrected by craftsmen specialised in baroque decorative techniques working alongside high tech engineers, the glittering premises will stage operas and ballet in the imminent season. True to its name - La Fenice means the Phoenix - it has risen from the ashes in triumph after a disastrous fire that broke out during renovation work, leaving it gutted on 29 January 1996, a night remembered by all Venetians with despondency.
Originally designed by Giannantonio Selva and inaugurated in 1792, the theatre was also extensively damaged by fire in 1836 due to a faulty heater but re-opened a record 10 months later. This time round, thanks to an enlightened project by late Italian architect Aldo Rossi and the motto "how it was, where it was", it has been fitted out with extra rehearsal areas and state-of-the-art stage equipment, while the seating capacity has been increased from 840 to 1000.
Over the years the Fenice has hosted famed opera divas Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland not to mention memorable world premieres by composers the ilk of Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi, Benjamin Britten and contemporary Luigi Nono. The upcoming season is to be launched on November 12 with a brand new production of Verdi's popular La Traviata. In actual fact the opera was first performed at the Fenice on 6 March 1853, though it was not well received. (A repeat staging a year later at the Teatro San Benedetto was triumphant, ostensibly due to a more suitable cast.) The tragic account of an "impossible" love story between different social classes, it was based on a true story of the time involving a celebrated prostitute who became the protagonist of Alexander Dumas' La dame aux camélias, whence the opera.
An especially exciting winter-spring season is on the cards: operatic works by Massenet, Mozart, Rossini and Wagner interspersed for dance enthusiasts with Delibes, Béjart and Pina Bausch. Separate programmes of symphonic works, contemporary music and jazz also feature this winter.
Addendum: Radio Tre will be broadcasting La Traviata on Sunday, 14 November. Click here for further information.
Further reading: Music strikes up at Venice opera.