Teatro Massimo



by Alice Lechner
November 24, 2023
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We continue our Theaters around the World column, and in this issue, we arrive in Sicily, more precisely in Palermo. It is known that Teatro Massimo di Palermo was, for a long time, the third largest opera house in Europe, after Palais Garnier and Wiener Staatsoper.

The construction of the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Sicily, Italy, began in 1875 and was a significant architectural project that spanned several years. 

An international competition for the creation of the opera house was announced by the Palermo Council in 1864 at the persistence of Mayor Antonio Starrabba di Rudinì. For a long time, there had been talk of building a big new theatre in Palermo, worthy of the second biggest city in southern Italy after Naples. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Palermo was engaged in getting itself a new identity in the light of the new national unity.
Cultural life was influenced by the new Italian State and the positive consequences of the activity of enlightened entrepreneurs like the Florios, who also made generous donations to the building of the opera house and, for some years, were its no less enlightened managers. 

Intense commercial relations led to the convergence and development in Palermo of interests with a European dimension and brought the city to be continually in touch with different cultural models than its own. This was the start of the Belle Epoque, a time of cultural and economic rebirth for Palermo which would in turn become almost mythical for the future generations and was only to be interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. 

The competition winner was Giovan Battista Filippo Basile, known in Sicily for his previous cathedral resortisation design in Acireale and garden and villa designs in Palermo and Caltagirone.

After Basile died in 1891, his son, Ernesto Basile, oversaw the construction. 

The architecture of the Teatro Massimo reflects a mix of styles, including neoclassical, Greek, and Roman influences. The exterior is characterized by a neoclassical design, while the interior features a more eclectic style. It has a capacity of around 1,350 spectators. 

Basile was inspired by ancient and classical Sicilian architecture, and thus, the exterior was designed in the high neoclassical style, incorporating elements of the Greek temples at Selinunte and Agrigento. The interior is decorated and painted by Rocco Lentini, Ettore De Maria Bergler, Michele Cortegiani, and Luigi Di Giovanni.

Construction commenced in 1875 and took over two decades to complete. The theatre was inaugurated on May 16th, 1897, with the performance of Verdi’s opera Falstaff. The conductor was Leopoldo Mugnone. A ticket in the boxes would then cost 80 liras, one in the gallery just 3. The inauguration was attended by various dignitaries, including members of the Italian royal family.

From the opening in 1897 to 1935, the opera seasons were put together by private firms, often a different one each year, that would organize the performances.

In 1935, the theatre was officially designated with a Decree from the Italian Ministry of Culture, “Ente Teatrale Autonomo”, thus recognized as a public theatre.

In 1974 the theatre was closed for reconstruction works that were supposed to be finished in a relatively short time. During the restoration regular opera seasons were performed in Teatro Politeama, a minor building not far from Teatro Massimo. In summer a few performances, usually concerts, ballet and operetta, are held in Teatro della Verdura. It remained closed for 23 years and was reopened with the concert on May 12th, 1997, conducted by Franco Mannino in the first part and by Claudio Abbado in the second, with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

The opera season started again in 1999, although Verdi’s Aida was performed in 1998 while work in progress continued.

It’s worth noting that the Teatro Massimo gained additional international recognition in the 20th century when it was featured in the final scenes of the film The Godfather: Part III, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. This film brought the iconic opera house to a global audience, further enhancing its cultural and cinematic legacy. Also, White Lotus Season 2 took place in this opera house.

Currently, Robert Lagalla is the President of Fondazione Teatro Massimo and Mayor of Palermo, and Marco Betta is the Chief Executive and Art Director of Teatro Massimo.

In the words of Roberto Lagalla, Mayor of Palermo and President of the Fondazione’s Board of Counselors, “The Fondazione Teatro Massimo represents an outstanding cultural landmark that, together with other cultural institutions, aims to build up a network of exchanges and stimuli beneficial to the city’s future. I believe that Palermo needs to get back on track starting from culture and the beauty that is intrinsic to it. Beauty acts on people’s behaviours, which, in turn, affect community decisions. Palermo has to get past ugliness. The city needs a boost of beauty, which can come from culture and art. The duty of the city government is to ensure support and sustainability to its cultural institutions.”


Sir Colin Davis
Colin Rex Davis was born on September 25th, 1927, in Weybridge, Surrey, England, and was known for his exceptional interpretations of a wide range of classical and contemporary repertoire. His early exposure to music was through the clarinet, which he started playing at a young age. His interest in conducting developed during his time at...
November 2023
Alice Lechner
Teatro Massimo
We continue our Theaters around the World column, and in this issue, we arrive in Sicily, more precisely in Palermo. It is known that Teatro Massimo di Palermo was, for a long time, the third largest opera house in Europe, after Palais Garnier and Wiener Staatsoper. The construction of the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Sicily,...
November 2023
Alice Lechner

Alice Lechner

Alice Lechner comes from a music-loving family. Her first encounter with the opera universe was at the tender age of six. The grandeur of the stage productions and costumes, the backstage chatter, and last, but definitely not least, the music left her in awe, beginning with Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The overall feeling that opera awakens in anyone who gets a glimpse into this part of artistic eternity, that each and every day passes the test of time, was what drew her to stay and be a part of this world. The Opera House of Brașov became her second home, and the people who worked there were her second family.

Since then, Alice has devoted her spare time to maximising her musical knowledge through instrumental studies, studying both piano and violin for a short time. In the following years, her number one passion stepped out of the limelight and graciously gave way to Law Studies.
Since 2018 she has been studying Law at “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University in Iași.

Her passion for opera, even if it is no longer her top professional priority in terms of career, it has most definitely become her priority during her free time. Wanting to experience the best of both worlds and extend her musical horizons, she regularly attends opera performances throughout Romania and abroad.
With OPERA Charm Magazine, Alice aims to nurture her creative side to help it flourish and bloom and to discover, alongside the magazine’s readers, the fascinatingly complex world of opera.

Currently, she is an LL.M. in Business Law at “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University in Iași.

Oana Zamfir

Oana Zamfir is a second year MA student at the “George Enescu” National University of Arts, at the Department of Musicology.

She studied violin for 12 years at the “Stefan Luchian” High School of Art in Botosani, later focusing on the theoretical aspects of music. In 2019 she completed her bachelor studies in Musicology as a student of the National Academy of Music “Gheorghe Dima” in Cluj-Napoca. Her research during 2018-2019 brought to the forefront elements of the archaic ritual within works of composers who activated during the communist period, giving her the opportunity to start a research internship at the “Carl von Ossietzky” University in Germany. In this context, she recorded conversations with members of the Sophie Drinker Institute in Bremen, and had access to documents directly from the Myriam Marbé archive.

Since 2019 she has been a teacher of Music Education and Theoretical Music Studies, making full use of interactive methods in the musical training of students and working, at the same time, with the children’s choir founded in the first year of her activity.

Her interests include pursuing a degree in interior design in 2020.

Alexandru Suciu

Alexandru Suciu inherited his passion for art growing up in a family of several generations of musicians. He began his musical studies at the “Augustin Bena” School of Music in Cluj, where he studied piano and guitar. Even though his main study direction was philological, his passion for music prevailed. He began his academical journey at the Faculty of Letters of the “Babeș-Bolyai” University, studying Comparative literature and English. He continued by studying Opera Singing at the “Gheorghe Dima” National Music Academy. He also graduated the Musical Education section, followed by Artistic Directing at the Musical Performing Arts department.

His multidisciplinary education opened the doors towards research, which is seen both through his participation in national and international conferences and symposia, such as the Salzburg Easter School PhD-forum, organized by the Salzburg Universität or the Silesian Meeting of Young Scholars, organized by the Institute of English at the University of Silesia, as well as the collaboration with Opera Charm Magazine.

During his student years, he won several prizes, including the Grand Prize at the “Paul Constantinescu” National Musical Interpretation Competition, the Romanian Composers and Musicologists’ Union Prize at the same competition, the First Prize and the Schubert Prize at the “Ada Ulubeanu” Competition.

He further developed his artistic skills by specializing in courses and masterclasses held by personalities such as Vittorio Terranova, Giuseppe Sabbatini, Marian Pop, Ines Salazar, Riccardo Zanellato, Paolo Bosisio, Valentina Farcaș and Manuel Lange in contexts such as the Internationale Sommerakademie für Operngesang Deutschlandsberg, Corso Internazionale di Canto Lirico I.M.C. Licata or the Europäische Akademie für Musik und darstellende Kunst Montepulciano. Besides his activity on-stage, he currently teaches Opera Singing Didactics, and Pedagogical Practice within the Department for Teacher Education and Training at the “Gheorghe Dima” National Music Academy.

Cristina Fieraru

Cristina is a 24 year-old Romanian soprano & a student at the National University of Music Bucharest, where she pursues the MA program in Vocal Performance.

She made her debut in Pamina from “Die Zauberflöte” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at only 19 years old at the Bucharest National Opera House, as a member of the Ludovic Spiess Experimental Opera Studio. Over the years she made her debut in roles such as Contessa d’Almaviva (Le nozze di Figaro), Mimì & Musetta (La Bohème), Alice Ford (Falstaff), Erste Dame (Die Zauberflöte) in her university’s opera productions.
Her passion and experience extends in the field of choral music, too.

She has been part of our dream team since the fall of 2021. For a good period of time she took care of OPERA Charm’s social media and took you on the monthly journey through the history of opera through our Legends rubric – and a few times through the Theaters around the World rubric.

Her little soul rubric – from 2021 to present – is definitely the Conductors of the Future, where, every month, she gives you the chance to meet a young star of the world of conducting and, of course, to find out what’s the most charming feature of opera in these artists’ views.


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