by Bruno Daddi
The former theatre of Ognissanti
Many of the foreigners, English visitors in particular, who go to the Evangelical Baptist church at n. 6 Borgognissanti, probably do not know that many years ago it was one of the most important and popular theatres in Florence, at a time when the city boasted a considerable number of such places of entertainment. Known as the Theatre of Borgognissanti, it was designed and built in 1778 by the Academy of the Solleciti; the first performance in Italy of Hamlet, one of William Shakespeare's greatest masterpieces, was staged here on February 16th 1791 thanks to Antonio Marrocchesi, then only an aspiring actor, who paid most of the expenses that were needed to produce it on stage just so that he could tread the boards of the theatre. Although the great English playwright died in 1616 his work had been almost completely ignored in Italy for almost two centuries, in spite of a musical version of the story of the Prince of Denmark being performed at the Pergola Theatre, again in Florence, in December 1789; the libretto, written by a Frenchman, Jean François Ducis, was put to music by Luigi Cherubini.
Poster for the Teatro dei Solleciti
A few words about this former theatre of Borgognissanti that stands very near our Florence Concierge Information office. After opening in 1778, it was was threatened with enforced demolition in 1787 because of the rowdyness of its many spectators and was only saved by the French occupation; it later took the name of the Theatre of Stenterello, after a popular Florentine character, who was not masked like Harlequin, Ballanzone, Punch and others, but was the expression of the really poor, who lived from hand to mouth and could not even afford a decent meal, like many people in those days, "Stenterello", in other words. Luigi Del Buono was a wonderful in this part, in fact, his creativity and talent have led many people to regard him as a forerunner of Petrolini.
The exterior of the former theatre
Many other actors were to perform the part of Stenterello in this theatre which closed its doors forever in 1887; at the time it could house as many as 1400 spectators and had altered its original name to Theatre Rossini in honour of the great musician who lived in Florence from April 1848 to April 1855.