The main opera house in Rome is the Teatro dell’Opera, which is also known as the Teatro Constanzi. The theater was inaugurated in 1880 and was originally named after its founder, Domenico Costanzi. It was financed by Costanzi, who commissioned the Milanese architect Achille Sfondrini, a specialist in the building and renovation of theatres.
The original Teatro Costanzi (1880-1926)
The theater was built in the neoclassical style and featured ornate decorations, including frescoes and sculptures. Teatro Costanzi quickly became one of the most important cultural institutions in Rome, attracting both local and international audiences. The theater was known for its lavish productions, featuring some of the most famous operas of the time, including operas by Verdi, Rossini, and Puccini. Costanzi was obliged to manage the theater himself. Under his direction, and despite financial problems, the opera house held many world premieres of operas, including Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni on May 17th, 1890. For a brief period, the theatre was managed by Costanzi’s son, Enrico, who gained renown by organizing another great premiere, that of Tosca by Giacomo Puccini on January 14th, 1900.
In the early 1900s, the theater underwent several renovations, including the addition of new seats and the installation of electric lighting. However, by the 1920s, the building was in need of further repairs and modernization. In 1907, the Teatro Costanzi was purchased by the impresario Walter Mocchi (1871–1955) on behalf of the Società Teatrale Internazionale e Nazionale. In 1912 Mocchi’s wife, Emma Carelli, became the managing director of the new Impresa Costanzi. During the fourteen years of her tenure, major works which had not been performed before in Rome (or even in Italy) were staged. These included La fanciulla del West, Turandot and Il trittico by Giacomo Puccini; Parsifal by Richard Wagner; Francesca da Rimini by Riccardo Zandonai; Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgsky; Samson et Dalila by Camille Saint-Saëns and many others. Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes also performed. In 1926, the theater closed for a major renovation, transforming it into the Teatro Reale dell’Opera. The renovation was led by architect Marcello Piacentini and included a complete overhaul of the interior and exterior of the building. The theater reopened in 1928 with a new name and a new look, marking the beginning of a new era in the history of Rome’s operatic scene.
The restructured Teatro Reale dell’Opera: 1926 to 1946
In November 1926 the Costanzi was bought by the Rome City Council and its name changed to Teatro Reale dell’Opera. The renovation was led by architect Marcello Piacentini, who redesigned both the interior and exterior of the building in the neoclassical style. The theater was equipped with modern technologies, including air conditioning and electric lighting. The seating capacity was increased from 2,200 to 2,800, making it one of the largest opera houses in Europe at the time. The Teatro Reale dell’Opera opened on February 27th, 1928, with a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Vestale. The theater quickly became a popular dstination for opera lovers from around the world and continued to present some of the most important operas of the time. However, the theater’s wave of success was interrupted by World War II. During the war, the theater was damaged by bombings and was forced to close. It remained closed until 1946, when it was reopened under the name Teatro dell’Opera di Roma.
Present Teatro dell’Opera Roma: from 1946
The theater was recreated from the ruins of the Teatro Reale dell’Opera, which had been damaged during World War II. Following the end of the monarchy, the name was simplified to Teatro dell’Opera and, in 1958, the building was again remodeled and modernized. The Rome City Council again commissioned architect Marcello Piacentini, who radically altered the building’s style, notably with regard to the facade, entrance and foyer, each of these taking the form we know today. The theater’s legendary acoustics still bear comparison with any other auditorium in the world. The seating capacity is about 1,600. The house was retrofitted with air-conditioning subsequent to a restoration, which provided improvements to the interior. The stucco work was completely restored, the great proscenium arch strengthened, and a parquet floor of solid oak blocks laid to replace the previous one. The theater reopened under the direction of Giuseppe Gentile, who worked to restore the theater’s reputation and bring back its former glory. Under his leadership, the theater presented a variety of operas, ballets, and concerts, featuring both Italian and international artists. On January 2nd 1958, the theater was the venue for a controversial performance of Norma starring Maria Callas in the presence of the President of Italy: for health reasons, Callas abandoned the performance after the first act (the opera company had not engaged an understudy).
During more than a century of life, the Opera House has seen its prestige increase even more internationally. In the numerous seasons, world-renowned interpreters have followed, from Caruso to Gigli, Šaljapin, Pertile, Lauri-Volpi; from Muzio to Caniglia, Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Montserrat Caballé, Marilyn Horne, Rajna Kabaivanska; from Del Monaco to Corelli, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Tito Gobbi, Alfredo Kraus to Raimondi, Carreras, Domingo, Pavarotti. And illustrious directors such as Erich Kleiber, Klemperer, Toscanini, De Sabata, Marinuzzi, Gui, Serafin, Von Karajan, Gavazzeni, Solti, Abbado, Prêtre, Mehta, Maazel, Rostropovich, Patanè, Sinopoli, Sawallisch, Sanzogno, Gelmetti, and since 2008 the Maestro Riccardo Muti.