During the 1678 carnival season, the Teatro di San Giovanni Grisostomo (today called the Malibran), the third theatre belonging to the Grimani family, was opened. The biggest, most beautiful and richest theatre in the city, it was built behind the church of San Giovanni Grisostomo on the very site where the ancient palace of Marco Polo's family used to stand. The project for the new theatre was signed by Tommaso Bezzi, called lo Stucchino, an architect, engineer and painter working for the Grimani family.
The theatre immediately became one of the most prestigious theatres owing to its particularly prolific production of opera from 1637 on. For the first time in the city, opera was made accessible to anybody who was able to pay, whereas it had previously been limited to only private and aristocratic circles.
In 1835 the most famous singer of the time, Maria Garcia Malibran, was engaged for two evenings. To express his gratitude to the great singer, especially since she had also refused to be paid, Gallo, the owner, named the theatre after her.
In the 1980s, thanks to an initiative of the Fenice, many important performances and premieres took place in the Malibran. In 1991, together with the Fenice's dance company, Carolyn Carlson presented her first performance, Undici Onde, created specifically for the Fenice. This was followed by Underwood. The ample scenic space of the Malibran has also seen performances by Pina Bausch, some of which were Italian premieres.
When the Venice City Council bought the Malibran, it marked a new phase for the theatre: the restoration of the roof was meant to be the starting point of an extremely detailed project by Antonio Foscari to completely restore the building and modify the structures, in particular to extend the gallery and boxes.
When the Fenice was destroyed in a fire in January 1996, the Malibran was placed in the limelight because it had become even more indispensable. Thus, the decision was taken to respect the entire original architectural structure rather than radically change the installations and increase the set machinery so that the project would be approved more rapidly and with innovative procedures. During restoration the orchestra pit was also enlarged and an enormous underground basin was made to collect the water from Venice's occasional flooding that could have filled the entire theatre with water.
The interior decorations of the Malibran were also restored, paying particular attention to the colours sought by Donghi, previously hidden by various layers of plaster. By supporting the conservative restoration of the magnificent curtain by Giuseppe Cherubini in tempera on canvas with golden and silver yarn, the Associazione Amici della Fenice (Friends of the Fenice Association) made an important contribution to the re-opening of one of Venice's most important historical theatres that seats 900 people and is now once again an active part of the city's life.
For more information and to see the programme, visit the website of the Fenice Theatre.