The Teatro Massimo, meaning “greatest theatre” and officially dedicated to the King of Italy Victor Emmanuel II, is the biggest theatre in Italy and the third largest opera house in Europe, and it is one of the focal points of the city. It is in the middle of the beautiful Verdi Square, a big area created following the development of the quarter comprising the Stimmate Church, the Monastery of San Giuliano, a section of the city wall and the Maqueda Gate. The project was drawn by the famous architect Giovan Battista Filippo Basile, and they were executed by himself and his son Ernesto following his death, during the years 1875-1897. The grand opening on the 16th of May of 1897 was one of the most magnificent events of the decade.
The area where the theatre was built was heavily influenced by the aristocratic baroque style, so for the theatre itself a more linear and balanced stylistic approach was chosen, in line with the taste of the time and the preferences of the new bourgeoisie. For this reason, the style of this grandiose theatre is clearly defined by the rationality of the neoclassic style, that underlines the power and the monumentality of the building without indulging too much in either direction. The architectonic elements inspired to the classical styles, and in particular by the Corinthian style found in the Roman ruins of the near Solunto, repeat themselves rhythmically around all sides of the building, giving it an extremely calm and simple -yet elegant- appearance. The particular skill of the architect was that of mixing the rigour of the Greek style with the volume of the Roman architecture, with an almost obsessive attention to detail that produces an harmonious monument for the city, and at the same time one of the best examples of the nineteenth-century eclecticism.
Amongst the most notable elements are the two bronze lions carrying the allegories of the “Tragedy” and the “Lyric poetry” (made by Benedetto Civiletti and Mario Rutelli), placed on the two sides of the imposing staircase leading to the foyer; the Corinthian hexastyle porch, giving the building a reminiscence of the roman Pantheon; and the enormous dome crowned by a bronze floral acroterium. On the architrave of the porch an inscription, allegedly composed by Camillo Finocchiaro Aprile, reads: “Art renews the peoples and reveals their vitality. Vain is the pleasure of the stage, if not intended to prepare for the future” (orig. “L’arte rinnova i popoli e ne rivela la vita. Vano delle scene il diletto ove non miri a preparar l’avvenire”). The back portion of the building houses the stage and the scenical machinery.
The interiors are enriched by fresco paintings made by the most famous painters of the period, such as Rocco Lentini, Ettore De Maria Bergler, Michele Cortegiani, Luigi Di Giovanni. The main hall for the public is a triumph of red and gold, and all the gilded woodwork and the decoration were purposely made by the Officine Ducrot on designs by G.B.F. Basile himself. The auditorium, initially planned to sit 3200 people now has places for 1380, with 6 tiers of boxes. The daisy-shaped ceiling is provided with a special mechanism that lifts up the petals in order to naturally release the hot air, making thus unnecessary to install a complex ventilation system. A particularly beautiful sight is the royal box, in the center of the second tier, decorated by Francesco Padovano. Additional works of art by Giuseppe Enea, Enrico Cavallaro, Antonio Ugo e di Mario Rutelli are scattered in the communal spaces and minor halls of the venue.
A special mention should be made of the acoustics of the Pompeian Hall, an almost perfect round hall whose light eccentricity produces a wonderful resonance effect.
When: tours 9.30 am – 5.30 pm
Prices: tours € 8.00 (adult) / € 5.00 (reduced) – operas € 15.00 – 125.00 (depending on seats and dates) – ballett € 12.00 – 85.00 – concerts € 5.00 – 25.00