La Fenice Theater in Venice: rules and ideas for reopening
The date should be June 15: the day for the reopening of theaters appears for the first time in the last DPCM. From La Fenice Theater in Venice, the Superintendent Fortunato Ortombina announces his plans, demonstrating how the limits imposed by the safety rules can become theatrical elements for musical performances with a new face.
Superintendent, how long have you been thinking about the reopening of the Phoenix?
We have been thinking about how to reopen La Fenice since 24 February, the day the theaters closed. But I felt alone: so far we have not known anything and we are waiting for answers from the Government, the Ministry of Culture, the Region, trusting in a gradual return to normal. I repeat, gradually, because let’s not delude ourselves that the life of the theaters can resume as if nothing had happened: it will take two, maybe even three years, waiting for the vaccine. Meanwhile, we can no longer think as before but we must put into practice a new model so that the opera and concerts can be held in our theaters and be attended safely, for artists and workers and for the public.
What did you come up with?
The key is not to see limitations as impossibilities, but as expedients to create shows with new dramaturgical and poetic variations. We will completely remodel the space of the stalls, the orchestra pit and the stage. Once the armchairs have been removed from the stalls, the musicians will be distributed in this space, while a permanent installation, an inclined plane, will cover the orchestra pit by raising it and connecting it to the stage, where seats can be obtained, at a safe distance each on the other, for the choir or perhaps for the public. It will resemble the keel of a ship, which will be seen from the sea of the stalls, as during the shipwrecks. It will still remain the most beautiful room in the world.
Who designed this installation?
Fortunato Ortombina, and the Fenice workers, our laboratories and technicians made it. The attitude towards research has always been typical of our theater and historically of Venice.
You don’t lack creativity …
Fortunately, because we will have to start from scratch. We cannot do as before, we must create the art of now. This is a very refined virus, which has undermined our greatest achievement: dynamism, which we must now look for in our heads.
But how will the public enter the hall and where will they take their seats?
At the Fenice, compared to the 1,100 seats, we could accommodate 350 spectators, even if the latest provisions indicate only 200. The entrances must be limited, 30 people will enter the hall at a time, accepted according to all the rules: after the temperature measurement will be accompanied on the stages, where they will take place, up to four people in each if belonging to the same family, two otherwise. In order not to go to the theater cafe, a service will be carried out on the stages. But it will be necessary to arrive at the theater in time, at least an hour before, starting from the spectators of the fifth order of stages. A ritual, which will be part of the show, as well as seeing the interpreters enter the room.
Where do you borrow the security safeguards you have set up?
Della Confindustria Veneta: we looked at how the industries of our region were preparing to reopen, to live safely with the coronavirus.
With such a scaled-down mode which billboard do you think of?
To test the health center, initially we will not stage much more complex works. Just think that there will be no singers to dress, comb and make up, eliminating the risk for workers and artists. Nor will I be able to employ the 100 orchestral and 72 choristers of the Phoenix all together. So I think of concerts, instrumental and vocal music: our Venetian repertoire, Vivaldi and Gabrieli for example.
Will the audience initially be local too?
Yes, it is inevitable to imagine a proximity public, Italian. But still: let’s take advantage of the limitation, as an opportunity to forge even closer relationships with our audience. The real strength of our institutions, and of a theater like La Fenice, must be identity and roots in the territory.
In the months of the lockdown La Fenice has been very active on social networks with works and concerts streamed. Will you continue?
Our website, social networks Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have never been silent. By streaming on our YouTube channel we reached 21 million contacts and 71 thousand subscribers, and only during the lockdown from all over the world did we count 3 million views and 20,000 new subscribers. We will enhance these services, which have served to bring culture to people’s homes, in the impossibility of coming to the theater. But they are still complementary, not alternative. However, before reopening the theater to the public, I intend to stream a musical performance in an empty room, with the new set-up. Twin of that last string quartet that we sent online on March 1st, just after closing: it looked like the orchestra of the Titanic that continued to play … I will never forget that impression.
So when do you plan to reopen?
It is easier to close than to reopen, but we have to do it because we are a public service. Now the project is presented and La Fenice could be reopened in the summer, between the end of June and July. Only the law can give us the way … but we are there!
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CREDITS: photos of the interior of the La Fenice Theater © Riccardo Grassetti; photo of the Superintendent of Michele Crosera, La Fenice Theater.