My interest in Teatro La Fenice in Venice, a beautiful opera house and a famous theater in Europe, began with a book: The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt. In his particular creative, non-fiction style he tells the true story of when La Fenice burnt down in 1996, bringing to life a tangled web of personalities, politics and history in Venice.
On my next visit to the city, I went to La Fenice and even though they rebuilt the place, it resonated with so much history. I loved it. La Fenice translates as The Phoenix and the theater has a history of rising from the ashes: is its name its destiny?
Originally the name referred to the theater company itself rising from the ashes of an ownership dispute over the San Benedetto Theater where they first performed, to strike out alone and build their own theater – the original La Fenice on the Campo San Fantin in the 1790s. Mind you, this ownership dispute arose after the San Benedetto theater burned to the ground and was rebuilt.
Then in 1836, La Fenice burned to the ground. Within a year it was rebuilt and reopened. Soon after, in 1844, Verdi began premiering his operas at La Fenice and its reputation as a world player was secured. In 1996, the building again burned to the ground and this time rebuilding was delayed by investigations over arson and long court battles.
The theater finally reopened in 2003, having been rebuilt copying the 19th-century design. It’s open most days for tours or you can see it in all its glory by attending an opera: in the next few months they have Verdi’s La Traviata, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, and Mozart’s Don Giovanni.