The Malibran Theatre
The Malibran Theatre. Built by the Grimani brothers in 1677, it was first known as the theatre of S. Giovanni Grisostomo.
Constructed on the site of Marco Polo’s old house in eastern Cannaregio; it was soon regarded as being “the biggest, most beautiful and richest of the city“.
The theatre changed ownership and was renovated several times; until the radical renovation of 1919, which gave us the theatre, as we know it today.
During its golden age, composers such as Alessandro Scarlatti, premiered in 1707, his opera seria, “Mitridate Eupatore” and Georg Friedrich Händel‘s, “Agrippina”, in 1709.
The Malibran Theatre – History and Development
The theatre of San Giovanni Grisostomo, the name originating from the parish church nearby; was said to have been built in only four months, at the end of 1677. The site was the old home of Marco Polo; as testified by the nearby Corte dei Milion.
(Note. Marco Polo, (1254-1324) was a Venetian merchant, explorer and writer, who travelled through Asia along the Silk Road, between 1271 and 1295. His travels are recorded in “The Travels of Marco Polo” (aka, “Book of the Marvels of the World” and “Il Milione”, written c. 1300). It described to Europeans of that time, the mysterious culture and inner workings of the Eastern world; including the wealth and great size of the Mongol Empire and China in the Yuan Dynasty. It gave them beyond their Latin civilisation and culture, the first comprehensive look into what is now China, Persia, India, Japan and other Asian countries).
Funded by the Grimani brothers of Santa Maria Formosa, who were entrepreneurs in the theatrical field; it was designed by Thomas Bezzi. Despite there being 18 theatres in Venice by the end of the 17th century, it was highly favoured by the Venetian public.
Most of the old Venetian theatres were in isolated locations, being incorporated in the structure of the surrounding buildings. Only modest street and demolition work, was carried out to allow access to it.
The opera house was inaugurated in 1678, with a production of the premiere of Carlo Pallavicino’s opera “Vespasiano”.
By 1683, it had quickly become known as “the biggest, most beautiful and richest theatre in the city” and its operatic importance throughout the 17th and 18th centuries; led to an even grander description by 1730…..
“A true kingdom of marvels…that with the vastness of its magnificent dimension can be rightly compared to the splendours of ancient Rome and that with the grandeur of its more than regal dramatic performances has now conquered the applause and esteem of the whole world”.
Not much evidence exists on the original interior, however, there were probably 5 rows of 33 boxes; disposed in a horseshoe shape.
Internal view of the Teatro Grimani a San Giovanni Grisostomo of 1709. Engraving by Vincenzo Maria Coronelli
By 1700, modifications included the formation of 5 rows of 40 boxes. (You can see from the engraving, that there is an additional tier of boxes, each side of the orchestra pit and stage).
The theatre’s reputation rose to become the biggest, most luxurious and extravagant stage in Venice; known for its sumptuous productions and high quality singers such as Margherita Durastanti, prima donna between 1709 and 1712.
During its golden age, composers such as Alessandro Scarlatti, premiered in 1707, his opera seria, “Mitridate Eupatore” and Georg Friedrich Händel‘s, “Agrippina” in 1709.
During the 1730’s, the San Giovanni Grisostomo began a slow decline, although keeping its position as the most revered of Venetian theatres; until the middle of the eighteenth century.
In 1737, when Carlo Goldoni was placed in charge of the Venetian stage, prose works began to be performed; which included many of these his own comedies.
Due to its considerable size, the Grimani family decided to open a smaller theatre in 1755, the “San Benedetto”; which brought about the fall from dominance of the San Giovanni and a slow decrease in performances.
Eventually it was taken over by the municipality in 1797, it became known as the “Teatro Civico”. In 1819, it re-opened again after further restoration, under private partnership; with Rossini’s “La gazza ladra”.
However, deterioration continued and with the break-up of the partnership. The remaining partner, Giovanni Gallo, continued with additional refurbishment; giving it the new name of the “Teatro Emeronitto” (Theatre of Day and Night). It was inaugurated in December 1834, with Donizetti’s “L’elisir d’amore.”
The Malibran Theatre – Campiello del Teatro – Cannaregio
The Renaming of the Theatre
On 8 April 1835, the famous soprano Maria Malibran, came to sing Vincenzo Bellini’s “La sonnambula”. Clearly appalled at the condition of the theatre it was reported that “she refused her fee, telling the impresario to ‘use it for the theatre‘ “. Hence forth to this day, the opera house became the “Teatro Malibran”, in the singer’s honour.
In 1849, the return of the Austrians to Venice, provoked the closure of all the major theatres of Venice as protest; however, the Malibran was made an exception.
Gallo’s son took over in 1852, to be later auctioned in 1886; after which it was radically redecorated in the Egyptian style.
Following the fall of the Republic of Venice and the French occupation, the theatre was among the few not to be closed.
After a single operatic season in 1913, it was closed due to problems of WW2, but re-opened to present Verdi’s “Otello” in December 1919 and continued with popular Italian repertory. The Malibran, was active in the presentation of operas, operettas, and even showed films for the first half of the 20th century.
In 1992, the municipality of Venice purchased the theatre and under a plan of Antonio Foscari; intended to carry out a detailed restoration and modification program.
However, fate played its hand and in January 1996, the Teatro La Fenice was significantly destroyed by fire. The Malibran, was to become the temporary home to the “Fenice” orchestra.
Rather than carry out radical changes, so that the project would be approved more rapidly and with innovative procedures; the decision was taken to respect the entire original architectural structure, The orchestra pit was also enlarged and an enormous underground basin was constructed; to collect the water from Venice’s occasional high-water flooding.
The interior decoration of the Malibran was also restored; paying particular attention to its original colours, hidden by the various restorations. Giuseppe Cherubini’s magnificent curtain of tempera on canvas with golden and silver yarn, was conservatively restored by funding; through the “Association of Friends of the Fenice”.
The 900-seat Malibran, was re-opened on 23 May 2001, by President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, with a gala concert. It continues to function as an alternative venue for productions from La Fenice, as well as staging many of its own.
Information and Links
Please note: Online bookings and enquiries are made through the “La Fenice” website. Make sure you realise for your chosen performance, which venue you are booking for.
Campiello del Teatro, 5873, Venice 30131 Phone: +39 041 9651975 E-mail: email@example.com
Transport: Vaporetto: Rialto. A few minutes north-east of the Fontego Tedeshi, next to the Rialto bridge.
Entrance: Access is through the front main entrance for concert-goers, guided visits and ticket purchase.
Access for the disabled: The entrance is secured by a lift on the ground floor, along the Calle de la Fenice. You are recommended to call the number +39 041 786511: personnel will happily assist with entrance and seating.
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