THE OLD MUNICIPAL THEATRE OF CORFU

Historic

 

THE MUNICIPAL THEATER OF CORFU

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    At the end of the 19th century San Giacomo theatre, the first theatre in South-Eastern Europe, was considered by the Municipality of Corfu that could not accomplish his mission and satisfy the needs of a constantly increasing public audience. The decision for the construction of a new municipal theatre was taken in 1885, when the Mayor Georgios Theotokis was in office. The building started in 1893 by the Mayor Michael Theotokis. Due to the exceedingly high cost, the work was completed in 1902, on plans made by the architect Conrado Pergolesi, who used as a prototype the Milanese "Teatro la Scalla". It was 39m in height and in front of his entrance was a gallery decorated with 6 columns of the tuscan order. Externally, the upper floor was decorated with 4 semi-columns of the corinthian order and a gable. At the center of gable there was the shield of Corfu in relief, engarlanded with a laurel wreath.  The entrance of the Theater was decorated with huge purple columns and the high walls were frescoed with the portraits of famous composers, made by Italian artists.

Internal view of the Municipal Theater

    The Municipal Theater had 64 theatre-boxes arranged in three tiers and a gallery on the top. Each box was luxurious and individually decorated; it had jalousies, a small compartment with valuable mirrors and screen, and each bow was exclusively gaslit. The stalls area was luxurious and richly decorated, with purple velvet armchairs. The №1 box was reserved for the Theater Committee and behind this box was the office of the Committee, where the valuable archive of San Giacomo's Theater was neatly kept. The first box in the second row was the specially looked-after Royal box, reserved for the members of the Greek Royal family, when they were in Corfu. Above the third row of boxes was the gallery. The popular classes of the city, of Mandouki, Garitsa and the suburbs made all the necessary sacrifices in order to obtain their ticket to the opera. Besides, they were the passionate judges of the performances and awarded the ovation to the artists. This applause was very much wanted, because the certificate "Applaudito Corfu" was a first class passport for the Italian or European tours of the operas.

    In front of the stalls area was the proscenium with the places for the orchestra that accompanied the opera. The whole of the orchestra was comprised of Corfiot performers and only one Harp was brought from abroad. The musicians performed 10 operas per season, starting in September and ending the last Sunday before the Ash Monday.

    The stage was big and spacious in order to handle the special needs of every performance.  Behind the sage was the backstage, spacious and comfortable for the personnel of every opera, with many offices and all the necessary stage-compartments for the perfect execution of the performances. The stage-curtain was the old stage-curtain of San Giacomo Theater. Inspirator and creator of that stage-curtain, was the advisor of the Academy of Fine Arts of Venice, Giovanni Buzatto, who made the stage-curtain of Teatro Fenice in Venice, or according to some others Napoleone Genovesi. The painting showed the festivities during the reception of Odysseus in the island of Phaeacian king Alcinoos and was originally used for the scenographic needs of the first theatrical performance in Greek, by the same name, in San Giacomo Theater. It remained there after the performance, used as stage-curtain and later was transferred to the New Theater.

    The Theater was considered as one of the best in Europe. The acoustics were incomparable in any technical aspect and had the ability, like a sound box, to amplify correctly even the faintest sound. Its capacity could be estimated to about 1,000 and it had a large foyer, decorated on the ceilings with splendid frescos made by Italian artists that represented ancient Greek gods and several musical themes. The balls that were held in the theater's foyer have since remained notorious.

    The Municipal Theatre was inaugurated on December 7th, 1902 and staged Wagner's "Lohengrin". Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany attended one of the performances when he was in Corfu visiting his 'Achillion' palace.

 

 

External view of the Municipal Theater

    The mythology that the Corfiots developed about their theatre, in every case shows that even in the first decades of the 20th century, the opera was a spectacle that was capable of moving even the popular classes. The audience was so much acquainted to the opera, that when in 1907 a symphonic performance was given for the first time, by the Old Philharmonic, the public received it with unprecedented astonishment for the Corfiot standards.

The performances continued regularly for the hole of the first quarter of the 20th century and Italian operas were called in Corfu by the administrative authorities of the Theatre.

    After 1923, when Italy bombarded Corfu, the Italian operas ceased to appear in Corfu. From that time on Greek operas were called under the direction of the maestros Dionisius Lavrangas, Alexandros Kiparissis, Stefanos Valtetsiotis and others. Since then, dramatic plays were also staged and artists like Marika Kotopouli and Pelos Katselis appeared in Corfu, as well as many operettas of the time.

The stage-curtain of the Municipal Theater

    The Municipal Theatre was not only an Art-monument but also a historical one. On its premises the exiled Serbian parliament, the Skoupsina, held up meetings in 1916, which decided the creation of the new Unified Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In 1923 the Theatre's boxes were used to accommodate the refugees from Asia Minor, while during the Italian Fascist occupation of the island movies were shown.

    The building cost of the Municipal Theatre was raised to about 1,000,000 British golden sovereigns, a huge amount of money for that time, leaving the Municipality of Corfu with no option than to borrow this amount, the quittance of which was arranged for 1941. Unfortunately the Theater ceased to exit the night of September 13th 1943, blackletter night when German incendiary bombs burned to ashes a big part of the city of Corfu. Together with many other monuments, the bombs incinerated the Municipal Theatre with all the invaluable archive of the musical theatre of Corfu. The only thing that escaped fire was the above-mentioned stage-curtain that luckily was not in the Theater that night. Recently that stage-curtain was restored by the Municipality of Corfu and is again exposed to the Corfiots, precious treasure of the artistic history of Corfu.

    Unfortunately, in the postwar period, the destroyed building was considered unworthy, "without any architectural and historical value", by the architect Ioannis Kollas and the civil engineers Georgios Linardos and Renos Paipetis. Their opinion was announced to the Mayor, Stamatis Desillas and to the Municipal Council of that period, which unanimously decided the demolition of the Theatre at a meeting held on March 31st, 1952. In short time the Municipal Theatre was demolished, despite the intensive protestations of many Corfiots, which they were extended even to the courtrooms. Many years latter another theatre was built at the same spot, but the old-one never ceased to exist in the harts of the Corfiots. This is testified by the hundreds of photographs that are hanged everywhere, from privet offices to public buildings, expressing a romantic nostalgia for the lost glory.

 

 

MUNICIPALITY OF CORFU