Brescia’s Teatro Grande originates from a 17th century institution, Accademia degli Erranti, which founded the Theater around 1640 and devoted all its efforts to its management. Indeed, in this century, the birth and development of opera created the need for public theaters where these shows could be performed.
According to history, the first Theater was called Teatro Degli Erranti and was built in 1664. Because of the need for larger and larger spaces, two subsequent theaters followed. The interiors of the current Theater, called Grande in honor of Napoleon, were rebuilt in the first decade of the 19th century.
The building hosting Teatro Grande is a complex architectural structure created by over three centuries of adaptations and transformations. With a curious continuity of functions, the Theater was built on the site where the first public theater of Brescia was opened in 1664.
The lot was adjacent to the southern city ramparts in the 14th and 15th centuries and was given to the Academia degli Erranti by the Republic of Venice. The Avanzo architects built the academy’s first headquarters in 1643.
The academy was founded in the 17th century and it gathered the city’s noble families who enjoyed equestrian shows and fencing as well as mathematics, morals, and dance classes. Almost every year, the members organized a solemn ceremony for the Venetian authority (Podestà) showcasing music and poetry.
The academy’s building had a majestic staircase leading to a large upper room and a porch on the ground floor used for equestrian activities. In 1664 and 1710, this area was turned into a theater. Only the façade of the 16th century palace still stands. It is divided in three parts by large windows and overlooks Corso Zanardelli (the old wine market). In 1780, architects Antonio Vigliani and Gaspare Turbini added the porch.
The wide staircase under the porch leads to the main Theater entrance dating from the 17th century, while the two smaller side doors were added around 1745. The staircase continues after the doors into a hall boasting two large monochrome frescoes by local painter Gaetano Cresseri depicting Tragedy and Comedy.
Above the stairs, three large doors lead to the Statue Room covered by a majestic 18th century vault. This room’s current appearance dates from 1863 and is the work of Girolamo Magnani. Above the baluster stand plaster and fabric statues by Giuseppe Luzziardi; the side walls display busts of local comedy writer Girolamo Rovetta and of Giuseppe Verdi made respectively by Leonardo Bistolfi (1911) and Domenico Ghidoni (1901).
The Foyer was built between 1760 and 1769 by architect Antonio Marchetti as academic room for the Erranti to replace a previous room demolished in 1739.
The Foyer leads to the Teatro Grande Café – Berlucchi. This room was first used as Academy Directors Room and the recent restoration has revealed the decoration made by Francesco Tellaroli in 1787.
From the Foyer, a short frescoed hallway built at the same time as the room leads to the small Rotunda which gives access to the boxes and the main floor. This part of the Theater is built over the old stables and the first theater designed by Antonio Righini in 1735, built by Antonio Cugini. Righini and Cugini were two renowned theater architects connected to the Bibiena family. Demolished and rebuilt in 1806-1810, their room had a U shape with five rows of boxes declining towards the stage.
The current room still has a horseshoe shape and was designed by Milan architect Luigi Canonica. It was opened in 1810 with a grand opera show with music by Simone Mayr specifically written for this occasion.
The first neoclassical decoration was made by Giuseppe Teosa and depicts allegories inspired by Napoleon’s victories. It was replaced in 1862-63 with rich Baroque Revival decorations. Only the royal box kept the elegant original decoration, including the allegory of the Night painted by Domenico Vantini.
The renovation was performed by Parma scenographer Girolamo Magnani who made the monochromes of the box parapets and main ceiling.
On the ceiling, you can also admire allegories of Dance, Comedy, Tragedy, and Music painted by Luigi Campini. Other interesting features worthy of note are the stage, which still has part of the 19th century structure, and the so called “soffittone” (big ceiling), a large space used in the past to prepare the painted scenery. It is now used for rehearsals, small events, and parties.