The Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele, better known as Teatro Massimo, in Palermo is the largest opera house in Italy, one of the largest in Europe and third in architectural order after the Opéra National in Paris and the Staatsoper di Vienna. Representative rooms, halls, galleries and monumental stairs surround the actual theater, forming an architectural complex of grandiose proportions.
Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele History
Even before the unification of Italy there was talk of the need for Palermo for a new, spacious and modern opera house, so much so that in 1859 the area of Piazza Marina had been identified as the site of the new building, to be named after Ferdinand II of Bourbon. After the annexation to the Kingdom of Italy, the city council instead identified the area in the Porta Maqueda area, proceeding with the expropriation of the land where three churches and as many monasteries stood: the Church and Monastery of the Stigmata, the Church and Monastery of San Giuliano, and the Church of Sant'Agata, built on the place that would have been that of the house of Sant'Agata. Tradition has it that a nun called "the nun", whose grave would have been desecrated during the construction works, still wanders around the theater.
On 10 September 1864 the Mayor Antonio Starabba, Marquis of Rudinì, who succeeded Mariano Stabile, launched a competition to "provide for the lack of a theater that was in relation to the growing civilization and the 'needs of the population", open to Italian and foreign architects .
In the spirit of limiting the risk of favoritism, a judging commission without Sicilians was thought of, consisting of a German, a French and an Italian member. The list of names also included the great German architect K. F. Schinkel, who however had died 23 years earlier. The choice therefore fell on the German Gottfried Semper, designer of the Semperoper in Dresden and engaged in those years in the creation of the Ringstrasse in Vienna, on the Florentine Mariano Falcini and on the Palermitan Francesco Saverio Cavallari, archaeologist who had taught architecture at the Milanese Academy of Brera and in Mexico.
The deadline was set for 9 September 1866, then extended for six months for various reasons, "among which, besides the importance and the vastness of the project, not least is that of the imminence of the war [the third war of independence ] in which some reputed competing artists will take part. " The participants were 35, twelve of whom were foreigners.
On 4 September 1868 the jury made the ranking of the first five winners, conferring the first prize to Giovan Battista Filippo Basile, a well-known architect from Palermo, while in fourth place was the project of Giuseppe Damiani Almeyda: the Mayor, Salesio Balsano, took care to announce to Basile the outcome of the competition accompanied by his congratulations. A waiting period followed, also linked to the ambiguity of the tender, which provided that all five of the awarded projects remained the property of the municipality and that among these the city council would have to choose the one to complete. The foundation stone was laid on 12 January 1875, the anniversary of the Sicilian revolution of 1848, in Piazza Giuseppe Verdi, with the participation of all the major city authorities and a speech by Baron Nicolò Turrisi Colonna. The works were suspended in 1878 and resumed in 1890, with the aim of completing them in time for the Exhibition of the following year and always entrusted to Giovan Battista Filippo Basile, who however died a few months later, on 16 June 1891. He took over his son Ernesto, also an architect, who agreed to complete his father's work in progress at the request of the Municipality of Palermo, also completing the drawings necessary for the continuation of the work of the Theater. The inauguration took place on 16 May 1897 with Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi, a work that had not yet been performed in Palermo, under the direction of Leopoldo Mugnone: ticket prices ranged from 80 lire on the second row boxes to 3 lire in the gallery .
The Teatro Massimo at the time of its inauguration was with its 7730 square meters of area the third largest theater in Europe, second only to the Opera of Paris and Vienna.
The two bronze groups with lions flanking the majestic staircase depict the Tragedy, the work of Benedetto Civiletti, and the Lyric, work instead of Mario Rutelli, also author of the Quadriga that overlooks the Politeama Garibaldi. At the end of the staircase, a pronaos with six Corinthian columns welcomes the viewer. The frieze at the top bears the inscription: "Art renews peoples and reveals their lives. The beloved is in vain if you do not aim to prepare the future. " The dome overlooking the hall has a diameter of 28.73 meters and is composed of an iron structure covered by bronze scales, surmounted by a large vase also of Corinthian inspiration. Antonio Ugo is responsible for the bust of Giuseppe Verdi and that of Giovanni Battista Filippo Basile, while several sculptural reliefs are the work of Salvatore Valenti. Among the painters who decorated the rooms of the Theater, Ettore De Maria Bergler, Michele Corteggiani, Luigi Di Giovanni, Rocco Lentini, Giuseppe Enea, Enrico Cavallaro, while Giuseppe Sciuti depicted the procession of the coronation of Roger II in the large decorated curtain.
In the first decades of activity, the theater was entrusted to private companies, often different from year to year, until 1935, when with a decree of the Minister of Popular Culture the Autonomous Theater Authority was proclaimed, and from the following year it assumed the official name of Ente Autonomous Teatro Massimo of Palermo. In 1974 the theater was closed for renovations, which lasted until 12 May 1997, when the theater was reopened with a concert conducted in the first part by Franco Mannino and in the second part by Claudio Abbado with the Berliner Philharmoniker.