The two souls of Bolzano’s Theater

by Rino Alessi

The Teatro Comunale di Bolzano (or ‘Stadttheater Bozen’ in German, meaning “Bolzano’s City Theater”) was designed by architect Marco Zanuso, and is one of the newest theaters in Italy. It opened on September 9, 1999, and is home to Teatro Stabile di Bolzano and Vereinigte Bühnen Bozen. Management, maintenance, and administration are entrusted to Fondazione Teatro Comunale e Auditorium Bolzano (Stiftung Stadttheater und Konzerthaus Bozen). In 2001, it opened its first operatic season with Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra”, conducted by Abbado, in co-production with Ferrara’s Teatro Comunale.

Alto Adige has always had two souls – one Italian, the other German. Toward the end of the 1600s, the region showed great appreciation for both German theater and Italian opera; in the late 1700s, Paisiello’s music – a great success in Russia at the time – was the most frequently played in Bolzano. The first regular opera shows in the city started in 1784, during Carnival, first in Palazzo von Menz and then in the Mercantile Building (seat of the Mercantile Court): it wasn’t until 1805 that Bolzano had a proper theater, in Piazza della Mostra.

Throughout the 19th century, Kaiserkrone (Palazzo Pock) was Bolzano’s opera house, and resounded with music by Mozart and Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Gounod, then operettas by Johann Strauss, Humperdinck, Mascagni, and Leoncavallo. The theater closed in 1906, one century after opening, due to fire hazards as well as to nationalistic protests.

Bolzano’s new theater would be built in 1913 in the Park of Viale Stazione. Designed by Munich-born architect Max Littmann, it opened on April 14, 1918 with a performance of Beethoven’s “Egmont”. Initially named “Civico”, when the city was included in the Kingdom of Italy in 1919 it was renamed “Verdi”, and mostly focused on Italian melodrama. German opera was scaled back sharply, until the Fascist regime banned it altogether in 1934. In 1943 a bombing destroyed it, marking the end of an era. In 1951 the rubble was finally removed, and shows were held in different locations until September 9, 1999, when the Nuovo Teatro Comunale (Neues Stadttheater) opened.

The Comunale was the result of the decision, made in in the 1980s, to give the lively, growing city of Bolzano a theater that could welcome any kind of performance. Marco Zanuso was entrusted with the project in 1985, just as the plan for the urban renovation of the area between the Cathedral and Piazza Verdi was being finalized. The Stadttheater Bozen ranks indubitably among the medium-high level structures in Europe, and offers 800 seats. It also has a smaller theater – Teatro Studio (Studiotheater), with a capacity of 270 seats – annexed to it, recreating the more refined atmosphere of exclusive 17th-century theaters.

On February 28, 2007, the Italian Ministry of Cultural Activities and Heritage gave the title of “Teatro di Tradizione” (“Theater of Tradition”) to the Fondazione Teatro Comunale e Auditorium, which in the latest seasons has produced great operas from the Central European repertoire – such as “Elektra” and “Salome” by Richard Strauss, and “Fidelio” by Beethoven – as well as contemporary works such as “Alex Brücke Langer” by Verrando and “Julie” by Boesmans.

Between November 2013 and April 2014, three operas (two of which in co-production with Treviso) are scheduled to bring opera back in Bolzano for the 2013/2014 season: “La Bohème”; Vosecek’s newest, “Biedermann und die Brandstifter” (from the Max Frisch play “The Arsonists”); and a brand new staging of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”.

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The two souls of Bolzano’s Theater

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