Have you ever visited one of the most important Italian theatres? For World Theatre Day we'd like to present you some of them you must visit.
The theatre is an essential component of Italian cultural roots since the country was born. Italian theatres are among the most beautiful and important in the world. The most ancient arenas in Italy have been built in the ages of Magna Graecia and Ancient Rome, when they were considered not just as entertainment spaces but also as gathering places, the heart of social e political life of the citizens.
Several amphitheatres in ancient times are nowadays well preserved tourist e cultural centres and esteemed destinations for Italian and foreign visitors, thanks to their timeless beauty.
Modern Italian theatres – that have been built from the XVI century on, in order to represent royal and noble families – the so called opera houses, have artistic value as well and today they are active cultural centres, too.
Either amphitheatres and opera houses can be visited not just if you wish to attend every kind of show, but also to be just admired for their architectural magnificence.
For World Theatre Day, 27th of March, we'd like to bring you in a tour around our country, to let you find out 10 important Italian theatres and open air arenas, a travel back in time between red velvet seats and curtains and stone stairways.
What are the most important Italian Theatres?
Explore beauty and art through the discovery of the 10 most famous and attractive Italian theatres and find out how to visit them with us: Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Opera Theatre in Rome, La Fenice Theatre in Venice and AlLa Scala Theatre in Milan, Olimpico Theatre in Vicenza, Della Pergola Theatre in Florence, Neapolis Theatre in Syracuse, Greek Theatre in Taormina and Verona Arena.
Shall we start?
The 10 best theatres in Italy: Massimo Theatre in Palermo
Massimo Theater in Palermo is the largest opera house in Italy and one of the most important theatres in the world. When it opened, it was the third largest in Europe after Paris and Vienna with its 7739 square metres of area. It was inaugurated in 1897 with Giuseppe Verdi's Falstaff under the direction of Leopoldo Mugnone.
Its imposing architecture is in the Greco-Roman style and is the work of architect Giovan Battista Filippo Basile and his son Ernesto, who succeeded him on his death.
The entrance, through a monumental staircase, has two bronze lions on either side. At the end of the staircase, a pronaos with six Corinthian columns welcomes the spectator, with the words "Art renews peoples and reveals their life. The pleasure of the scenes is in vain where it does not aim to prepare the future".
The Teatro Massimo is not only an important production centre but also a monumental work that can be visited. The visit allows you to discover the Pompeian Room and the Room of the Coats of Arms as well as the Foyer.
You can admire and see that each decoration is precise and constant is the repetition of columns, windows and arches. The building is topped by an enormous hemispherical dome with a diameter of 28.73 metres. In the initial project, the hall, including the boxes and gallery, could hold up to 3,000 spectators, later to become 1,247 according to the regulations that followed. The hall is shaped like a horseshoe and has perfect acoustics.
A special feature is the movable ceiling made of frescoed wooden panels, which, with an adjustable upward opening, allows ventilation of the hall. The 'Symbolic Wheel' depicting the Triumph of Music was created by Luigi Di Giovanni to a design by Rocco Lentini.
San Carlo Theatre in Naples
San Carlo Theater in Naples was founded in 1737 and is therefore the oldest opera house in the world. It stands next to Piazza del Plebiscito, the beating heart of the Neapolitan city. King Charles III of Bourbon ordered its construction and it was inaugurated in 1737. Work on this majestic theatre was entrusted to the architect Giovanni Antonio Medrano.
In 1809 the architect Antonio Niccolini took care of its renovation, first of all changing the façade into a neoclassical style and giving the theatre the typical connotations of a temple. In 1816 a fire destroyed the theatre, leaving only the perimeter walls intact.
In just nine months, Antonio Niccolini rebuilt the theatre, which remained faithful to the previous design with its horseshoe-shaped layout, five tiers of boxes and a gallery, as well as a large royal box. In the centre of the ceiling is the painting of Apollo presenting the world's greatest poets to Minerva, painted by the Cammarano brothers.
The greatest musicians and conductors have performed in this grand theatre, which has also hosted many ballets. In 1812, Italy's oldest ballet school was founded at San Carlo.
After the Second World War, the San Carlo Theatre was the first theatre in Italy to reopen, once again holding a record. The San Carlo Theatre has also been included by Unesco in the list of World Heritage monuments.
Venezia: La Fenice Theatre
La Fenice Theatre is in Venice and has literally risen from the ashes several times. It was first inaugurated on 16 May 1772 on the occasion of the Festa della Sensa. La Fenice is one of the most famous theatres in the world because it has been and still is the seat of premieres of artists such as Rossini, Bellini, Verdi, Stravinsky, Kagel, Guarnieri, Perocco.
As mentioned above, this theatre has suffered two disastrous fires, but on both occasions, it was rebuilt more beautifully than before. The theatre was designed by Gian Antonio Selva, but after the fire of 1836 the architects Tommaso and Gian Battista Meduna restored it, adapting the original project.
La Fenice suffered another disastrous fire in 1996, but once again it was rebuilt as it was and in 2003 it was inaugurated for the third time live on television in the presence of the President of the Republic and conducted by Maestro Riccardo Muti.
The neoclassical façade features a pronaos with four Corinthian columns at the top of which is a balustrade. In the niches are sculpted the Dance and Music and in the centre the Phoenix. The theatre hall with a capacity of 1500 spectators is decorated with stucco, paintings and gold carvings. Inside the theatre there is a permanent exhibition dedicated to Maria Callas and the years she lived in Venice.
Opera Theatre in Rome
Opera Theatre in Rome is perhaps the theatre that has undergone the greatest modernisation in the 20th century, especially in its façade. It was Domenico Costanzi who wanted this theatre and in fact the theatre bore his name until it was purchased by the Governor of Rome.
Costanzi entrusted the work to the architect Achille Sfondrini, who built it between 1874 and 1880 in neo-Renaissance style, paying great attention to acoustics. It was inaugurated on 27 November 1880 with Rossini's opera Semiramide. Originally the theatre had three tiers of boxes, an amphitheater and a gallery, all surmounted by a dome frescoed by Annibale Brugnoli.
In 1926 the Municipality of Rome bought it and renovation work was entrusted to the architect Marcello Piacentini, who increased the three tiers of boxes by one and installed an extraordinary crystal chandelier, the largest in Europe.
When the Republic came into power, Piacentini was again entrusted with the restoration of the facade, in particular, in a 20th-century style. Over the years, the Opera House has acquired international prestige with the succession of world-famous performers such as Caruso, Gigli, Maria Callas, Domingo and Pavarotti. Today the Rome Opera House has a capacity of 1650 seats.
Ancient Greek Theatre in Taormina
The Greek Theatre in Taormina is another famous Italian theatre from the Antiquity, dated back to the III century b.C., and it also included a small temple – not survived today.
It overlooks on a fairytale landscape, between Ionian Sea and the Etna, and keeps alive a tradition of ancient Greek drama productions; it offers also a program based on concerts, opera and ballet performances. It is also a location for award ceremonies, festivals, and films.
Of course, it is a fascinating attraction for tourists all over the world, who can enjoy its millenary beauty for a couple of euros.
Alla Scala Theatre Milan
Alla Scala Theatre in Milan is one of the largest and most prestigious in Italy. It was inaugurated on 3 August 1778 with the opera "L'Europa" by Antonio Salieri. It was built at the behest of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria by the neoclassical architect Giuseppe Piermarini on the ruins of the Ducal Theatre and the Church of Santa Maria alla Scala, demolished for the construction of the theatre.
The hall is shaped like a horseshoe and embellished with neoclassical decorations. To ensure better acoustics, a wooden vault was chosen, almost like a natural sounding board. Above the proscenium is a clock indicating the hours and minutes supported by two female figures in bas-relief.
Since 1812, with Rossini and many other prestigious names to follow, the Alla Scala theatre has become the home of melodrama and then also of ballet. On 16 August 1943, a bombing raid hit Milan, destroying the roof, the vault and other areas of the theatre. Reconstruction immediately followed, including the installation of a copy of the majestic 19th-century chandelier that was destroyed, which hangs from the vault and has 383 light bulbs.
Today the dominant colours are gold and ivory. A complex system of staircases with several flights, known as "pincer staircases", connects the foyer with the corridors leading to the boxes. In 2000, Piermarini's original design was extended by Swiss architect Mario Botta and today has 6 levels of boxes and galleries with 2030 spectators.
He also added a larger stage tower and engineer Franco Malgrande built a stage machine capable of bringing the scenes up to 4 metres above the normal stage level. Since 1951, at the behest of the then artistic director Victor de Sabata, La Scala's opening day has coincided with 7 December, St Ambrogio, the patron saint of Milan.
Olympic Theatre of Vicenza
Inaugurated in 1585, the Olympic Theatre of Vicenza was a project by the architect Andrea Palladio and it is the oldest covered Italian resident theatre of the modern age.
The Olympic Theatre celebrated noble families of Vicenza and housed classic comedies on stage, but today it provides operas, jazz concerts and musicals.
The peculiarity of this theatre lies in its wonderful architecture: it has a wooden and stucco structure but it is inspired by the ancient style of Roman temples and amphitheatres, enriched by columns, steps and 95 classic design statues, recalling Renaissance studies on Vitruvio.
Entering in this theatre means let yourself bewitched from a huge optical illusion, that makes you feel like being in the maze of a open air area – a very smart trick to visually enlarge a rather limited space. It is part of UNESCO World Heritage list and it is available to be visited during the year.
Ancient Neapolis Theatre in Syracuse
The Greek theatre in Syracuse is a wonderful example among Italian ancient amphitheatres. It's set into the Archeological Neaopolis Park and dates back to the V century b.C., during the peak of the Magna Graecia.
This open-air arena is perfectly preserved and it is one of the greatest in Ancient World; nowadays it is still used but in a rational manner in order to keep it intact. Anyway, apart from guided tour for tourists from all over the world, many classic Greek and Roman dramas, opera productions and ballet performances take place here. Among them, we wish to recall Conversation about Tiresias, one of the last work of the beloved writer Andrea Camilleri.
The amphitheatre and its programme are managed by the INDA (National Institute of Ancient Drama), an important cultural foundation.
Teatro della Pergola in Florence
La Pergola is an amazing example of Italian theatre of 1600 and in particular of “sala all'italiana”, that is “Italian style stage”, that focuses on the classic horseshoe shape and overlapped loges lines.
It is a reference in Florence, where it was build between 1652 and 1656 thanks to the Accademia degli Immobili, a group of noblemen involved in art and culture, and it was an exclusive place for Medici court.
During the XX century, the theatre presented especially melodramas but from the 1950s onwards became a reference for prosa performances lovers. In addition, from 1979 to 1996 it housed the Bottega Teatrale di Firenze, an acting school for young actors directed by Vittorio Gassman.
Nowadays, the Teatro La Pergola presents various morning, evening and night (after 11 pm) shows, but even exhibitions and labs, and you can visit it by booking a very cheap ticket.
The Verona Arena is an actual institution among ancient Italian theatres and it is the third greater amphitheatre in Roman style still existing, able to host about 15.000 viewers. It was born in the I century a.D. to house gladiators fights and today it is a location for proses performances, operas and also jazz and pop music concerts (often broadcasted), sport matches, ice skating and galas.
Researches and archeological findings take place here and it is often subjected to restorative interventions, in order to preserve its eternal beauty and greatness. A greatness that, some centuries ago, was being explained by a legend about a deal with the devil.
The amphitheatre is of course an important example among Italian theatres but an important historical sightseeing for our country as well, and it is available for guided tours.