The Teatro Olimpico literally took my breath taken away – it was so beautiful I could not breathe. The theatre sits in an old fortress, the Castello del Territorio in Vicenza, Italy.
Designed by the great architect Andrea Palladio, it is one of only three Renaissance theaters remaining in existence, and the oldest surviving stage set. Sadly, Palladio died only months after construction began – the work was continued briefly by his son Silla, and then entrusted to Vincenzo Scamozzi, another Italian architect whose influence spread far beyond his Italian works through his writing on the theory of architecture.
The ceiling over the auditorium is a great, dramatic sky of surreal, rolling clouds. Plaster statues ring the top of the auditorium wall – a heavenly audience.
But it is the stage that really makes your heart stop. Scamozzi designed its seven streets, representing the city of Thebes, to masterfully fool the eye. City streets recede into the distance with rising floors, descending sky, and buildings that draw nearer to each other and become smaller the farther back you look. The “city” is built of only wood and plaster, and a wrong turn or accidental encounter by an actor could cause the walls to fall and destroy themselves. Scamozzi not only designed the sets, but the lighting that permitted the make-believe houses of the stage scenery to be lit from within, completing the illusion that these were real streets.
Had I known before I walked into the theatre how magnificent, how thrilling, how beautiful it was, I would have booked a ticket to the evening’s performance and stayed there all day. As it was, I had only the time to wander bit and take a look at costume sketches in the downstairs lobby.
This is a world-class gem. It alone is worth the journey to Vicenza.
All photographs are the private property of Diane Mawr, copyright 2013 and may not be used without written permission.