As the birthplace of opera, Italy is home to many of the world's most famous opera houses. In fact, at least one opera house can be found in most every substantial city in the country, many of which can be traced back to the earliest beginnings of the popular musical art form that has endured for more than 400 years. While attending a live opera performance may not seem appealing to every visitor who comes to Italy, some say a trip would not be nearly as complete without at least a tour of some of the magnificent opera houses which have hosted many of the most heralded operas in history. The following is a practical guide to the five of the most important opera houses in Italy.
Teatro San Carlo
Completed in 1737, Teatro San Carlo is Europe's oldest continuously active opera house. It's also one of the most celebrated, perhaps only eclipsed by La Scala in prestige among the world's most important opera theaters. An extension of the Royal Palace of Naples, San Carlo features a Neoclassical style of architecture and at the time it first opened was the world's largest opera house with nearly 3,300 seats. Today, the beloved theater has a seating capacity of 1,379 but retains all of its original grandeur with six tiered balconies, an elegantly painted ceiling and a magnificent royal box for seating up to 10 guests.
Da Vinci Statue, La Scala (credit: Randy Yagi)
Teatro Alla Scala is widely acknowledged as the world's premier opera house and is unquestionably the most famous. Perhaps better known as La Scala, this historic opera house in Milan opened in 1778 and for more than 200 years has hosted many of the world's finest operatic artists and singers, and was the scene for several premieres of classic opera standards such as Puccini's "Madame Butterfly" and "Turandot," Verdi's "Otello" and "Falstaff" and Bellini's "Norma." Built on the former location of the Church of Santa Maria della Scala, the fabulous opera house was designed by the famed neoclassical architect Giuseppe Piermarini and features six levels of lavish opera boxes and seats and has a total capacity of 2,030.
Teatro La Fenice
The oldest and the preeminent opera house in Venice, Teatro La Fenice is similar to Teatro Massimo as it clearly lives up to its name. Translated as the Phoenix, Teatro La Fenice, or simply La Fenice, has literally risen from the ashes after enduring three devastating fires only to reopen and maintain its stature as one of the world's leading opera houses. Over its illustrious history spanning nearly 225 years, La Fenice has presented a large number of operatic premieres from many of the world's leading composers and librettos. Among the enduring operatic classics that premiered here are two of Verdi's most celebrated arrangements —"Rigoletto" and "La Traviata," as well as Donizetti's "Belisario" and Rossini's "Tancredi." The current structure completed in 2004 is identical in architectural style to its 19th century predecessor and has an expanded seating capacity of over 1,000. La Fenice's exterior is relatively simple in comparison to other leading opera houses in Italy. However, its extraordinary interior is replete with five levels of elaborately designed boxes, a royal box, stylized lighting and an intimate proscenium.
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Located in the fourth largest city in Italy, Teatro Regio (Royal Theatre) is frequently mentioned among the world's leading opera houses. With a history that stretches back well before Torino was named the first capital city of a unified Italy, Teatro Regio has a radically different look today compared to its original Baroque-styled structure inaugurated in 1740. Despite the contemporary look of the current theater completed in 1973, it has retained the original 18th century facade and is part of the historic Savoy Residences, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although Teatro Regio has hosted only a handful of world premieres, it was the setting for one of history's most acclaimed operas and Puccini's magnum opus, "La Bohème." The renowned theater's seating capacity is currently 1,582, with the majority in the sloping stalls on the main level with a single level of box seats.
As its name suggests, Teatro Massimo is an enormous opera house — the largest in Italy and third largest in Europe. But interestingly enough, Palermo's opera house is far from having the largest seating capacity, although it's still very much accommodating for nearly 1,400 guests. Completed in 1897, the magnificent theater, whose full name is Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele, features a Neoclassical architectural style with a Greco-Roman facade and a visually stunning interior highlighted by its domed ceiling and seven levels of regal-like box seats. Guided tours of the theater are offered daily and includes a visit to the famed rooftop terrace, with its striking views of Sicily's capital city.
Related: Getaway Guide To Sicily
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com
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