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The Theatre of the Vigilanti on the Island of Elba

During his exile on the Island of Elba, Napoleon decided to give the city of Portoferraio a theatre, in part after the Accademia dei Fortunati, a group that gathered together the theatre lovers of the age, requested one of him. Toward this end, he chose to transform the church of the Carmine – dating to 1618 but already having been deconsecrated for some time and located not far from the Palazzina dei Mulini – into a structure designed by the court architect Paolo Bargigli. The theatre was finished with gilded stucco by the Livorno artist Campolmi and painted decorations by Antonio Vincenzo Revelli.

The theatre was inaugurated on 24 January 1815 and was typical of modern Italian theatres in appearance, with a horse–shoe plan and four levels of theatre boxes topped by a gallery.

The theatre continued its activity after Napoleon’s departure. The Accademia dei Fortunati changed its name to the Accademia dei Vigilanti, and likewise the theatre. After a period of decline and abandonment, the building was restored between 1922 and 1923, after which it was transformed into a movie theatre. A long period of abandonment followed, interrupted in the mid–1980s by a major recuperation campaign that brought it back to its old splendour.

The original curtain from the Napoleonic building has been preserved, painted in egg tempera by Vincenzo Antonio Revelli and portraying Napoleon in the guise of Apollo. The choice of an episode featuring Apollo tending the herds of Admetus, king of Thessaly, clearly communicates a parallel between Apollo’s forced exile and Napoleon’s stay on the Island of Elba. The mountainous landscape is evidently inspired by the panoramas of Elba and the scene expresses a sense of waiting which is suddenly interrupted by the appearance in the sky of a horse–drawn chariot, bursting through the clouds to announce the end of the exile. It was a visual omen of what would happen a few days after the opening of the theatre: on the evening of 26 February 1815, the theatre hosted a grand party for carnival, with Pauline Borghese among the participants. A few hours later, taking advantage of the confusion generated by the festivities, Napoleon set sail from the Island of Elba, headed for France.

Teatro dei Vigilanti (Theatre of the Vigilanti)
Piazza Gramsci
Portoferraio (Livorno)

Open for performances and special events