'Teatro La Fenice', the main Opera house in Venice, whose name translates to 'The Phoenix', has over the centuries literally lived up to its name. After fire destroyed the first building which occupied the site in 1774, then a legal dispute over the ownership of the new building was lost, the theatre company began construction of the building on the current site in 1790. When it was completed in 1792, it was named "La Fenice", The Phoenix, in honour of the company's ability to rise from the ashes, not just on one, but two occasions.
Disaster struck again when, in 1836 a fire completely destroyed the new building, razing it to the ground. However it was quickly rebuilt and opened again in 1837. In 1844 Guissepe Verdi's illustrious association with La Fenice began with the premier of Emani, and premiers of Attila 1846, Rigoletto 1851, La Traviata 1853 and Simon Boccanegra in 1857 all took place here.
One can hardly imagine that such a tragedy could repeat itself, but in January 1996 La Fenice was again completely destroyed by fire, this time caused by arson. In a city built on water this sounds an anomaly, but when the fire broke out, water was unable to reach the building as the nearby canal had been totally drained for repair works. The city of Venice was in mourning.
In 2003, after a monumental effort the new theatre opened, rebuilt to the original design by architect Aldo Rossi and using photographs from the opening scenes of Luchino Visconti's 1954 film 'Senso' which was filmed in the theatre. I recall around this time I was privileged to visit Rubelli, one of the fabric suppliers I use as an Interior Designer, in their spectacular palazzo on the Grand Canal. With gloved hands and incredible care, I was shown some of the burnt fragments of fabric salvaged from the ruins, that the great Italian fabric house of Rubelli used to reproduce the original fabrics for the new building. Italian craftsmanship and attention to detail at its very best, produced a rebuilding of La Fenice of which Venice is understandably enormously proud.
I have been to Teatro La Fenice a number of times since it reopened and the ambience and old world charm is seductive and enthralling. The balcony seats in particular make you feel like the entire production is playing just for you, and one is totally absorbed by the emotion of the performance. Recently there we saw Verdi's La Traviata which was a fabulous performance in what seems like its home, as not only did it premier in this theatre in 1853, but it was also the first opera to premier in the new building when it reopened in 2004!