History of Western Theatre From Palace to Public House Canaletto (1697 – 1768): Venice It is no accident that precise in a Republic like Venice, already in the 16th century theatres existed, which – contrary to the Farnese court-theatre in Parma – were accessible to all inhabitants of the city. Thanks to the great succes of opera, during the 17th century, several public theatres for the opera were built. SS Giovanni and Paolo Theatre in Venice, 1639 But the architecture of all those theatres was comparable to the architecture of the court theatres. The U-shaped auditorium consisted of separate boxes. A greater part of the orchestra was used as parterre or pit, in which the less endowed spectators – only standing – could watch the performance. Orchestra Stage, acting space Movable wings Scenery space Space for stage machinery This is the pit of the opera building: ‘La Fenice’ in Venice, in 1837. This building burned down several times, that’s why it is called: ‘Phoenix’. As is common nowadays in all theatres, the parterre of the ‘Phoenix” is filled with seats. Already in 1747 in the parterre of ‘Teatro Argentina’ in Rome seats were placed. Paolo Giovanni Pannini (1691 – 1765): Argentina Theatre in Rome The former theatre: Hôtel de Bourgogne in Paris Probably, the first public theatre in Europe after the Roman era, was built in Paris in 1548. Note the scenery consisting of one perspective street. The proscenium arch in this picture of the theatre, is from a much later date. Hôtel de Bourgogne in 1647 Hôtel de Bourgogne in 1767 In this ‘Hôtel de Bourgogne’ a scene takes place of the play ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’, written in the 19th century by the French playwright Edmond Rostand. Hôtel de Bourgogne, Paris, 17th century Scuffles in the pit… The guards Begin, begin, begin… The Academy Montfleury! Montfleury! Montfleury, famous French actor (1590s – 1667) Happy is he who far from the courts, in a solitary place, prescribes to oneself a voluntary exile, and who, when Zephyr breathed on the woods … Villain!! Cyrano doesn’t like Montfleury’s old style of acting. Scenery: Giacomo Torelli (1608 – 1678) In the 17th century perspective sceneries possessed, more or less, one vanishing point. Scenery: Domenico Mauro, 1690 (Farnese theatre, Parma) This stage scenery is constructed on the basis of three axes. Ferdinando Bibiena introduced the so-called angle perspective (or ‘scena per angelo’) in stage scenery. Angle perspective (‘scena per angelo’) Scenery: Guiseppe Bibiena (son of Ferdinando Bibiena) Guiseppe Bibiena (1696 – 1757) As a result of this angle perspective, the scenery space behind the stage could stay relatively small. It should be born in mind that most part of this scenery is painted. For the spectators the upper side of the scenery building is concealed. Therefore, reliable estimations of the scenery dimensions on stage are not possible. As a consequence, for the first time, the unity of spectator space and stage space is intersected. A modern variant of this ‘scena per angelo’ can be seen in this scenery. Here, the perspective is not attained by means of painting but by means of practicable units. Scenery: Norman Bel Geddes (1893 – 1938) From the last renowned descendant of the Bibiena family this perspective stage scenery has been preserved. Scenery: Carlo Bibiena (1725 – 1787) This scenery can be seen in the Drottningholm theatre near Stockholm, in Sweden. Drottningholm Theatre, 1766 Cross-section The auditorium of this court theatre in not U-shaped. The court is seated in the front rows. The wings can be moved simultaneously. This so-called ‘chariot and pole system’ is discovered by the earlier mentioned Giacomo Torelli in 1641. The mechanism is placed down-stage. This could be called the ‘engine-room’ of the theatre. Now follows a scenery change in the Drottiningholm theatre. The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte), WA Mozart, (1791) In all of Europe the Bibiena-family built all kinds of theatres. This ‘Pallazo dell’Academia in Mantova, Italy, contains a theatre that is built by Antonio Bibiena in the 18th century. This theatre was mainly used for cultural events and scientific experiments. Just after its inauguration, in this theatre forteen-year-old Mozart gave a piano recital. In this special theatre, not suited for theatrical performances, a proscenium arch is hardly discernable. It was not until the 20th century
that theatre architecture underwent a drastic change.