The miniature theaters: Valvasone and Arrigoni
by Rino Alessi
Many theaters in Italy claim to be the smallest in the world, but we believe the record is truly set by the theater inside the Castle of Valvasone (1791), in the province of Pordenone, which alongside the “Gian Giacomo Arrigoni” Old Community Theater in San Vito al Tagliamento represents one of the gems of architecture in the far north part of Italy.
The theater in Valvasone is also the only private theater from the 18th century still in existence. “It is so well preserved,” says the mayor, Markus Maurmair, “because the owners, the Valvasone family, never interfered with any extensive renovations.” The arena is without seats, quite uncomfortable, and was often used for storage; the gallery is made up of a single tier, with only thirteen seats.
After sixteen years of renovation works on the 18th-century castle and its minute theater, the town council now hopes to get the authorization to reopen this small space to the public. “I don’t expect it to ever host an ongoing musical activity,” adds the mayor, “because the structure is simply not made for it.” However, offering invitation-only, exclusive events could make the theater even more of an attraction for anyone planning a visit to one of the most charming towns in Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
The Valvasone Theater was built inside a pre-existing room in the castle, disregarding the design rules followed at the time. Approximately half of the original room was turned into the stage (which has been completely rebuilt by architect Claudio Visentini), while the other half makes up the arena. Since the ceiling is only 4.7 meters high (a little over 15 feet), the gallery could only have one tier, elevated above the arena with small, decorated pillars. The balconies are structured with wooden parapets, the central one decorated with the crest of the Count of Valvasone; the slight curved transom is embellished by an overhang, finely painted in neoclassic style. The beautiful Madonna with Child wearing a red dress, painted on the North wall of the theater, was a subsequent addition – and stands out as one of the very few examples of religious art in the castle.
The Arrigoni Old Community Theater in San Vito al Tagliamento has the typical structure of a small proscenium arch theater from the period between the 1700s and 1800s. Once the seat of the town council, court, and records office of the pleasant town in Friuli, it is located inside the old public Loggia – which with the bell tower represents the oldest building in Piazza del Popolo, at the heart of the San Vito al Tagliamento.
There are records of the Loggia’s use for theater and musical shows dating back to the 1600s. The renovation of the building has restored the monument’s magnificence and sparked life back into the theater, dedicated to Gian Giacomo Arrigoni (1597-1675), a musician and theater impresario who is considered the “genius loci”. The theater was completely rebuilt with great care, down to the smallest details.
Thus the Venetian-style Old Community Theater – the pride of San Vito in the 19th and 20th century – has started a second life, and is now home to a theater and music program that (although not in step with the style of the venue) is particularly focused on jazz.