00020: IL TEATRO OLIMPICO
Every semester I teach one or two “Introduction to Theatre” classes. Within the class, at some point I get to talk about Italian Theatre during the Renaissance period. One aspect we discuss in class is Italian architecture, literature, and inventions and how they contributed to the theatre world. At some point I show the students images of the only surviving Renaissance Theater in Italy, Teatro Olimpico.
Although Teatro Olimpico is not the first permanent theatre built in Italy, it is the oldest surviving indoor theater from the Renaissance period, built by Andrea Palladio. Construction started in 1580. It was finished in 1584 and inaugurated in 1585. It has been in used for 438 years.
The space was designed like an in-door Greek amphitheater with an impressive Roman facade. Even more impressive is how Palladio applied “the vanishing point” and the “linear perspective” techniques to the stage design. The facade has three entrances and behind them one can see three different streets built in a way that show depth towards the back (upstage.) As actors stand on stage but then move across any of the arches and start to walk upstage (towards the back) the “linear perspective” gives the illusion that the actors are walking away from us, and thus getting smaller.
Most people today have seen this effect in amusement parks, such as Disneyland, Disney World, Universal Studios, and Warner Brother Studios, but the linear perspective in this places is painted rather than built in a 3D manner as it has been done with Teatro Olimpico.
Besides the impressive stage, the space has an extremely big orchestra pit, and as mentioned earlier, the sitting area is designed like in a semi-circle shape–Greek amphitheater. The area behind the audience is decorated with marble Roman columns and historical figure statues standing between the columns. The columns support a sort of “balcony” that goes across the back length of the sitting area. This balcony is also decorated with full statues of famous historical figures and behind the statues located in the center are, the top of an entrance can be seen. Last but not least, the entire ceiling is painted in a soft blue with fluffy clouds to represent the sky, giving the illusion that we are outside.
Going under and across the sitting area, there is a long hallway with access for performers to enter the orchestra pit and the stage from both, the right and left side. This “under the audience” hallway is wide and it is decorated with drawings and the story of “La più bella e più famosa tragedia che dagli antichi in qua fosse stata composta” (The most beautiful and most famous tragedy ever written since ancient times,” Oedipus Rex (King Oedipus.)
Today, the theater continues to be a venue for music and theatre performances, as well as other type of artistic entertainment. This place is in fact, an inspiring sight.
Below is a video. I hope I did the place justice:
All material and images © carlos-manuel 2023 unless noted
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