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Top Opera Houses
This theater was built at the end of the 18th century and - as befits its name - was burned down and rebuilt... twice in the 19th century. Then, finally, it was destroyed again by fire in 1996. This event was front page news, and engendered a major international effort to rebuild. Many celebrities led such efforts; American filmmaker Woody Allen was one of the most active.
This new theater has been criticized by many for its style, which some say doesn't match the city; and the location is considered not the best.
The most important event hosted here is the New Year's concert that usually attracts some of the best musicians in the world.
Teatro Alla Scala
Located in Milan, right next to the Galleria, this theater is probably the most important opera house in the world, a true temple of classical music. It was founded in 1776 to replace a theater that had burned down.
The theater opened in 1778 and the original layout was very different from today's, as the main floor was actually dedicated to dancing. After World War II, La Scala began its golden age, strongly linked to the historical performances of Greek singer icon Maria Callas, anticipating other legendary performers such as Luciano Pavarotti and talented orchestra directors like Riccardo Muti.
The theater has been through several remodeling and restylings, and the last one, dated just a few years ago (2002-2004) caused many criticisms, as many felt that the soul of "La Scala" was actually betrayed. But in reality, the space was renovated with style and taste; the few things that were changed were done to enhance the musical experience. At the moment, the theater has a capacity of a little over 2000 seats. The season opening is one of the most celebrated social events in Milan and highly reported by the media.
As we continue or journey through Italy's Opera houses, let's go down to Naples.
Teatro San Carlo
This is one of the most important opera houses in Europe. It is the oldest extant opera house, circa 1737, and can host almost 1000 more people than La Scala. This theater had some very famous directors; two who are worth mentioning, Gioacchino Rossini and Gaetano Donzinetti, are true icons of Italian music. The problem is that this theater has experienced strong censorship in comparison to other cities, even tougher than in Rome, home of the Vatican. This environment has created a great deal of friction with important composers, and especially with Giuseppe Verdi.
The theater is built right next to the royal palace and connected to it, to allow the royals to access the theater from the inside, avoiding having to travel in bad weather or through masses of people.
Since its foundation, the San Carlo has always kept its standards high, and in the mid 1940s the theatre initiated a new trend in Italy: its orchestra tours the world, including the United States. This increased the theater's reputation and has given prestige to Italy in general.
Last but not least, it is important to mention relevance of ballet at the San Carlo. It has an academy and allows dancers to grow within the theater. This makes the San Carlo one of the foremost ballet schools in the world.
Teatro Massimo in Palermo
Further south, in another major and beautiful former capital of the Borbone Kingdom, we find the third largest opera house in Europe. Palermo is a great city, and this theater honors it at its best. The building is an architectural beauty and it features a dome on its top.
For film lovers, this theater was featured in Coppola's Godfather Part III, during the final dramatic showdown of the entire trilogy.
The acoustics are of the finest and the interior is a masterpiece, refined to the last detail, and very luxurious. Of particular interest is the ceiling that is made out of special panels, which move, creating a perfect airflow in a unique system to avoid uncomfortable and noisy air conditioning systems.
Let's stay in the south a little longer and in Bari. Apulia to be precise.
Petruzzelli opera house
This theater is actually privately owned, unlike other Italian opera houses that are usually owned by the cities. This makes the Petruzzelli the largest private opera house in Europe. However, this theater has a common denominator with most of the others: it too was hit by a major fire that nearly destroyed it. The fire occurred at the beginning of the 1990s, but the theater has been rebuilt and is now fully functional and has been named an historical, national monument.
A number of well-known names have performed here; Americans might remember that one of Frank Sinatra's last performances was here, and the theater has hosted Ray Charles and Liza Minnelli, among many others.
Teatro Regio di Parma
Now let's move north to Parma where the Teatro Regio (Royal Theater) dominates the central area. This theater has an interesting history; it was originally called Teatro Ducale, and was kept open by a popular referendum in the late 1800s while all the other theaters in Italy were closing for financial reasons. It had a special relationship with Verdi, who lived nearby, and since 2004 has hosted an annual "Festival Verdi" each October.
Teatro Regio Torino
In Turin, the former capital of Italy, we find the Teatro Regio di Torino. It was built in 1740 and, as the royal theater, it attracted audience members internationally. Napoleon was often a spectator during his Italian campaigns, and it has always been a gathering spot for the most influential people of Europe. As seems to be the fate of theaters in Italy, it was destroyed by a fire in 1936 and for four decades lay idle. However, since it was rebuilt in 1973 the Teatro Regio has been delivering important operas, right up there with its Italian counterparts.