History of Theatre 7 – The Arched Spectacle / Teatro Farnese (cc’s: English, Español)


History of Western Theatre The Arched Spectacle The oldest remaining theatre with a permanent proscenium arch can be found in this impressive castle in Parma: Palazzo della Pilotta (Pilotta palace) It is heavily damaged during World War Two. This typical picture-frame stage theatre was built in 1618 by Giovanni Battista Aleotti for Ranuccio Farnese, the duc of Parma. The wooden coat armour of the Farneses is placed above the entrance gate of the theatre. This Farnese Theater serves as the prototype for virtually all those that were to follow during the next 300 years. So this is the oldest proscenium arch of Europe. 1640 – Richelieu’s theatre, Paris 1778 – La Scala, Milan 1894 – City Theatre, Amsterdam The proscenium archs of the foregoing theatres span more and more the entire width of the theatre hall. The ancient Roman Scaenae Frons with a Porta Regia – which is still recognizable in the Farnese theatre – disappears. Farnese Theatre: Reconstruction of the proscenium arch – 1618 A pre-war photo of the proscenium arch Wooden Corinthian columns The stadium-like auditorium has a seating accomodation for 4500 spectators. Farnese is a conventional court theatre, orchestra and auditorium are U-shaped. The collonade of Vitruvius is replaced by two galleries. The row of statues above the collonade is not preserved. Reconstruction Groundplan of the Farnese theatre Aleotti, the designer of this theatre, was the first who made use of movable wings. These wings became standard in Europe. In this way the candle-light could be dipped. Apparatus for the changing of the side-wings A stage scenery from the seventeenth century, present in the Palantina library in Parma. It is perhaps used in the Farnese theatre. In those days, such strict symmetrical, perspective stage sceneries could not only be seen in theatres. With this arched vista of Palazzo Te in Mantova, Later on, the side-wings were not always placed at right angles to the stage. Amsteram City Theatre, 1760, burned down in 1772. In 1892 again, this new Amsterdam theatre with oblique angled side-wings, is burned down. Cross-section of the Farnese Theatre, with the cellars With this machinery in Teatro Farnese scenery flats – but also the actors – could appear on stage from the cellar-vaults. Fireworks on stage were not uncommon, as this picture shows. Not only from the cellars one could expect all sorts of things. Many pieces of apparature were divised to let clouds move. Joseph Furttenbach, 1640 On these moving clouds, even actors were placed. Giacomo Torelli, 1645 Giacomo Torelli, 1650 Bernardo Buontalenti, 1589 Not until ten years after completion, Teatro Farnese was inaugurated with the spectacle play: ‘Mercury and Mars’, with music composed by Monteverdi. This grandiose happening was not only enacted on stage, but also in the orchestra, where a kind of tournament was held in which forty horsemen participated. On stage many gods and goddesses descended and ascended by means of complex cloud-constructions. Venus, with little Cupids – seated at the star points – came down with this two-folded star construction. Towards the end, the show reached a pinnacle, when the whole orchestra was flooded This made it possible to carry out a kind of naval battle between – among other things – six dolphins mounted by knights. The animation was of course not more than a very poor reflection of the actual events. But, sad to say, no pictures of this weddingparty for the son of the duc of Farnese, are left behind. But perhaps the show was stolen by the ‘flying’ Mercury, who – attached to only a rope – sailed down from the ceiling to the stage. Also to the ancient Greeks such a ‘deus-ex-machina apparatus’ was already known. This crane was called a ‘geranos’ or ‘machina’. In Teatro Farnese it may have looked – a littlebit – like this.

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