TEATRO SAN CASSIANO
There is quite simply no comparable theatre in existence today.
The reconstructed Teatro San Cassiano will be the only fully active Baroque opera theatre in the world. Its iconic status will provide the perfect conditions for it to become the world’s foremost centre for historically-informed Baroque opera, attracting the world’s greatest conductors, singers and musicians.
It is history in a living context and opera rediscovered in a setting which until now has been lost to us all.
THE FIRST LIBRETTO
If ever the magic, passion and vision of an historic moment was captured in print, then it is in Benedetto Ferrari’s libretto for L’Andromeda, staged for the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in 1637, and thereby the world’s first public opera.
This dramma per musica lit a fuse that sparked an explosion in Venice, which led to a love affair that endures even now. It is the point at which public opera started and marks the beginning of its journey to the form we know and love today.
Such was the demand that the opera’s libretto was published a few months after the original staging with a passionate recounting of the magical special effects fashioned by the stage machinery and scene-sets. The images it invokes explain in an instant why this project must be realised. The text can be read in full here, but the opening paragraph sets the scene:
“The curtain disappears . The scene was entirely sea. In the distance was a view of water and rocks so contrived that its naturalness (although feigned) moved the spectators to doubt whether they were in a theatre or on a real seashore. The scene was quite dark except for the light given by a few stars, which disappeared one after another, giving place to Aurora who came to make the prologue. She was dressed entirely in cloth of silver with a shining star on her brow, and appeared inside a very beautiful cloud which sometimes grew large and sometimes small, and oh lovely surprise, circled across the sky on the stage. Meanwhile, the scene grew light as day for the prologue, sung divinely by Signora Maddalena Manelli from Rome, after which one heard a very sweet symphony from the most polished instrumentalists, assisted by the author of the opera with his miraculous theorbo. Then Juno came out on a golden carriage drawn by her peacocks, blazing in a coat of cloth of gold with a superb variety of jewels on her head or in her crown. To the wondering delight of the spectators, the carriage turned from right to left as it pleased her. Mercury appeared before her. This personage was and was not in a machine. He was, since flying, it is impossible not to admit it; he was not, since one saw no other machine but that of a flying body. He appeared adorned in his customary garments with a blue mantle that waved loosely from his shoulders…In a moment one saw the scene change from a seascape to a wood so natural that it carried our eyes to the life to real snowy heights, real flowering countryside, a regal spreading wood and unfeigned melting of water. Andromeda appeared with a following of twelve damsels dressed as nymphs…”
THE 1637 THEATRE
Let’s be clear: the task of reconstructing the original Teatro San Cassiano of 1637 is enormous. Some might even say impossible.
Venetian opera might be one of music’s most researched topics, but very little is known of those first Venetian theatres. For the Teatro San Cassiano in 1637, there are no drawings, no plans and no description of the original theatre. Other than the first libretto for L’Andromeda, there is no extant reference dating back to its first production.
And yet, while most research to date has focused on staging opera, it is remarkable what can be achieved when the archives are approached from the perspective of reconstructing the theatre itself. In a very short time, we already hold the plans for the 1762 theatre, have its measurements, those of its predecessor (1695), and significantly those of the original site. We have a valuable font of resources in the Venetian archives, from architect’s notes to notary minutes, with each document shedding further light as we tirelessly work backwards to 1637. Already, we could build tomorrow a breath-takingly accurate and iconic reconstructions of the Teatro San Cassiano of 1695 and of 1762.
But, it is the 1637 theatre that changed the world, and we owe it to history to rebuild this one alone.
Thus, step by step, our painstaking research is working its way through the numerous archival records, drawings, previous incarnations of the theatre and images of other contemporary theatres (such as the Teatro SS Giovanni e Paolo) to deliver an historically viable plan for 1637. With obvious concessions to data lost in time and future revelations yet to be discovered, an academically balanced and realisable invocation of a plan for the original 1637 Teatro San Cassiano is evolving, which can now begin the process of revision, argument and counter-argument as it is fine-tuned by expert analysis.
The process is simple: research, consult, draw-up plans, research, consult, revise plans, research…
In this respect we are fortunate to have amongst our Consiglieri some of the world’s leading musicologists and experts in Venice to guide and advise. Moreover, to ensure we deliver the most accurate theatre possible, we have teamed up with our partners at Shakespeare’s Globe, and brought into the same reconstruction architect, technical advisor and builder responsible for both the original Globe and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, who in turn will work with specialists in Venetian architecture and theatre. The Globe’s own website sets out how it dealt with the lack of plans to recreate the theatre:
“Other than concessions to comply with modern-day fire regulations such as additional exits, illuminated signage, fire retardant materials and some modern backstage machinery, the Globe is as accurate a reconstruction of the 1599 Globe as was possible with the available evidence. The reconstruction is as faithful to the original as modern scholarship and traditional craftsmanship can make it, but for the time being this Globe is—and is likely to remain—neither more nor less than the ‘best guess’ at Shakespeare’s theatre.”
By comparison to Shakespeare’s Globe, we have the advantage of a far greater font of primary and complimentary sources at our disposal and the evolution of modern technology which we are exploring with much interest. It is in this light that while we have confidence in our drawings for this stage of the process, we must impress that they remain an introductory first step and a snapshot of our research at the moment of print. They will be improved upon and they will each evolve before we have greater clarity by which to define the final drawings. Our research has barely commenced, and the fun has barely begun.
THE RECONSTRUCTED THEATRE
How will it be unique?
- Reconstructed as faithfully as modern scholarship and traditional craftsmanship will allow
- Iconic historically, architecturally, artistically, culturally and musically
- Small intimate theatre, intrinsic historically-informed Venetian and Italian Baroque opera
- Unique soundscape
- Magical world of Baroque special effects: descending dei ex machina, rolling seas, thunder storms, twinkling stars and scene-sets which change in a blink of an eye
- Incomparably intimate, intense and extraordinary experience
- Operas performed as their composers originally intended
- History as a living legacy
- Opera rediscovered in its original context
Throughout, the integrity and authenticity of the intellectual project will remain paramount. The theatre will not be a museum lamenting the death of Venice, but a public voice with which the city can engage with the world.
Focal points of the reconstructed theatre
- Theatre design
- Theatre acoustics
- Period stage machinery and scene-sets
- Historically-informed performance
- Baroque soundscape
“Com’era, dov’era” (as it was, where it was)
The term is well-known to all Venetians. While it is at times contentious, it would be remiss and disingenuous on our part not to acknowledge that regardless of the many complications contained within such a process, the project’s heart belongs to the ideal of “com’era, dov’era” and the dream of rebuilding the 1637 theatre on its original site. That said, we acknowledge the complexities of such a dream to the extent that our policy has evolved so that each element can be (and must be) pursued independently.
The primary goal of the project is simply to reconstruct the original theatre of 1637 “com’era”: by which we mean as accurately as academic scholarship and modern building techniques will allow.
This is achievable in three parts:
- Extensive academic research
- Modern technology: ‘non-invasive’ 3D and georadar scans of the original site
- The world’s leading reconstruction architects and build team combined with Venetian knowledge, insight and craftmanship.
We should clarify that while the opera house itself will deliver a 17th century Baroque theatre, the centre itself will be a modern 21st century complex looking forward to the future. This is also about embracing and contributing to a new modern future for Venice.
The theatre’s original site has since become a private garden, but has suffered no subsequent building work to the extent that the land and the theatre’s original footprint remains wholly intact.
However, despite our best efforts we have to respect that the site is neither for sale, nor practically deliverable. As such, we have had no alternative but to pursue with vigour plans for a new site in Venice. We are already at a very advanced level and hope to make formal announcements shortly. Thank you.