The Curtain Opens on the Fully-Restored Historic Asolo Theater
SARASOTA, Fla. – June 26, 2006 -- The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art opens the curtain on America’s only 18th-century Venetian Theater after its being closed to the public for nearly a decade.
The Historic Asolo Theater is once again poised to host a variety of performances and presentations adding to the Ringling Museum’s diverse cultural offerings. The first season in the new building begins with an unveiling event, a film presentation for Museum patrons, and an Opening Night Gala.
“The tremendous work we have completed as a team on the Historic Asolo Theater is a sincere testament to our commitment to preserving art and making it accessible to diverse audiences,” said Executive Director Dr. John Wetenhall. “Our hope is that the community will once again embrace the Theater as it did for decades throughout the Museum’s history.”
The decorative panels of the Theater were created in 1798 in Asolo, Italy, to honor the exiled Queen of Cyprus, Caterina Cornaro, who held court in Asolo from 1489 to 1509. The panels feature a portrait of the Queen, profiles of eight influential Italian authors and poets, and extravagant ornamentation.
The Theater was dismantled in the early 1930s and acquired by German antiquarian Adolf Loewi. Ringling Museum’s first executive director, A. Everett “Chick” Austin Jr., purchased the Theater from Loewi in 1947, and initially opened it in the Museum of Art 1952. Audiences enjoyed two comic operas on opening night. Its presence helped establish Sarasota, Fla., as a cultural center.
In 1958 the Theater moved to its new home off the south-west wing of the Museum of Art and then became the original home of the Asolo Theatre Company as well as the Asolo Opera – now the Sarasota Opera. As a result of the Theater’s immense popularity it could not be closed for lengthy restoration and deterioration began. In addition, the constituent performance groups outgrew the diminishing venue and moved to larger facilities. It was eventually closed to the public in the late 1990s.
The Theater stood un-used until the panels were dismantled once again to undergo complete restoration and reinstallation into the new 21st-century Ringling Visitors Pavilion.
A collaborative team of professionals including conservators, architects, curators, construction experts and senior leaders met the challenge of revitalizing the 18th-century Theater beginning in 2004.
The initiative was part of the Ringling Museum $76-million Master Plan, which unfolded in two phases beginning in 2002. Phase One included restoring the existing buildings and grounds, and Phase Two involved building the facilities necessary for an internationally important institution for the 21st century.
As part of Florida State University, the Museum received enhanced support through matching funds toward construction and endowment.
The Theater restoration and re-installation component of the Master Plan totaled $303,000, which was included in the $12,593,200 cost to build its new home, the Visitors Pavilion.
According to Chief Conservator Michelle Scalera, the essence of the restoration project was to achieve the highest quality preservation respectful of the originality and the future utilization of the functioning Theater.
Scalera, along with conservation assistants David Piurek and Shay Sampson, managed the sub-contractors who cleaned and stored the theater, and performed the comprehensive restoration work in-house over the two years. The collaborative team included:
- Visitor Pavilion Building Design by HOK Architects, Tampa Florida: Yann Weymouth and Will Hollingsworth
Jack Whelan as overall Project Manager and Architect
John La Civita, Brett Raymaker, Robin Cote of Willis Smith Construction
Pat Ball, Master finish carpenter John Pelnar, Phil Schaeffer, Brad Hindall, Cleo Yoder, Josh Pay, Jim Kain, of Ball Construction
interface with Evergreene Painting Studios Jeff Greene, Bill Muensching, Julia Quinn, Susie Goione and Matt Solitro
Lillian Aldermann, seamstress, George Allison and Allen Watkins of Designer Source and John Melandy who installed the curtains
Scalamandre’ fabrics and Houles French passmenterie
The Museum’s Conservation Lab staff: Michelle Scalera, David Piurek and Shay Sampson.
“The opportunity to restore such a rare work of art was very rewarding for the entire Museum and Florida State University,” Scalera said. “Now that our work is done, we can’t help but feel sad to not be working on it daily, but we are also extremely happy that the community will once again have its historic theater to enjoy.”
The much-anticipated unveiling and opening of the Theater will take place with two main events, in addition to a special film presentation for Museum patrons during the summer.
The first event is a “Curtain Call–Photo Shoot–Wrap Party” on June 29. Guests will gather backstage to witness the parting of the curtains, revealing the jeweled panels for which the Historic Asolo Theater is famous. They will then be seated in the auditorium to take part in the 2006 version of the classic Life magazine “from-the-stage” photo, to be used on the cover of forthcoming publication, “Encore! A New Life for the Historic Asolo Theater.”
Beginning in late summer a film about the life and times of John and Mable Ringling, produced by WEDU and narrated by the acclaimed Hal Holbrook, will premier on the Historic Asolo Theater big screen. Premier dates, times and ticket price will be announced in July 2006.
The Opening Night Gala will be held on Oct. 6. As is tradition, the Theater will open with an evening of opera. Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano, Susan Graham headlines an evening that also includes lyric-soprano Kristin Clayton in a performance of Jake Heggie’s “At the Statue of Venus”.
The Historic Asolo Theater’s opening season includes a diverse roster of performances and programs by such organizations as Artist Series of Sarasota, Theater for Young Audiences from the FSU School of Theater, Sarasota POPs, The Westcoast Black Theater Troupe, The Sarasota Film Festival and The Florida State University/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training.
Florida State University’s Sally McRorie, Dean of the College of Visual Arts, Theatre and Dance, sees multiple areas of delight in the Historic Asolo Theater’s completion.
“We’re thrilled that the Conservatory students’ first production of the coming season will be in the Historic Asolo Theater, and that we’ll be brining down the Fallon Theatre for Young Audiences production from Tallahassee. Given the history of FSU’s School of Theatre in the development of theatre in the Historic Asolo, it’s most fitting that these productions will be a part of its new life,” McRorie said.
A new lecture series called, An Evening With… invites guests to spend an evening with prominent scholars, writers, critics and journalists for a variety of topics on the arts, culture and society.
The Theater allows the Museum to expand its menu of educational offerings. The popular Spotlight Series will include performing art topics in addition to visual arts and history.
The Museum now has a Choice Ticketing system, and Box Office operations are scheduled to begin this summer.
For more information on events and tickets sales visit www.ringling.org.
# # #