Little Bits of History

Like a Phoenix

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 29, 2014
La Fenice

La Fenice

January 29, 1996: La Fenice is destroyed by fire. Teatro La Fenice (The Phoenix) is an opera house in Venice, Italy. In 1774 Venice’s most famous opera house, San Benedetto Theatre, burned to the ground. It was rebuilt and immediately a legal dispute followed. The company managing the theater and the owners, the Venier family, took their matter to the courts where the Veniers won. Reconstruction had begun in June 1790 and the theater was completed in May 1792 and renamed La Fenice – an allusion to the rising from the ashes of the flames as well as the legal entanglements. The new opera house officially opened on May 16, 1792 with an opera by Giovanni Paisiello.

In just a few short years, the venue had acquired a European reputation for excellence. Rossini and Bellini both opened two major productions there. Donizetti came back to Venice in 1836 after an absence lasting 17 years where he played in Milan and Naples. However, the theater was again burned to the ground in December 1836. This time, the rebuilding was done quickly and the theater reopened on December 26, 1837. Verdi’s association with the theater began in 1844 and over the next thirteen years he opened four operas at La Fenice.

During World War I the opera house closed but reopened afterwards. Many of the world’s greatest singers and conductors gave performances there. The First International Festival of Contemporary Music took place in 1930 and over the years the event brought in many composers such as Stravinsky, Britten, Berio, Nono, and Bussotti. On this day, two electricians, Enrico Carella and Massimillano Marchetti, set a fire which again destroyed the building. They were facing heavy fines on delays with their repair work there. Both men have served prison time, Carella after he was finally captured at the Mexico-Belize border in 2007.

It took five years for rebuilding to begin. In 650 days the building was again ready for use. Over 200 plasterers, artists, woodworkers, and other craftsmen were able to bring the ambience of the old theater back to life at a cost of €90 million. The seating capacity was increased from 840 to 1000. It was rebuilt in 19th-century style with architect Aldo Rossi using old photographs to help with the design. La Fenice opened once again on December 14, 2003 with a concert of Beethoven, Wagner, and Stravinsky. The first opera performed there was La Traviata by Verdi in November 2004. Like a phoenix, once again, the opera house is alive with music.

The opera is to music what a bawdy house is to a cathedral. – H. L. Mencken

No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible. – W. H. Auden

People are wrong when they say opera is not what it used to be. It is what it used to be. That is what’s wrong with it. – Noel Coward

Staid middle age loves the hurricane passions of opera. – Mason Cooley

Also on this day: Oh, No – O-Three – In 1978, Sweden became the first nation to ban certain aerosols to protect the ozone layer.
Honorable – In 1856, the Victoria Cross medal was established.
“Nevermore!” – In 1845, The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe was printed for the first time.
Nevermore – In 1845, the poem was published (a different look at the event).

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