Empires in decline, politics, passion, jealousy, love, and betrayal… the stage of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma plays host to many stories that would be just as at home on the streets of the Eternal City. Indeed, Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca”, which had its premiere at the theater in 1900, takes as its settings the Castel Sant’Angelo, the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, and the Palazzo Farnese – all grand Roman edifices within walking distance of each other, and not far from the theater, should you wish to visit after attending a performance.
One of the world’s most iconic opera houses, the main auditorium, known as the Teatro Costanzi after its founder, retains its 19th century splendor. Often photographed, and fulfilling every dream of what a grand European opera house should look like, its red and gold horseshoe – the shape chosen for its excellent acoustic properties – was a fitting setting for the world premieres of Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “L’Amico Fritz”, and Italian premieres of works such as Wagner’s “Parsifal” and Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West”, although the building’s facade was restored in the 1950s, to mixed reviews.
The theater is built on the historical site of the House of Heliogabalus, but in the summer months, the Opera acquires an even grander, and more venerable, backdrop at the famous Baths of Caracalla, with the ancient ruins providing an unforgettable frame for spectacular productions of large-scale works such as Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida”, always a highlight in Rome’s opera calendar, with tickets eagerly sought-after.
With high musical standards, and a program of traditional, avant-garde, and experimental works to suit every appetite, the Teatro dell’Opera has been lead in recent years by the celebrated conductor Riccardo Muti. The theater has played host to many leading lights of the operatic and ballet worlds throughout its history, including such luminaries as James Conlon and Graham Vick in the current season. Not all famous visitors have met with unalloyed success, however. In 1958, the Opera di Roma was the venue for a notorious performance of Bellini’s “Norma” with Maria Callas in the title role. In the presence of the President of Italy, the great diva cancelled the performance after a single act, citing ill health, causing a media storm that reverberated around the world.
Highlights of the 2015/16 Rome opera season include Berlioz’ “Benvenuto Cellini”, bringing the colorful vivacity of Rome at Carnival to the stage in Terry Gilliam’s exuberant production, and Damiano Michieletto’s “Il Trittico” with Patricia Racette and Violeta Urmana. Dolora Zajick sings her world-renowned Ulrica in “Un Ballo in Maschera”, and Sasha Waltz directs and choreographs Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” in collaboration with the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin.
If all this is not enough to whet the appetite of your travel companion, and a little bribery is required, just a few minutes walk from the theater you will find one of Rome’s best ice cream shops. At the Gelateria Teatro dell’Opera, artisan production, unusual flavors, and large scoops are very much the order of the day!