History of the Asolo Theater

“It has come across the sea to become one of the most important exhibits in a Museum noted for its dramatic and spectacular collection of Baroque paintings, and to serve as a brilliant setting for plays, concerts, lectures, and motion picture programs that are part of the cultural advantages the Ringling Museum offers to students of the fine arts, and to the public.” – A. EVERETT AUSTIN, JR., FIRST DIRECTOR OF THE RINGLING MUSEUM OF ART

Treasured and revered as the nascent center of Sarasota, Florida’s flourishing culture of performing arts, the Historic Asolo Theater at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is also one of the most important architectural documents ever brought to America.

Built in Asolo, Italy, in 1798 to honor the legendary Catherine Cornaro, the playhouse was reinstalled by the Ringling Museum in the early 1950’s.  From this important stage sprang much of the theater, the opera and the music that distinguishes this Gulf Coast city as one of the nation’s leading cultural centers.

Timeline of the Historic Asolo Theater

1454 Caterina Cornaro is born to an aristocratic Venetian family.

1468 Caterina is betrothed in a grand ceremony in Venice to the King of Cyprus, Jacopo di Lusignan.

1472 – 1473 Caterina marries James II, the King of Cyprus.  James dies the following year after one year of marriage.

1489 – 1510  Caterina abdicates Cyprus to Venice.  In return for her cooperation the Venetian Senate grants Caterina the hill town of Asolo where she created a magnificent court.  She is still revered as one of the most accomplished women of the Renaissance.

1798The Asolo Theater is constructed by Antonio Locatelli.  The Theater becomes a popular and esteemed performance venue hosting some of the greatest theatrical performers of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

1930’s The Asolo Theater is dismantled by the Fascist regime in Italy.  A Venetian collector/dealer, Adolph Loewi, purchases the theater and stores it in his personal collection. 

1937 A. Everett "Chick" Austin, then Director of The Wadsworth,  sees the dismantled theater in Loewi’s collection and falls in love with it.

1946 Chick Austin is named Director of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and contacts Loewi about purchasing the theater.

1952 The Asolo Theater opens at the Ringling Museum with a   performance of La Serva Padrona and Bastie etBastiennne.

1958The Asolo Theater reopens in a new home on the Ringling Museum grounds with a performance of The Abdication from the Seraligo.

2006 The Asolo Theater (now the Historic Asolo Theater) is restored and slated to reopen in October, 2006.

From ringling.org June, 2006