History of Donizetti Theatre

The origins of the theatre dedicated to Donizetti

The Donizetti Theatre in Bergamo has an elaborate history. It was built in XVIII century and it was initially named after its constructor, Bortolo Riccardi, producer and merchant of silk.

The ancient Sant’Alessandro Fair took place in the heart of Bergamo Bassa (Lower Bergamo as opposed to Upper Bergamo), a big yearly market whose focal point was in the current Dante Square in which a wide square brick building hosted 540 small shops arranged along several rows. The complex was the heart of all business activities as well as meeting and entertaining point.

On the days of the Fair, wooden Temporary Theatres were erected, which were then dismantled at the end of the fair. After obtaining a plot of land from the Municipality and Maggiore Hospital and getting around the city laws, Bortolo Riccardi finally had his own brick theatre built. Despite encountering fierce controversy, the theatre projected by Giovanni Francesco Lucchini was inaugurated on 24th August 1791. With its elongated ellipse shape, the main stage hall boasted clear sight lines and wonderful acoustics.


On the night between 11th and 12th January 1797 the theatre burned to the ground in a political arson attack; it was later rebuilt by using only bricks and inaugurated on occasion of the 1801 Fair. From that year on, the Riccardi Theatre’s programme of performances was dominated by the activity of Donizetti’s master, Giovanni Simone Mayr, who successfully staged some of his master’s works.

The most renowned singers performed on the Riccardi stage at that time; among them, the sopranos Giuditta Pasta and Giuseppina Strepponi as well as the tenor Giovan Battista Rubini. In 1840, Gaetano Donizetti, who was welcomed enthusiastically by both the audience and Simone Mayr himself, featured in one of his works, L’Esule di Roma. This was the last and only appearance of Donizetti in the theatre, in Bergamo.

Donizetti Theatre: the restoration in 1869

In 1869, the interior of the theatre and the ancient porticoed facade were both restored. Among the most significant events of the theatre’s programme we can mention the Gran Serata di Gala for Verdi’s Otello in the presence of King Umberto I of Italy. For that special occasion, the theatre was “fully floodlit”.

In 1897, in the centenary of Gaetano Donizetti’s birth (1797-1897), the theatre was named after the illustrious composer. On that occasion, lavish celebrations were organised in his honour and important renovation works started to give the theatre a new facade, designed by architect Pietro Via.

The five large central windows of the facade were enriched with the engravings of five titles from Donizetti’s works: Lucia, Favorita, Don Sebastiano, Don Pasquale, Linda. The interior was also renovated and embellished, such as the golden stuccos of young women’s faces adorned with delicate twigs and framed in white which enhance the beauty of the theatre foyer.

The main stage hall was enriched with decorations by painter Francesco Domenghini, a brilliant artist and a great expert on painting techniques who frescoed the ceiling with figures praising the triumph of the art of music as well as allegorical symbols and angels. The artist also painted dancing angels on the proscenium boxes as well as festoons woven with ribbons on the three rows of the boxes. A clock held up by elegant young ladies was placed in the centre of the proscenium arch. In 1898 some rooms were added on the upper floor of the theatre’s avant-corps and painted by Alberto Maironi (the ceiling of the main hall, known today as Sala Riccardi) and Achille Filippini Fantoni (the reading room, known today as Sala Missiroli), the latter who further decorated the theatre in collaboration with painter Fermo Taragni.

1930s: Donizetti Theatre is acquired by the Municipality of Bergamo

At the end of the 1930s, the theatre was acquired by the Municipality of Bergamo. The first edition of the Teatro delle Novità festival opened in 1937 (1937-1973), a creative workshop which enhanced all aspects of opera production: music, set design, and performance. This initiative—which was commissioned and organised by Bindo Missiroli, with the contribution of Franco Abbiati, Gianandrea Gavazzeni, and Sandro Angelini—has been one of the major cultural events of the Contemporary Age.

Bindo Missiroli was also the driving force behind the success of “Donizetti Renaissance”, the festival which celebrated the less-known works of Donizetti, as well as the participation of some of the most renowned musicians and performers, such as the soprano Maria Callas, who featured in Lucia di Lammermoor in 1954. In the early 1960s, the Municipality sponsored significant restoration works. Various interior spaces were renovated and new rooms were added, including the so-called Ridotto (the theatre foyer), enriched with a fresco representing a “Theatre of the World”, a fixed scenery which narrates the history of men and the arts.

The Ridotto, which has today been named after Gianandrea Gavazzeni, was enlarged according to an ambitious project which even modified the contours of the building. Finally, between 2007 and 2008, various renovation works were carried out in the second-floor rooms as well as on the facade, which was enhanced by a new and suggestive lighting system.

The new restoration works at the Theatre

In October 2017, new restoration and renovation works began with the aim of i transforming the Donizetti Theatre into a true “culture house” to be attended all year round; a dynamic, prestigious but also intimate meeting point for all citizens. Thanks to its numerous events, the Theatre will become a temple of multi-disciplinarity, quality, and cultural and artistic excellence for all ,especially for young people.

New Donizetti Theatre

Donizetti Theatre is closed due to restoration works.

Find out how the new Donizetti Theatre will look like