The Luciano Pavarotti Theatre
This theatre was designed in 1838 by the court architect, Francesco Vandelli, over an area of 2,300 square metres obtained through the purchase and demolition of old houses. The new Municipal Theatre, at the time called Teatro dell’Illustrissima Comunità di Modena, was built in three years. It was inaugurated the evening of 2 October 1841 with the opera Adelaide di Borgogna al Castello di Canossa by Alessandro Gandini, the court composer.
Complete with five rows of boxes, the last of which is used as a gallery, rather large stalls, and related facilities, the Municipal Theatre has an overall capacity of over 900 seats.
The cost of the project
The project cost was set at a total sum of 772,000 lira. This sum was all but halved through the sale and exchange of the boxes, tax revenue, the sale of materials obtained from the demolition of the pre-existing homes, and a gift from the prince. The amount must be viewed in proportion to the economic trend of the 1830s and 40s. The event also stirred up fierce controversy due to the fact that the building had been erected amid the narrow streets of the historic centre, leaving the city no choice but to make changes to its former layout and roads, and increase the project costs so as to purchase and demolish other surrounding buildings.
In a break from previous centuries, for the first time the city administration took on the responsibility of building a theatre: in the past, high-ranking families or the Estense court had taken the initiative. The former aimed primarily for an economic return, while the latter sought prestige and access of their own to an entertainment venue. In this sense, the theatre on Corso Canalgrande immediately had to compete on an artistic level with a past which equipped the city of Modena with three theatres in the 17th century, six in the 18th century, and three in the 19th century – all before it was inaugurated.
From decline to rebirth
The history of the Municipal Theatre alternates between splendour, decline, and rebirth. An opera theatre by definition, requisitioned for military purposes from 1915 to 1923, it also hosted plays for a long time. Particularly in the eighteen years of the Ducal period (1841-1859) and in the thirty years between 1955 and 1985, a wealth of plays were performed before they moved on to the Storchi theatre, which had been refurbished after a lengthy decline.
Having expanded the programmes after the Second World War, introducing plays, concert music, and ballets, and having decided on direct management by the city administration, the Municipal Theatre actively participated in the definition and execution of regional policies aimed at forming a close cooperation with its counterpart theatres without giving up its autonomy, in observance of the associative agreements that had been made.
Among the most important moments in the theatre's long history are the successes of the first operas by Verdi, which were contemporary to the theatre (Nabucco, Ernani), works of the composer's later years performed by the most famous musicians in Italy and elsewhere, who featured in the opera playbills of the 19th and 20th centuries, up to the most refined and sophisticated arrangements of the present. Finally, the first performance of Verdi's Don Carlo was showcased in the version in five acts, without dance music, known as the Modena edition.
From an institution to a foundation
A traditional theatre by law, today the Municipal Theatre offers one of the richest playbills in the region each year, with opera, ballet, and concert seasons from the autumn well into the following spring. In the 2001-2002 season, it achieved its most challenging regulatory project: a radical renewal that transformed it from an institution to a foundation. The project, which began with a decision of the City Council in July of 2001, was accomplished with the support of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Modena and private partners. The birth of the new Fondazione Teatro Comunale di Modena, one of the very first traditional theatres to reach the goal of changing its organisation, represented an important achievement and an example to follow for the entire region.
On 6 December 2007 the theatre was dedicated to Luciano Pavarotti three months after his passing, in honour of the great tenor from Modena.