La Fenice: “as it was, where it was”

No Introduction Needed

Teatro La Fenice—“The Phoenix”—is the opera house in Venice, Italy. It is one of “the most famous and renowned landmarks in the history of Italian theatre“, and in the history of opera as a whole. Sadly, La Fenice gained popularity once more rather recently with yet another fire that destroyed a large part of this beautiful Opera House. 

La Fenice really lived up to its name! The Phoenix is a legendary long-lived bird that obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor. In fact despite losing three theatres to fire, the first in 1774 after the city’s leading house was destroyed and rebuilt but not opened until 1792; the second fire came in 1836, but rebuilding was completed within a year. However, the third fire in 1996, was the result of arson. It destroyed the house leaving only the exterior walls, but it was rebuilt and re-opened in November 2004. 

This last incident was man-made by two electricians who wanted to provoke a short-circuit to just delay the completion of the works for which they were contracted. Not only they were unable to control the flames, but on that 29 January 1996 the canal adjacent to the opera house was drained completely for maintenance (something that need to be done regularly with all the canals in Venice for cleaning and maintenance), and it was therefore impossible to quickly bring the water to extinguish the fire. The two arsonists served jail-time, one of them after being captured at the Mexico-Belize border!


In 650 days, a team of 200 plasterers, artists, woodworkers, and other craftsmen succeeded in recreating the ambiance of the old theatre, at a cost of some €90 million. Venice wanted La Fenice to rise once again from its ashesas it was, where it was”, hence the motto.


The opera house entrance is therefore the area in which the largest number of original elements of the building survive: part of the decoration and most the columns, the floor and the access stairs to the boxes. While going up the stairs it is possible to notice some parts of the marble still darkened by fire, while some are replaced.


The fire of 1996 completely destroyed the five tiers of boxes, the stage and the ceiling, leaving only the perimeter walls on the original house.


Royal Box

The place of honour in the house had a tormented existence, relating not only to the history of the opera house but also to the political and historic events of the city of Venice. The royal box also offers its guests the use of a private room, which has its own private entrance.

At the mezzanine there is a tribute to the Greatest Maria Callas, and a wooden model of the entire complex of the building. Interestingly this model was brought to be repaired at the time of the fire, so it luckily survived. It is interesting because it shows the complexity of the building, which from Campo San Fantin, may at first look very small.

How Was it Before?

Interestingly, in the book Death at La Fenice (1992), by Donna Leon, a detective series starring a Commissario Guido Brunetti, centers on a mystery surrounding the sensational death of a famous orchestra conductor, in the midst of a production of La Traviata at La Fenice. In several scenes the opera house is described in meticulous detail, as it was at the time of writing, previous to the third fire.


To visit La Fenice is a bit complicated. Booking can be done, and the theatre should be open to public everyday. The reality is slightly different though, because there are always meetings, rehearsals, last minute reunions, sessions, etc.  But with patience and flexibility it can be done, and it is worth the effort.

For any info or booking

Fest Fenice Servizi Teatrali

Tel. +39/(0)41 786672

Ballroom Sale Apollinee

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I lived the most part of my life in Washington DC, now in Italy getting to know again my country. Plenty of surprises, for good and bad, and lots of nostalgia for DC.

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