by Rino Alessi
The architectural gem of Schio – one of Italy’s main wool cities in Italy, in the province of Vicenza – is its Teatro Civico, built in the early 1900s mostly for grand opera shows.
At the time, the few local theaters were inadequate for this genre. Thus, on October 8 1906, the Cooperativa per il Teatro Nuovo was founded with the goal of raising funds to build an opera house to meet the community’s new needs. In 1907, Ferruccio Chemello won the tender. In 1908, construction began in the working-class quarters, on a property donated by the Municipality in exchange for free use of the future structure for official events. Opening night was held on June 9 1909, with the first of fourteen nights dedicated to Boito’s “Mephistopheles”.
The Art Nouveau building has a reinforced concrete backbone that allowed it to survive both fires and the damages inflicted by the Second World War. The inner structure has a horseshoe layout, and could welcome 1,500 people at the time, divided between two tiers of balconies, “the gods”, and the arena. They theater also has a magnificent foyer.
In 1993, the local administration promoted the establishment of the Fondazione Teatro Civico, with the mission of renovating the theater. “The plans for renovation began in 2000,” says Teatro Civico’s Artistic Director, Annalisa Carrara “when the Municipality issued a strategic plan for Culture, putting the Civico back in the spotlight of the town’s interests. The building was beautiful even when totally abandoned. The theater re-opened for about three weeks to allow Marco Paolini to film six episodes of the TV show ‘Report’ there, while preparing to stage his show. Rehearsals were held during the day, and filming went on at night.”
In 2005, Comune di Schio rallied to form a committee – including famous director Gabriele Vacis and architect Valeriano Pastor – in order to decide on the renovation plan and program the different phases in it. The first phase was tested with a show and very detailed questionnaire, which granted the favor of the 99 people in the audience (limited in compliance to safety regulations).
The Teatro Civico officially reopened in March 2014, with a concert by the Schio Music Academy Orchestra directed by Filippo Maria Bressan. However, the renovation is not complete yet: as new shows go on stage, the project continues. “We must clarify”, says Carrara, “that the purpose of the renovation is not to create a theater that is new or ‘like new’, but to allow us to use the structure while leaving intact the traces left by time and neglect.”
Famous actors like Memo Benassi and Ruggero Ruggeri once treaded these boards, and international star Cesare Siepi had his debut here. Today, the Civico lends its stage to both prose works and concerts, and is home to the Schio Music Academy Orchestra, under artistic director Dario Balzan and “en residence” director Filippo Maria Bressan. “Schio has an organic, forward-thinking plan,” notes Bressan – a cultured musician who is largely responsible for bringing Italy’s baroque repertoire back to light. “Its goal is to showcase local talents and musicians who wish to belong to a close-knit group.”
Having ended its seventh season in success, the Schio Academy Orchestra is gearing up to continue on its Beethoven-inspired journey, to commemorate the Great War by presenting a different “Requiem” each season, and to open up to a few contemporary composers. “My experience with the Orchestra,” Bressan adds, “allows me to breathe in a pleasant and happy atmosphere that is currently impossible to find in larger music foundations in Italy. I am here because I want to make music, and I want to share it with others who love it like me.”
Photos by © Roberto Rizzotto , © Luigi De Frenza