The opening of a new theatre always puts me in a good mood. It means there is someone willing to take a risk and invest in culture, actors, musicians and dancers as well as the ticket-paying public who go to see them. A new theatre is a phenomenon of urban regeneration. The nearby area becomes more interesting and new life starts to grow up around it. Nowadays, it’s one of the nicest things that can happen in a city. Fortunately for Verona, this has happened a number of times recently.
Verona, it must be said, has a great tradition of theatre, including public theatre. There are many amateur acting companies who often perform in dialect. In addition to the most prestigious theatres, like the Philharmonic (hosting operas and symphonies) and the Roman Theatre (home to an important summer Shakespeare festival), one could add the New Theatre, which is a reference point for prose drama. But, as noted, the options have now grown.
The ruins of the Ristori Theatre stood hidden for many years in a small square a short walk from Castelvecchio. The theatre was originally built in 1837 for open-air circus performances and had two rows of seating. A roof was later built and the theatre was a city institution for half a century. From Toto and Roberto Benigni to Domenico Modugno and Paolo Conte, all the great performers played there. Then, it was closed in 1983 and lay abandoned for twenty-five years.
It reopened in 2012 after a long and complicated restoration which transformed it into a technologically advanced theatre while not losing any of its 19th century charm. When the Ristori reopened, it immediately became an important reference point for cultural activity in Verona. Today, it houses various exhibitions from contemporary dance to jazz music while Sunday afternoon is traditionally reserved for operas or concerts.
A completely brand new space is the Open Foundry Theatre which began in 2015. It’s a few minutes walk from Piazza Bra and occupies a space that was adjacent to a vocational school which once had a foundry. With the advent of manufacturing, the foundry became obsolete and was closed. Then, a director from Verona by the name of Roberto Totola saw it and fell in love with the site.
He worked for more than ten years to realise his dream. Getting together with some friends, he learned to be a carpenter, painter and bricklayer over time (making a film about this little epic in the process). His aim was to keep alive the “workshop” spirit of the place with its machinery and facilities.
It is a place of indescribable charm. When I went to the opening, it brought to mind a New York off-Broadway theatre or one like those Berlin is famous for. The theatre bill includes plays and concerts but its worthwhile just to stop by for a drink and breathe in a bit of the atmosphere.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Verona is one of the most important cities for theatre in Italy. This has been especially the case since 2016 when the last Italian Nobel Prize winner, Dario Fo (who won in 1997), decided to transfer his immense archive to Verona. Fo is from Milan but it was in Verona he found the space needed to make a lifetime dream come true. He wanted to create a museum and workshop dedicated to Italian theatre from the middle ages to the present.
The Fo Archive, renamed the Musalab, is located in one of the most potentially interesting sites in Verona: a former general warehouse located just in front of the central market. From after the war until the 1990s, this area was one of the city’s productive centres. Its enormous spaces have been under redevelopment for some time now, being turned into office space, shops and green areas. This has included the creation of the Fo’s archive within the Verona State Archives there.