The Farnese Theater, in Parma, was the court theater of the dukes of Parma and Piacenza. Today it is part of the path of the National Gallery and has recently become the site of some concert and opera performances of the Teatro Regio di Parma.
Teatro Farnese History
Built in a very short time, using light materials such as painted wood and stucco, the theater was born by the will of Ranuccio I, IV duke of Parma and Piacenza, who intended to celebrate the visit of Cosimo II de 'Medici in Parma with great pomp, scheduled on the occasion of a trip by the Grand Duke of Tuscany to Milan to visit the tomb of San Carlo Borromeo.
It was an event of great political importance for Ranuccio, who had the opportunity to strengthen his ties with the Medici family, re-established in 1615, with a matrimonial agreement between the two ducal families, showing Cosimo and implicitly to all the aristocracy the size and splendor of the Farnese family is Italian.
In 1617, the architect from Ferrara Giovan Battista Aleotti, who had already worked with the Farnese family in Parma during the carnival of 1616 for the preparation of a tournament work in the courtyard of the Bishopric, was therefore invited to Parma.
Under the direction of the Ferrara and collaborating architects Giovan Battista Magnani and Pier Francesco Battistelli, specialized workers worked on the construction site: the Ferrara plasterer Luca Reti, the Cremonese painter Giovan Battista Trotti known as Malosso, the Bolognese Lionello Spada, the Parmesans Sisto Badalocchio, Antonio Bertoja and Pierluigi Bernabei.
After Cosimo's planned journey has been overshadowed, the inauguration of the theater - already completed in 1619 - took place only in 1628, on the occasion of the wedding between Margherita de 'Medici and Duke Odoardo, with an allegorical-mythological show entitled "Mercury and Mars" - with text by Claudio Achillini and music by Claudio Monteverdi -, enriched by a tournament and culminating in a spectacular naumachia, for which it was necessary to flood the audience with a huge amount of water, pumped through a series of tanks placed below of the stage.
Given the complexity of the set-ups and operation of the stage machines, as well as the high cost of the shows themselves, the theater was used only eight more times from 1652 to 1732, on the occasion of illustrious visits or weddings of the Farnese court. As proof of this, the construction in 1689 of a smaller court theater, commissioned by Ranuccio II in the spaces adjacent to the grand theater, designed by the Bolognese Stefano Lolli.
Already substantially neglected during the government of the Bourbons, whose dynastic and intellectual politics of the Enlightenment matrix did not suit the grandiose baroque machine of the Farnese "Gran Teatro", slowly filled with dust, while the stuccos fall apart and the decorations crumble, the Farnese was definitively abandoned when Maria Luigia commissioned Nicola Bettoli to build the new Ducal Theater, inaugurated in 1829.
The Theater does not, however, remain empty and silent: the pilgrimage of princes, artists, writers, showmen such as Montesquieu, de Brosses and Dickens, who stop in Parma just to admire it, is almost incessant throughout the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries and whose travel journals provide ample testimony. They repeatedly pause, regretting the condition of absolute degradation in which the room is located: the split and rotted wood, the torn canvas paintings, the faded colors, the stains, the dirt and the disorder, even the mice masters of the field, as he underlines indignant Dickens.
There are also numerous graphic studies, plans, drawings and engravings in this period that offer a complete picture of the original structure of the Theater; documentation as important as substantially scarce, incomplete and uncertain are the original seventeenth-century plans. First for quality and importance among those who studied the Theater is undoubtedly the French architect L.A. Feneulle whose watercolor paintings, still preserved in the State Archives in Parma, were later disclosed in engravings by Paolo Toschi.
The first partial restorations to the wooden structure and steps seem to date back to 1847.
The comparison on a possible, possible reuse of the structure was, however, soon set aside due to the war events that in rapid succession involve the country. The coup de grace was given by the Allied bombings, which on 13 May 1944 hit and seriously damaged an imposing part of the historic Pilotta complex.
It was only in 1953 that the recovery of the Theater began in a philological perspective supported by the then Superintendent of Fine Arts Armando Ottaviano Quintavalle. After the first urgent interventions, such as the reconstruction of the vault collapsed under the bombs, the reconstruction of the architectural structure was prepared, which ended in 1962, also thanks to the ability of expert local cabinet-makers who allowed to reuse most of the original Farnese woods.
Unfortunately, the plaster sculptures of the Reti family, which decorated numerous the theater room, made of rags and filled with tow, were mostly pulverized, the painted columns and serliane went in crumbs, but the structure is faithfully recomposed and almost miraculously, the fresco painting decoration, which had seemed completely lost for centuries, resurfaces under the patina of dust. The restoration aims, therefore, to keep the original parts in evidence and to restore the grandeur of the architectural structure, excluding arbitrary and ornate remakes and decorations in the missing parts.
In 1965 the intervention was completed: the Farnese finally returns to being an integral part of the cultural heritage of the city, not only as a space for entertainment, music, art and "wonder", albeit for special events, with reserved use the auditorium and the stage alone with almost total exclusion of the side steps, but also as a privileged place for the exhibition, becoming the grand entrance hall to the historical-artistic collections of the National Gallery of Parma.