On the discovery of the most important theaters in Italy, special destinations where you can enjoy unique experiences
Squares, monuments, cities of art, Italy is a true open-air museum. It also hides lesser-known treasures, which are often overlooked when planning a trip: the theaters.
25 January 2023
Teatro alla Scala, Milan: the temple of worldliness
Among the most famous, the Teatro alla Scala in Milan stands out, which owes its singular name to the church of Santa Maria alla Scala, demolished to make way for the theater, inaugurated in 1778. Designed by Giuseppe Piermarini to replace the Teatro Ducale destroyed in a fire, La Scala, as it is conventionally called, can be visited when there are no rehearsals going on. Among the accessible areas: the boxes, including the royal box, and the stage with its secrets.
You will discover the structure of a typical Italian theater, constructed around the stage, which however is not fully visible from every position. Today this may be a limitation, but at the time when the Teatro alla Scala was built it didn't represent a problem, because going to the theater was a social occasion, a conception that no longer exists today. With the exception of December 7th, the “Prima della Scala”, inaugural evening which always hosts illustrious VIP’s: whether for the debut of a couple or for the “looks”, the evening is full of chatter and worldliness of the past relived.
Guided tours: they last an hour and are carried out every day, from 10.30 to 16.00: each time slot corresponds to a language.
Teatro La Fenice, Venice: risen twice from its ashes
Even the Teatro la Fenice in Venice dates back to the eighteenth century. Inaugurated in 1792, it is located in the San Marco district, and was so named because, like the mythological animal the phoenix, it symbolized the rebirth of the Noble theater Society, whom had previously been forced to cede the Teatro San Benedetto to the noble Venier family.
One name, one destiny, you might say, because La Fenice was twice destroyed by fire and twice rebuilt. The first fire was in 1836, and the second more recently, in 1996. The latter was a devastating arson: it took seven years of restoration to bring La Fenice back to its former glory. "How it was, where it was", the motto that inspired the work, the same followed for the reconstruction of the San Marco bell tower after the collapse of 1902.
Today as per yesterday, La Fenice is a triumph of magnificence in late Baroque style that fascinates and inspires wonderment. In addition to the performance hall, the theater has many other rooms, reserved for concerts and exhibitions, such as a permanent one honouring Maria Callas, who performed here many times. A curiosity? The current entrance, which overlooks Campo San Fantin was once the secondary one: the nobles, in fact, arrived by gondola and accessed the theater directly from the canal.
Guided tours: the theater is open to the public every day, reservations are not required for guided tours, and tickets can be purchased directly at the venue.
Teatro Verdi, Florence: a record-breaking Tuscan spectacle
In Florence, the Theater par excellence is the Verdi. In its 160 years of history it has certainly not experienced the same vicissitudes as the Scala and the Fenice, but it boasts a small record: it’s the largest Italian theater in Tuscany.
There are no guided tours, because the structure is managed by a private body. If you pass through the city for a leisure or business trip, don't miss the opportunity to attend a performance: dance, drama, musical, the choice of shows is quite ample.
Teatro dell'Opera in Rome: a Renaissance temple
Inaugurated in 1880, after only 18 months of work, the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma has a sumptuous neo-Renaissance style, in line with the tastes of the time. Created by the builder Domenico Costanzi, who sensed the potential of an expanding city, such as Rome. At the time, Rome was not yet equipped with an imposing theater that could make it a hub of culture in Italy and in the world.
Among the exquisite features, the dome frescoed by the Perugian Annibale Brugnoli, helps to give the structure its perfect acoustics.
Guided tours: the theater is open to visits throughout the week, to schools, organizations and associations affiliated with it. If you are more private, however, you can opt for an exclusive visit; with various options available: from visits combined with a welcome cocktail, to ones that also include a scheduled show, and the possibility of attending some of the rehearsals.
The Petruzzelli Theater in Bari: saved by its dome
If your trip touches southern Italy, focus on Bari and the magnificent Petruzzelli. The theater is located in the city center, on Corso Cavour. Almost the same age as the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, since it was inaugurated in 1903, it shares with La Fenice the sad memory of a fire that took place in October 1991. In this case too, it was intentional, but unlike the Venetian theater, the damage was minor because the dome collapsed, suffocating the flames, and preserving what was buried beneath.
Guided tours: reopened in 2009, it can be visited today. The timetables are published month by month on the official theater website, and may vary according to the rehearsals and performances.
Photo credit: Augusto Aulenta
Teatro Massimo, Palermo: the legend of the ghost
Our tour ends in Palermo, with the Teatro Massimo which is the largest theater in Italy with 3200 seats.
Inaugurated in 1897 with Verdi's Falstaff, it stands where once there were three churches and as many monasteries.
This is where one of the most mysterious legends about the imposing structure originates: due to the demolitions, even the cemeteries annexed to the convents were desecrated; the ghost of a nun is said to wander through the corridors and boxes, without finding peace.
There are also many curiosities. The Sala Pompeiana, one of the many rooms in addition to the main one where the shows take place, is circular in shape, designed following an order that plays entirely on the number 7 and its multiples. A symbology that comes back to the planets and to the days, to the seven deadly sins and to the seven virtues. And also to the seven notes, and the seven strings of the lyre, depicted in the Performance Hall. Originally reserved for nobles, it is also called the Echo Room due to its acoustics: as you get closer to the center, the echo increases.
Guided tours: the Teatro Massimo is open to guided tours every day from 9.30 to 17.30.
Credits: Cristiano Drago