The construction began in June 1790, and by May 1792 the theatre was completed. It was named "La Fenice", in reference to the company's survival, first of the fire, then of the loss of its former quarters. La Fenice was inaugurated on May 16, 1792 with an opera by Giovanni Paisiello entitled I Giochi di Agrigento.
From the beginning of the 19th century, La Fenice acquired a European reputation. Rossini mounted two major productions in the theatre and Bellini had two operas premiered there. Donizetti, fresh from his triumphs in Milan and Naples, returned to Venice in 1836, after an absence of seventeen years.
Giuseppe Verdi's association with La Fenice began in 1844, with a performance of Ernani during the Carnival season. Over the next thirteen years, the premieres of Attila, Rigoletto, La Traviata and Simon Boccanegra took place there.
During the First World War, La Fenice was closed, but reopened to again become the scene of much activity, attracting many of the world's greatest singers and conductors. In 1930, the Venice Biennale initiated the First International Festival of Contemporary Music, which brought such composers as Stravinsky and Britten, and more recently Berio, Nono and Bussotti, to write for La Fenice.
On 29 January 1996, it was completely destroyed by fire. Arson was immediately suspected. In March 2001, a court in Venice found two electricians guilty of setting the fire. Enrico Carella and his cousin, Massimiliano Marchetti, appeared to have set the building ablaze because their company was facing heavy fines over delays in repair work. Carella, the company's owner, disappeared after a final appeal was turned down. He had been sentenced for seven years. Marchetti surrenderd to serve a six-year sentence.
La Fenice was rebuilt in 19th-century style on the basis of a design by architect Aldo Rossi and using still photographs from the opening scenes of Luchino Visconti's 1954 film Senso, which was filmed in the house, in order to obtain details of its design. It reopened on 14 December, 2003 with an inaugural concert of Beethoven, Wagner, and Stravinsky. The first opera production was La traviata in November 2004.
Critical response to the rebuilt La Fenice was mixed. The music critic of the rightwing paper Il Tempo, Enrico Cavalotti, was satisfied. He found the colours a bit bright but the sound good and compact. However, for his colleague Dino Villatico of the leftwing La Repubblica the acoustics of the new hall lacked resonance and the colours were painfully bright. He found it "kitsch, a fake imitation of the past". He said that "the city should have had the nerve to build a completely new theater; Venice betrayed its innovative past by ignoring it". However, for many Venetians, a painful wound in the historical, much-admired, much adored cityscape has begun to heal.