Teatro Olimpico


Teatro Olimpico, Vicenza

Piaz­za Gia­co­mo Mat­teot­ti, 11,
36100 Vicen­za VI, Italy

The Teatro Olimpi­co is one of the artis­tic won­ders of Vicen­za. Dur­ing the Renais­sance, a the­ater was not a build­ing in itself, as it would lat­er become, but a tem­po­rary arrange­ment of an out­side space or an exist­ing build­ing; in Vicen­za, these spaces were court­yards of palaces or the hall of the Palaz­zo del­la Ragione.

In 1580, at the age of 72, Pal­la­dio was com­mis­sioned to design a per­ma­nent the­ater by the Accad­e­mia Olimpi­ca, the cul­tur­al group he belonged to him­self. The design is clear­ly inspired by the Roman the­aters, as described by Vit­ru­vius: an ellip­ti­cal ter­raced audi­to­ri­um, framed by a colon­nade, with a frieze topped by stat­ues. In front of it is the rec­tan­gu­lar stage and a majes­tic prosce­ni­um with two orders of archi­tec­ture, opened by three arcades and divid­ed by half-columns inside which we find aedicules and nich­es with stat­ues and pan­els with bas-reliefs.

Crit­ics call the work “man­ner­is­tic” because of the intense light and shade effect, which is also inten­si­fied by a series of oth­er optic solu­tions the archi­tect used thanks to his expe­ri­ence: the pro­gres­sive dimin­ish­ing of the fronts with height is visu­al­ly com­pen­sat­ed with the pro­trud­ing stat­ues; he plays with over­hangs and nich­es to increase the sense of depth.

Palladio’s design was made a few months before his death and he would not see the result; his son Sil­la over­saw the works and hand­ed the the­ater over to the town in 1583. The first per­for­mance on Car­ni­val 1585 was mem­o­rable; its sub­ject was a Greek tragedy, Oedi­pus the King by Sopho­cles, and the stage design repro­duces the sev­en streets of the city of Thebes, which can be seen in the five open­ings of the prosce­ni­um through a clever game of per­spec­tives. The cre­ator of this lit­tle won­der inside the won­der is Vin­cen­zo Scamozzi. The effect was so impres­sive that the wood­en struc­tures became a sta­ble part of the the­ater. Scamozzi was also asked to cre­ate acces­so­ry spaces: the “Odeo”, the hall where the meet­ings of the Accad­e­mia took place, and the “Antiodeo”, dec­o­rat­ed with mono­chrome pan­els by the fine Vicen­za painter Francesco Maf­fei.

The fame of the new the­ater spread first to Venice and then all over Italy, rous­ing admi­ra­tion of all those who saw the human­ist dream of the reborn clas­sic art come true. After­wards, in spite such an exit­ing start, the theater’s activ­i­ty was inter­rupt­ed by the cen­sor­ship under the counter-ref­or­ma­tion, and it became a sim­ple place of rep­re­sen­ta­tion: Pope Pius VI was received there in 1782, as well as the emper­or Franz I of Aus­tria in 1816 and his heir Fer­di­nand I in 1838.
In mid-19th cen­tu­ry there were occa­sion­al­ly clas­si­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tions, but it was not until after World War II, with the threat of the bomb­ings gone, that they start­ed again, in a the­ater which has no equals in the world.