Italian theaters are universally known for their unsurpassed excellence, especially since the “architectural revolution” that took place between the 18th and 19th century, giving rise to modern structures whose technical and stylistic features became a standard exported all over the world: a horseshoe seating layout (“inventing” the first auditoriums), box seats divided into tiers, sets made deeper by using perspective wings.
Italy, in short, is the homeland of great theaters – and some very small, great theaters as well. We have selected seven such tiny gems, old and new, scattered around the country, each one proud to claim it is “the smallest theater in the world”.
Let’s start in the North East, in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, where two theaters we have already mentioned in another article boast a minuscule footprint, just a few kilometers apart.
The first is the 18th-century Valvasone Theater, inside the castle in the old town of the same name, in the province of Pordenone. It is thought to be the only private theater from its time still in existence in Italy, and belongs to the Valvasone family. It has maintained its original beauty over the centuries, also thanks to the fact its owners avoided carrying out any structural renovations.
Our second stop is at the Arrigoni Theater in San Vito al Tagliamento, still in the province of Pordenone. It is a small proscenium arch theater from the period between the 1700s and 1800s. Once the seat of the town council, court, and records office, 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.
“Gian Giacomo Arrigoni” Old Community Theater
San Vito al Tagliamento (Pn)
Piazza del Popolo, 1
Tel.: +39 0434 80251
The theater is open for visits every day, only by reservation.
Moving about 350 kilometers to the west, we enter in Lombardy and head to Barlassina (in the province of Monza and Brianza), home to the Antonio Belloni Theater, “the world’s smallest opera house” according to its website. Built by entrepreneur Marco Belloni in his family’s old cabinetry and fine furniture factory – which is part of one of Brianza’s strongest industrial traditions – this tiny, 98-seat opera house is currently in its 7th season, with performances praised by both public and critics.
Antonio Belloni Theater
Via Colombo, 38
Tel: +39 349 4359917 / +39 0362 561420
We now move to the south and enter Liguria, approaching the Tyrrhenian coast to visit the Salvini Theater in Pieve di Teco, in the province of Imperia. With its 43 meters of stage and 99 seats including stalls, galleries and box seats, this is a small, wooden space where actors began performing lyrical and prose works in the first half of the 19th century, season after season until the 1960s. Famous Genoese actor Gilberto Govi trod the stage at the Salvini Theater, which was recently restored and reopened to the public.
Pieve di Teco (Im)
Casa Sibilla, via Umberto I
Tel: +39 0183 704423
Moving east along the Ligurian coast, we reach Tuscany. A long journey of about 300 kilometers leads us to the Theatre of Vetriano, in the province of Lucca. Its 71-square-meter, late 19th-century structure has won it the “Guinness Book of Records” title of “smallest historical theater of the world”. After years of silence, Fondo Ambiente Italiano acquired it in 1997 and reopened it to regular performances in 2003.
“Teatrino” of Vetriano
Vetriano, Pescaglia (Lu)
Keeper’s home number: +39 0583 358131
Superintendent: +39 368 3453189
About 250 kilometers further south, we move on from Tuscany to Umbria and reach Teatro della Concordia, in Monte Castello di Vibio (Perugia), which we already visited for a previous article. Inaugurated in 1808, it is a perfect, miniature model of all the great Italian and European theaters: bell-shaped (or “Goldoni”) floor plan, proscenium, fresco decorations covering the walls of the hall and foyer, dressing rooms, rigging, a meeting room, an entrance staircase, lobby, ticket office… all the classic elements of any “Italian theater” can be found here, made in unparalleled Lilliputian size.
Our last stop is in southeastern Sicily, over 1,000 kilometers away from Monte Castello di Vibio: in Ragusa Ibla, inside the Donnafugata Palace, the eponymous 19th-century theater is still in business today. The enlightened members of the noble Donnafugata lineage never hesitated to stage religious and lay performances in this private theater, often opening the doors to anyone, upper class or not. A tradition that continues to this day.
Ragusa Ibla (Rg)
Via Pietro Novelli, 3
Tel: +39 334 2208186 / +39 338 4805550 / +39 333 9443802