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Friday, 30 March, 2001, 06:32 GMT 07:32 UK
Two jailed for Venice opera arson
La Fenice
La Fenice was one the world's most-loved opera houses
A court in Venice has found two electricians guilty of setting fire to La Fenice opera house in the city in 1996.

Enrico Carella and his cousin, Massimiliano Marchetti, are believed to have set the building ablaze because their company was facing heavy fines over delays in repair work.

Mr Carella, the company's owner, was sent to prison for seven years, while Mr Marchetti received a six-year sentence.

The rebuilding of the famous theatre, for which Giuseppi Verdi composed several operas, has been much delayed and it is now expected to re-open in 2003.

The fire on 29 January 1996 happened as the Teatro La Fenice was being renovated.

Arson

Arson was immediately suspected, and investigators initially did not rule out foul play by members of organised crime gangs.

La Fenice
Arson was long suspected
During the trial, the prosecution argued that Mr Carella and Mr Marchetti started the fire to avoid fines over delays in the restoration process.

Eight other people, including the former mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari and La Fenice's former director, Gianfranco Pontel, were also on trial for negligence, but were acquitted.

Mr Cacciari argued that the city authorities had received no warning about the danger of fire during renovation work.

Opera history

The blaze at the world famous theatre, where "La Traviata" and "Rigoletto" were first heard, shocked Venice residents.

Speaking immediately after the fire, Mr Cacciari promised that La Fenice, like its namesake the Phoenix, would rise from the ashes and be completely rebuilt in two years' time.

But the reconstruction has been hit by problems.

There were bitter legal disputes between rival companies bidding for the restoration contract.

The German-Italian consortium Holzmann Romagnoli, which eventually won the tender, recently asked for a further 30bn Lira (10m) to finish the work and also requested that penalty payments for delays to be waived.

This month, the city's current mayor, Paolo Costa, decided the project was taking far too long, and is once more putting the work out to tender.

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See also:

30 Mar 01 | Arts
La Fenice's troubled history
02 Apr 99 | Europe
Venice opera inferno trial
09 Jan 01 | Europe
Venice overwhelmed by floods
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