Napoleon and the Vigilanti Theater

The main Theatre of Elba Island is the Vigilanti Theatre in the old town of Portoferraio in Gramsci Square. The theatre was highly wanted by Napoleon who launched it at the end of the napoleonic age on January 24 in 1815. He built it above the eighteenth-century Carmine Church supporting the request of the Fortunati Academy which gathered those people who were passionate about theatre at that time.

The project was given to the architect Paolo Bargigli, who, to please the Emperor, built a theatre which was the closest possible to Napoleon's residence Villa dei Mulini. For that reason he started demolishing and transforming the Church of Madonna del Carmine, dating back 1618 and deconsecrated in the first years of the nineteenth century. At the time it was one of the richest and most beautiful churches of Portoferraio.

To get the necessary funds to build the Vigilanti Theatre, Napoleon put on sale 65 stages for the people of age of the town, thus generating a buying rush among those who wanted to prove their social status.

On January 24 in 1815, the Vigilanti Theatre was inaugurated. It looked like a typical modern italian theatre with a horseshoe plant and the 65 stages distributed over 4 orders surmounted by a gallery. The piedmontese painter Antonio Revelli was in charge of the internal decoration and of the curtain, while plaster decorations were executed by skilled plasterer from Livorno Campolmi, who was well known at that time.

During the shows a huge candle tree was made lowered at the centre of the ceiling where there was a hole precisely designed.

Once the theater with an amazing acoustic ended, Napoleon's sister Pauline organized performances, parties and dances and worked to engage a French company.

It was the same Pauline who organized the  great Carnival Ball, that took place the day before the departure of Napoleon from Elba, on 26 February 1815; there Napoleon made a brief appearance.

After the Napoleonic period, the theater continued its activities, changing the name to Vigilanti Theatre where plays, dance parties and opera concerts alternated until 1920, year that marked the closure of the theater for economic difficulties.

In 1922 on the design of the engineer Visioli, it was restored with changes in the gallery and in the fourth order of stages; in addition, tapestries, dressing rooms, stage and the orchestra pit were also renewed. In 1937 it was used as a cinema until 1952.

During the period of the Second World War the original curtain, painted in  lean tempera by Vincenzo Antonio Revelli, (which depicts Napoleon as Apollo in a landscape probably inspired by the scenery of Elba Island) was dismantled and stored by the inhabitants of Portoferraio, then restored by the Superintendency of Fine Arts in Pisa.

Today the theater after undergoing a long period of unconcern in the 80's , it has been renovated, and it is the stage of important plays, hosting a rich schedule of events.

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