Grand tour of Italy in 10 Opera Houses


During the lockdown the Italian National TV broadcasting organisation (RAI) made an agreement with the main Opera Houses of the Country to air one opera per each day of the lockdown. It was nice to be in my home, sat at my desk, writing articles for my blog, listening to pretty much all the most important compositions by the greatest musicians of all time.

Such Operas have been recorded in the past 20 years at several theaters across the Country, thus we also had the chance to see the evolution of the scenographies, the setting and the costume design occurred in such a timeframe.

I believe that many do love the Opera as much as I do and that however many foreigners do only know the most important theatres of Italy such as La Scala in Milan (which is actually the one and only Holy Temple of the Opera), however, there are several Opera Houses in the Country that do organise exceptional seasons and should not be forgotten. Here below is my personal selection of Opera Houses that you should consider for your next trip to Italy. I wish to stress out that it is not a ranking from worst to best but only a selection of 10 theatres i mostly like, thus each one you pick it will work the same.

1 – Teatro Regio di Parma

Teatro Regio di Parma. Photo from the web

Beside being a very beautiful city in Northern Italy, home to a fabulous Cathedral and Baptistry, which will stick to your memory forever, as well as the birthplace of the world known Parma Ham (prosciutto crudo di Parma), the city was also the birthplace of Giuseppe Verdi (he actually was born just outside the city in a small village), therefore it was almost mandatory for the city to build a theatre and to name it after the greatest Italian composer. The theatre is home to the yearly “Verdi Festival” during which his Operas are staged according to the interpretation of several music directors and orchestras from around the world. Verdi was not only a composer but also a senator. During his early life, Italy was still divided into several smaller states domintated by foreign powers, thus the people, longing for the unification of the Country were used to acclaim him by saying “Viva V.E.R.D.I” which was actually an acronym for “Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re D’Italia”.

2 – Sferisterio di Macerata

Sferisterio di Macerata. Photo from the web

The Sferisterio is an open air Opera House located in the city of Macerata, in one of the most beautiful Italian Regions called Marche. The Sferisterio of Macerata stands out as one of the most prominent architectural structures of the late European Neoclassical Style. In the first half of the 1800s, a few wealthy gentlemen living in Macerata decided to enrich their city with a permanent structure used to host the game with ball and bangle. Over the years the Sferisterio, which had been conceived for sports activities, turned into a venue for opera performances. The first opera to be staged at the Sferisterio was Aida, in 1921. A huge, curved stage was built and the orchestra was placed just below it, while numbered seats for the audience were arranged all around the stage area. A large opening was made at the centre of the background wall, so as to provide a grand entrance for the triumphant victory of the Egyptian conqueror. The Sferisterio is home to an Opera Summer Festival called “Macerata Opera”.

3 – Teatro San Carlo di Napoli

Teatro San Carlo, Naples. Photo from the web

If you plan to visit Naples, which is one of the most beautiful and fascinating cities of Italy as well as the birthplace of Pizza, you should also pay a visit to the local Opera House. When the theatre was built in 1737 Naples was an important European capital, home to the Bourbon Family who also was ruling Spain, thus the monarchs needed the theatre to be highly impressive. That is why it is one of the biggest Opera House of traditional shape (the horse shoe shape) which can welcome more that 1300 guests in the manin hall and the 5 orders of balconies. The local Opera Foundation organises both indoor and outdoor shows. At the present moment the Theatre is organising a Summer Festival in Piazza Plebiscito, the most beautiful Piazza of the city where Aida is staged.

4 – Teatro Regio di Torino

Teatro Regio di Torino. Photo from the web

The original Royal Opera House of Torino, built in the first half of the 1700s according to the horse shoe Baroque shape, was unfortunately destroyed by a fire in 1936. For few years Operas were staged at a smaller theatre in the city centre, until 1973, when the Royal Opera House was re built, in moden style, by a local Architect and inaugurated by an opera by Giuseppe Verdi: Don Carlos. Despite the loss of the original theatre, the new one stands exactly on the same foundations and still keeps the original facade. It also offers one of the largest stages on earth. This is one of those theatre highly beloved by those who really want to enjoy the music: not a place to show off your new fashion, thus come here if you are a real opera lover. A curiosity: the masterpice by Giacomo Puccini called “La Boheme” was premiered at this theatre on February 1st, 1896, thus its fortune started here.

5 – Teatro Comunale di Modena (Teatro Pavarotti).

Teatro Luciano Pavarotti, Modena. Photo from the web

You may all know the city of Modena is the birthplace of the famous “Balsamic Vinegar” which is one of those Italian food creations that conquered the world. However the city of Modena was also the birthplace to a man that is considered among the best singers of all times: Luciano Pavarotti. That is why, after his death, the local theatre called Teatro Comunale, was re named after him. Pavarotti was the man who brougt Opera to wide audiences and cooperated massively with rockstars and pop stars making even the youngsters interested in learning more about the melo-drama. The theatre was opened on October 2nd 1841 and the project was inspired by other theaters such as La Scala in Milan, the opera house of Mantua and others in the Lombardy Region, which at that time was the epicentre of opera production.

6 – Teatro Carlo Felice di Genova

Teatro Carlo Felice, Genova. Photo from the web

Carlo Felice was the name of the very last king of the main line of the Savoy Family. He ruled the kindgom of Sardinia (inclusive of Piedmont, Liguria and the Island of Sardinia) for just 10 years between 1821 and 1831. Although he is not remebered as a good King, he was very fornd of the arts and the Opera, thus he ordered the contruction of a huge Opera House in the city home to main port of his Kingdom: Genova. The peculiarity of this theatre is that the side walls of the main hall are not occupied by balconies but by a unique decoration desplaying the facades of the houses of the local streets called “Carruggi”. When the lights are turned off before the show you get the impression the opera is performed outdoor as you can see the houses on the two sides of you.

7 – Arena di Verona

Arena di Verona. Photo from the web

Do I have to say anything about Arena di Verona? Probably the best world known Opera house after La Scala in Milan. The roman Amphitheater was obvisouly not built to stage Operas but for the games and the battles between gladiators. Lucklily, this incredible arena is very well preserved and it started being used as an open air concert hall since the ’60ies of the 1900s. Although acoustic is not perfect, nothing can be compared to watching Aida at the Arena. Enjoy a show there and you understand the meaning of the word “Kolossal”.

Here I come to 3 least known theatres located in smaller cities where tourist do not very often go. In my opinion, among several other small opera houses, these three really deserve your visit, and maybe a show.

8 – Teatro del giglio in Lucca

Teatro del Giglio, Lucca. Photo from the web

Lucca is a medieval city in Tuscany. The only place in Italy which still keeps the entire circle of its former city walls, thus making a visit impressive per se. Lucca is also home to a very popular comic festival that is held every year, which also attracts visitors from all over the world and, more recently, it also started the so called “Lucca Summer Festival” staging pop and rock stars. However Lucca is also the birthplace to one of the most popular Italian Composers: Giacomo Puccini who was born here in 1858. 3 of the most frequently staged Operas in the world are signed by Puccini: La Boheme, Manon Lescault and Madama Butterfly which also provided inspiration for a famous Musical called Miss Saigon. The city has therefore a tight link with music and especially with the Operas.

9 – Teatro Ponchielli di Cremona

Teatro Ponchielli, Cremona. Photo from the web

Cremona is a small city located in the Lombardy Region on the banks of the river Po. You might have heard about it because another very unusual Italian food comes from here: the Mustard of Cremona, which is a set of candied fruits wrapped with a spicy translucent sauce meant to accompany meat recipes. However Cremona is also the cradle of Violins making. In the 1500s Cremona became renowned as a centre of musical instrument manufacture: violins were made here at the workshop of Amati and Rugeri at the beginning while, later on, Stradivari brought them to perfection.   In 2012 the Traditional violin Craftmanship in Cremona was included in the Intangible world heritage list by UNESCO. If not for a full Opera juts go to Cremona di listen to the sound of a Stradivari Violin.

10 – Teatro Alfieri in Asti

Teatro Alfieri, Asti. Photo from the web

Asti is the name of the best Seeling Italian Wine called Asti Spumante. However it is also the name of the city where such wine is produced. One of the most powerful city of Europe in the 1200s, due to the smart activities of its merchants and bankers, Asti is also the birthplace of a man who is considered the “Italian Shakespeare”: Vittorio Alfieri, who was born here in 1749 and died in Florence in 1803, buried in Santa Croce. It is no surprise then, that the local small Opera House is named after Alfieri. Quickly built in 1862, this little theatre is a real treaure chest, so delicate that renovations took almost 30 years before its re opening to the public in 2002. Operas are not staged very frequently here and are not produced directly by the theatre which mostly hosts production of other theaters from Italy and abroad. However, the theatre is so romantic and well finely decorated that, even if you don’t listen to a single note, you feel yourself astonished by the beauty of it.

I wish to stress that my personal list is not based on the quality of the productions of each theater which is of a very high standard everywhere. I just based my selection on the personal sentiment I felt when I visited these theaters, mostly from an architectural point of view. If you don’t find theaters like La Scala, Opera di Roma or La Fenice of Venice, don’t blame me as they really don’t need any publicity.

3 thoughts on “Grand tour of Italy in 10 Opera Houses

  1. What about Palermo’s Teatro Massimo? Perhaps not so famous, due to being closed from 1974 to 1997 😮, but actually very beautiful and the biggest one in Italy (3rd in Europe, after the Paris and Vienna opera houses). I thought I’d just mention it, in case you hadn’t seen it, though if you have and have ranked it below the top 10 I shall respect your choice!

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    • Hi Emilia, thanks for your suggestion. As I wrote in my post my list is not a ranking but just my very personal list. Italy has 62 active Opera houses and I couldn’t visit them all so far, thus I had to make some choices, but it’s definitely not a ranking. I am aware of Teatro Massimo in Palermo and I will visit in a 2 weeks time from now!!!!!! I (I am leaving to Sicily next friday and will tour it all). I will be glad to revise my list as I will visit more opera houses.

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