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“You May Have the Universe if I May Have Italy”

Our family weekend getaways were guided by the hand of Opera; we’d make the trip based on which performance interested mom and dad. 

I was very young and the operas long, I would always end up asleep before the midpoint, but the moment we first walked into the theater, any theater, I was wide awake as I entered what felt like an enchanted world.

Giuseppe Verdi’s Traviata in the Arena di Verona, followed by a great seafood meal in one of my mother’s favorite restaurants, L’Oste Scuro, left an indelible mark. It was a breezy summer night, and we were given a candle at the entrance. Once lit, our candles joined thousands of others, then three gongs, and shortly after, it all started. Someone in the crowd shouted enthusiastically “bravo maestro” and the rest was magic. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the grandiosity of this open air theatre and by this weird sense of closeness to the rest of the audience. Suddenly, halfway through, it started pouring, but everyone stood still, clapping, waiting for it to pass and for the show to start again. It was pure euphoria. From that evening on I was hooked. 

My immense love for the Opera doesn’t come from the musical theatrical melodramma, the intricate costume design, the glorious makeup, and the perfect fusion between poetry and music, but what truly seals the deal are the theatres that hold these spectacles. Each theatres carries a piece of history of its city, of its people, of Italy. From the Verona Arena, an ancient Roman amphitheater, to the teatro della Fenice in Venice built in place of Marco Polo’s residence (destroyed in 1597), Italian theatrs, are sacred temples devoted solely to art. These buildings are a part of our culture, our heritage and a standing testimony of our past. 

In 1573, a group of musicians and intellectuals, the Florentine Camerata, came together to revive Greek drama; they wanted lines to be sung instead of simply spoken. And so the Opera was born, at the time referred to as “favola in musica” (fable in music) and “dramma per musica” (dramma by means of music). At first the Opera was a treat reserved for few but soon became an art accessible to all thanks to the first public opera house built in Venice in 1637. 

“Theatre is everyone’s right and duty.The city needs the theatre. The theatre needs citizens” Every live show is an unrepeatable, unique, incomparable experience, it’s many times a reflection of our society, a place where to not only distract ourselves from reality but to discover a region, a community and the world around us. Here is a list of our favorite theatres, which we highly recommend experiencing once in a lifetime. Next time you are in Italy buy yourself a ticket to a show, it might be love at first sight or it might take a bit more effort but we promise you it’s a relationship that will last forever:

Our favorite venues:

Arena di Verona — Its construction is still shrouded in mystery, but thought to be dated back to the first decades of the first century under the emperor Augustus. At the time as all arenas it was used for playful shows and gladiator fights. It was only in 1822 that it started being used as a large open-air theater and in 1913 the first opera was performed: Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida. Since then, this amphitheater has become the largest opera house in the world and the home to the annual Verona Opera Festival  

Teatro Massimo Bellini in Catania — Discussions of a public theatre in Catania began as early as the 1700s, in the fervor of reconstruction following the earthquake that destroyed the city in 1693. In 1812 the first stone was laid of what, in the intentions of the people of Catania, was to be the “Gran Teatro Municipale” (the public theatre) but it was only on May 31st 1890 that Vincenzo Bellini’s masterpiece was completed. It “just” took about two hundred years to make it happen, but the outcome is beyond belief. 

Teatro San Carlo in Naples — One more reason to visit Naples, the oldest continuously active venue for Opera in the world, is as Stendhal once described it “There is nothing in all of Europe, which I do not say comes close to this theatre, but gives the pale idea. The eyes are dazzled, the soul kidnapped.” 

Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice — Venice in the 18th century with not one opera house but seven of them; it was known as the musical city, the queen of the Opera. La Fenice, designed in 1789, inaugurated on the 16th of May 1792, resuscitated twice from the ashes, was the most spectacular of all. La Fenice reflects its city’s history and embodies its myth. Water and light, fire and air are the elements that indissolubly constitute its majesty.

Teatro Regio in Torino — It was built at the behest of King Carlo Emanuele III of Savoy, in 1738 but after a brutal fire what remained of the theatre was only smoke and rubble. The reconstruction work on the theatre began only in 1967 under the guidance of the great Italian architect Carlo Mollino, who fully renovated the structure making it not only into one of the most architecturally interesting buildings in Torino’s landscape, but one of the most important and renowned theatres in Europe.

Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza — The Teatro Olimpico is one of Vicenza’s artistic wonders and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along with the Teatro all’Antica in Sabbioneta and the Teatro Farnese in Parma, is one of only three Renaissance theatres remaining in existence. It is the last work by the great Italian architect Andrea Palladio “whose ideas are closer to the spirit of the modern theatre, which favours the relationship of audience to action.”

Teatro Bibiena in Mantova — The so called “scientific” theatre designed by Antonio Galli Bibiena in 1767, famous around the world for the interior decoration, is a place where artistic and musical perfection is achieved. To visit this theatre is to discover the splendour and grace of the Age of Enlightenment, accompanied by the spirit of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who performed on the opening night of the theatre January 16, 1770.

Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele in Palermo — Teatro Massimo, built in 1897 resembles a classic temple, an imposing structure which quickly became the symbol of Palermo. Behind the temple-like facade lies the mighty spirit of innovation of arts

The Opera season generally runs from October to April. 

Arena di Verona

Teatro Massimo Bellini in Catania

Teatro San Carlo in Naple

Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice

Teatro Regio in Torino

Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza

Teatro Bibiena in Mantova

Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele in Palermo