December 1972


     A unique project to reproduce the Ringling Museum's 18th century Asolo Theater in its original setting inside the castle of Queen Catherine Cornaro in Asolo, Italy, got underway on November 22.
     Organizers of the project, Dame Freya Stark and Mrs. Joseph Lambert, both residents of Asolo, visited the Museum with three Italian restorers who began the work of measuring and photographing the theater. The young restorers, garbed in colorful Renaissance attire, were accompanied by James Moon, director of Foreign Programs for Northwood Institute and Salem College.
     Greeting the delegation at the Museum were Florida Secretary of State Richard Stone and Mrs. Stone; Mrs. Beverly Dozier, director of the Division of Cultural Affairs, Department of State; James C. Clark, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ringling Museums; Mark V. Burlingame, president of the Members Council; and Sarasota Mayor Fred Soto. Mayor Soto extended official greetings from the City of Sarasota and presented the guests with gifts carrying the city seal.
     Consul Carrari Cagni from the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C. arrived in the evening to attend a dinner honoring the Italian guests hosted by the Members Council.
     Secretary of State Stone said he hoped this would be the beginning of a long-range exchange program that would eventually include the acting groups of both theaters.
     The restorers, Miss Laura Tomesani, Federico Velluzi and Oscar Passarella, from the Central Institute of Restoration in Rome, are currently restoring the theater in Feltre, Italy and plan to rebuild the Asolo Theater in the great hall of the Cornaro castle next year.
     The theater was built in 1798. For more than a century a brilliant array of actors, including Eleanora Duse, performed on its stage while vacationing Englishmen and writers like Robert Browning watched from the boxes.
     In 1930 the theater was dismantled to make way for a modern movie house. The proscenium arch, the curving box frontals, the ceiling decorations, the valances above the box openings and numerous ornamental details were sold to an antique dealer in Venice who stored them for the next 20 years.
     These were purchased for the State of Florida by the first director of the Ringling Museums, A. Everett Austin, in 1949, shipped to Sarasota and temporarily installed in the museum auditorium.
     In 1957 the theater was given a permanent location in a new building created specifically for it adjacent to the Ringling Museum of Art where it serves as an ideal setting for operas, plays and as an accompaniment to the Baroque paintings in the art museum. For seven months of the year, through the museum's sponsorship, it is the home theater of the internationally famous Asolo, the official State Theater of Florida.
     The residents of Asolo, Italy, have always felt a great sense of loss about their theater coming to America, according to James Moon. "They know it is impossiČble to regain the original theater," Moon said, "so they decided to recreate it."
     The restorers will reproduce the horseshoe plan, rising tiers of boxes, pastel and gold decorations and the frieze of painted profile portaits decorating the parapet of the second tier of boxes. The original theater will remain at the State of Florida's Ringling Museum, one of the most important architectural documents ever brought to this country and a continuing source of artistic enrichment to visitors and residents.

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