While Milan’s La Scala is Italy’s most famous opera house, the Real Teatro di San Carlo (St. Charles Royal Theatre) in Naples takes credit for being the oldest.
It was founded by the first Bourbon king, Carlo VII, in 1737, some 41 years before La Scala and 55 years before Venice’s La Fenice. At that time, Naples was at the cutting edge of the music world in Europe. Despite a devastating fire in the 1800s and being bombed in World War II, the theatre survived. Over the years, leading composers such as Johann Christian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Richard Strauss and Giacomo Puccini staged their works on the boards at the Teatro di San Carlo.
Any visit to the theatre is mingled with thoughts that it is where opera giants like Giuseppe Verdi and Gioachino Rossini premiered operas that are now regarded as masterpieces. The quality of performances at the theatre reflects its pedigree and to be there when an audience that is both knowledgeable and demanding cries out “Bis!” (Encore!) to a singer to repeat an aria is a spine-tingling experience.
The opera season runs from January to December. The Teatro di San Carlo also has a concert and ballet season. During the heat of the summer months, performances are held in the courtyard.
For those unable to take in a performance, guided tours are available. Items of interest include the so-called “Time and the Hours” revolving clock in the vault of the proscenium arch, the lavish gilded stucco moulding, the ornate ceiling fresco depicting the god Apollo and the painting on the stage curtain depicting the idyllic mythic home of the muses, Parnassus.
Where: Real Teatro San Carlo, Via San Carlo 98F, 80132 Naples,