Behind the Curtains of the Rossetti Theater: Interview With President Granbassi

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Francesco Granbassi. Photography: Erin McKinney
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Interview: Julia Kirdoda

Francesco, a native of Trieste, feels fortunate to contribute to the success of his hometown. Despite taking charge shortly before the COVID-19 outbreak, he and his team have successfully navigated challenges, ensuring Rossetti’s continued growth and readiness for the future.

Situated in the heart of Trieste, the Rossetti Theater holds the prestigious title of being the oldest theater in the city. From its opening in 1884 to present day, the theater remains a true gem of cultural heritage not only for Trieste but for all of Italy. Every season it offers spectacular shows which attract visitors from all over the world. But what is going on behind the curtains? How does the theatre come to life? These questions and more were recently discussed in a conversation with Francesco Granbassi, the President of the Rossetti Theatre.  “Born and raised in Trieste, I feel privileged to work for my own city,” says Francesco. Despite taking over just a month before the COVID-19 pandemic, Francesco and his team have ensured the Rossetti’s continued success in the face of adversity, preparing it for new challenges and taking it to the next level.

Could you tell us more about your duties and responsibilities?

As Chairman of the Board and President of this theatre, my responsibilities are many and varied. It’s my challenge to bring the theatre to its highest potential by integrating different forms of performance to shape its future direction. This involves curating a wide range of shows, from drama to musicals, while leading a team. My role is to oversee all aspects of the running of the theatre and ensure effective coordination between our team, directors and promoters.

For the moment, as Francesco mentioned, the core team of the theatre remains at around 50 people. But when the season starts, the team can be expanded to 150.

How would you describe the current strategy for theatrical development?

We operate in a region that is culturally rich in terms of theatre, so we strive to bring the best to our stage. Our reach extends beyond Italy to the international market, so we visit many shows around the world to see if they are right for Trieste. We’ve had the honor of presenting many important shows for the first time in Italy, such as “The Phantom of the Opera”, upcoming show “Les Misérables”, presented by Cameron Mackintosh in September, who was in Trieste. We have many contacts around the world, particularly with the Anglo-Saxon World Theatre, because they are the leaders. Our aim is to constantly strive for excellence, not only in Italy but also on the international stage.

Among the most successful recent collaborations, Francesco mentions Italian famous actor Alessandro Haber who presented “La Coscienza di Zeno” by Italo Svevo. Ramin Karimloo and Earl Carpenter, two of the greatest performers in the world of musicals, came to Trieste for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” and have now fallen in love with the city, returning after a Phantom to give lessons to students.

What specific criteria do you consider most important for a successful show?

There are a number of criteria that we look at in terms of whether a show is going to be successful or not. Firstly, the artists, for me that’s one of the main reasons why a show will be successful or not. Then there are factors like the title, the director and the moment. Timing can make all the difference because what is right to show in one place may not be right in another.

Francesco also mentioned that Trieste is known as one of Italy’s leading cities for theatre, as the locals have a real passion for the arts and always attend shows. So, one of the biggest challenges is to curate the right season for the public. A show may be successful elsewhere, but there’s no guarantee that it will resonate with the local audience, who are very demanding.

How does the promotion of the shows to the audience take place?

Well, I think the first promotion is choosing the right shows. This is crucial because if you have the right show, you often don’t need a lot of additional promotion. We’ve found that if we announce a great show, we sell 1000s of tickets the day after. Naturally, our promotional strategies vary from season to season and show to show. First, we take full advantage of social networking. To promote upcoming shows, we also use the theatre screens, which are very popular with our audiences. We also use more traditional forms of advertising including newspapers, magazines, and billboards.

It’s worth noting that the Rossetti Theatre is recognized throughout Italy as the theatre with the highest level of audience funding. Its shareholders include the Commune di Trieste, the Region, the Chamber of Commerce, UniCredit and private sponsors such as Assicurazioni Generali, but it stands out more for its significant audience funding, of great pride for the theatre.

How do you see the role of the Theatre in promoting Trieste?

I have the example of “The Phantom of the Opera”, which was an overwhelming success like no other. With this show, we realized that our theatre could become an attraction for people from all over the world. We welcomed visitors from 70 different countries and over 100 Italian provinces. This experience showed us the great potential of the theatre as a tourist attraction. In the future, we want to replicate this success with other notable productions. Although it’s not without its challenges, we remain committed to this vision and believe it can become a cornerstone of our city’s future appeal.

During the run of “The Phantom of the Opera” this summer, tourists contributed around €7 million to the economy. For two weeks, visitors from the United States, New Zealand, Australia, China and Japan spent money on accommodation, meals, tickets, bars, merchandising and even local hairdressers.

What is your strategic vision for the Theatre’s development?

The strategy is the same as it’s always been.  It revolves around fostering dialogue with the best companies, the best actors, and the best shows around the world.

Besides, the theatre is also actively involved with young artists. Specifically, the Rossetti promotes their work by hosting shows and offering classes for young artists, which culminate with a show on the Rossetti’s main stage.

What are your must-see shows for the near future?

Not to be missed is “Les Misérables” in November, followed by the return of “Mamma Mia” for the third time in the original version. At the end of April, we’re delighted to present “Six”, becoming the first Italian theatre to stage this West End and Broadway show. We also have many interesting dramas in the coming months, among them is “Iliade. Il Gioco degli Dei”, a co-production we’re working on. There is something for everyone with such diverse shows.

With a keen focus on excellence, the theater enriches the cultural landscape and serves as an economic driver, attracting tourists from around the globe. As for “Les Misérables”, the response from the public has been phenomenal, as Francesco said, the first thousand tickets were sold on the first day of the announcement! Those who are interested will have to hurry because tickets are selling fast.

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Yuliia Kirdoda
“I am a science girl originally from Ukraine. I came to Italy as a student and, up to date, got to Trieste due to work at university. I used to write about business and marketing issues looking beyond the theories. However, just as importantly are the people behind with their stories of how to create success, learn from failure and not be scared to start from scratch once again. Blending professional and personal insights is my writing approach. Thus, just tell me your story!”

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