The answer is in one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, Monte Castello di Vibio. This tiny town is located in near Perugia, in Umbria, and, as well as being home to the smallest theatre all’italiana in the world, it also has an exceptionally beautiful view from its piazza where, thankfully, there is a bar with outdoor seating.
With a population of less than 2000 people and an area of 31.9kmsq it seems appropriate that Monte Castello di Vibio should have an equally diminutive theatre. The village can be wandered round in a few minutes, but something about the character of the places makes you want to linger. In fact there’s plenty to ruminate over and enjoy from the wisteria canopies to the view of neighbouring town Todi from the main square. And, of course, the theatre which, despite its dimensions, has a lot to give to its visitors.
The Smallest Theatre in the World
Il Teatro della Concordia has 99 seats and an auditorium of 68 msq. This bonbon of architecture was commissioned by nine prosperous local families and opened in 1808. It was intended to embody the French Revolution ideals of liberty, equality and brotherhood.
It has all the key elements of a theatre all’italiana, as set out by Goldoni, including a ‘bell’ plan and a wooden stage. It has two levels of boxes, nine on each level. The number nine is significant as if refers, of course, to the nine commissioning families. In view of fairness, they shared all the boxes, moving around like clockwork each month to the adjacent box.
Originally the theatre was plain wood, but when artist Cesare Agretti saw the theatre he offered to decorate it with some frescoes. Cesare is responsible for the ornamentation of the boxes with theatrical motifs and shields bearing the names of famous playwrights including Goldoni. A few years later the nine families wished for further fresco decoration but Cesare, being from La Spezia, was unavailable, and so sent his 14-year-old son, Luigi, instead. Luigi painted the surround of the stage, the canvas backdrop which acted as a curtain, and the ceiling, and his fresco work is impressively sophisticated for such a young artist.
The ceiling is slightly domed, and separated from the roof by 2 metres in order to assist acoustics, but Luigi’s frescoes give the impression of greater height. He creates the illusion that the theatre is, in fact, open to the sky and covered by a domed canopy which exaggerates the form of the ceiling. The canopy has oculuses through which a bright blue sky is visible, and female figures are wearing delicate drapery which is billowing in the wind.
Luigi also painted the foyer, and continued the theme of ‘all’aperto’ here too. Curtains hang down the walls, blowing aside to reveal gardens. The sky-blue ceiling bears shields of different cities including La Spezia, his own. Conceits and jokes are hidden all around, such as newspapers draped over the balcony with a self-referential article, and a little black cat peeking out from a curtain, who is now the mascot of the theatre.
Saturday, Sunday and National Holidays:
- from April to October: 10-12am and 4-6.30pm
- from November to March: 3-5.30pm
Monday to Friday:
- July: 10am-12.30pm
- August: 10am-12.30pm and 4-6.30pm
A donation of 5 euros requested, for which you are given a very informative guided tour around the whole theatre, and can even sit in the boxes.
The Teatro della Concordia is a working theatre and still holds performances. It is also available for weddings, parties and other events! More information can be found on their website.
Take time to wander around the little streets of Monte Castello di Vibio, and stop for a drink in the main piazza. Here the bar acts as a newsagent and toy shop too! The piazza is like an extension of the theatre. It’s a balcony looking over the picturesque scene of the Umbrian landscape with the town of Todi centre stage.
While we were having a drink, a low-key party was taking place outside the bar. Several of the older members of the community were sitting enjoying a drink, with a camping table laden with food set up beside them. Soon after arriving, a lady came over and asked us to come and help ourselves to some of the party food. She went round all the tables persuading the other customers, even a group of English tourists who didn’t speak a word of Italian. Grateful and humbled, we wanted to know whose birthday was being celebrated. We were directed to an 88 year old doctor. Chatting to the lady afterwards, we learnt that this doctor smoked 2 packets of cigarettes a day, and has eaten the same diet every day for 20 years to avoid being operated on by other doctors. Who says small towns are boring?!