Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Venues just waiting for the season

Le Marche has 71 restored theatres that the region – for good reason – mentions among its highlighted statistics in the preamble to many of its tourist promotion guides. 27 of these are in Macerata province (where I live), most of them built in the 19th Century, many of them replacing or renovating even older structures, and one or two of them retaining their original materials. For the most part following the neoclassical horseshoe shape with two, three, sometimes four tiers of boxes, among them are numerous veritable jewels with ornate curtains, Baroque façades, and frescoes depicting ancient legends and the theatres' origins. Including among them the first public theatre made entirely of wood (Camerino 1728) and with designs by famous architects such as Antonio Galli (Bibbieno) and Giuseppe Piermarini (Teatro alla Scala Milan), the theatres were hubs of the town's cultural life, and their performances enjoyed popularity until into the early part of the twentieth century. However, the intervening world wars caused many to fall into disrepair, which resulted in widespread closures and a few cases where the buildings were actually condemned. Thanks to a late twentieth century revival in the public's interest for their cultural heritage, numerous restoration projects were launched to return their local treasures to their erstwhile condition. After being closed for as long as twenty years, some were reopened as recently as 2005.

To mark the start of the 2009/2010 theatre season, I thought it appropriate to profile two theatres – one of the largest, and one of the smallest.

Named after the town's well-known 19th Century composer and director of the Conservatories of Milan and Naples, Macerata's Teatro Lauro Rossi has a capacity of 550, and its most recent restoration – complete in 1989 – “returned the hall to its ancient physiognomy, freeing it from all decorative encrustations.”

But it's the festival currently running that attracts the attention more than the theatre's architecture or history - the 41st Festival Nazionale Macerata Teatro for the Angelo Perugini prize runs until December 6th. The competition is open to amateur drama groups only, and this year attracts companies from places such as Brescia, Tuscany, Salerno, and Liguria. Among the playwrights whose works are being performed are Woody Allen, Ugo Betti, Thornton Wilder, and Daphne du Maurier.

The second example of Macerata's theatre masterpieces is also the joint smallest, with just 99 seats. It's in Penna San Giovanni, and it's unique in that it's the only one in the province made entirely of wood, and one of just a few throughout Italy.

Built in the 18th Century by local craftsman Antonio Lozzi with two tiers of boxes, it's a Baroque gem with carved columns, floral motifs, and an embellished polychrome ceiling. The theatre's programme has yet to be finalized for 2009/2010, but it's worth a visit at least once for its intimacy and old-world opulence.

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