Teatro Reale dell'Opera
The Teatro dell’Opera was originally known as the Teatro Costanzi after the contractor who built it, Domenico Costanzi (1810-1898). It was financed by Costanzi, who commissioned the Milanese architect Achille Sfondrini (1836-1900), a specialist in the building and renovation of theatres. The opera house was built in eighteen months, on the site where the house of Heliogabalus stood in ancient times, and was inaugurated on November 27, 1880 with a performance of Semiramide by Gioachino Rossini.
Designing the theatre, Sfondrini paid particular attention to the acoustics, conceiving the interior structure as a “resonance chamber”, as is evident from the horseshoe shape in particular. With a seating capacity of 2,212, the house had three tiers of boxes, an amphitheatre and two separate galleries, surmounted by a dome adorned with splendid frescoes by Annibale Brugnoli.
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 17, 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 14, 1900.
In 1907 the Teatro Costanzi was purchased by the impresario Walter Mocchi (1870-1955) on behalf of the Società Teatrale Internazionale e Nazionale (STIN). In 1912 Mocchi’s wife, Emma Carelli, became the managing director of the new Impresa Costanzi, as the theatre was later known, following various changes in the company structure. 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.
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. A partial rebuilding ensued, led by architect Marcello Piacentini and lasting fifteen months. The house re-opened on February 27, 1928 with the opera Nerone by Arrigo Boito.
Chief among several major changes was the relocated entrance, from the street formerly known as Via del Teatro (where the garden of the Hotel Quirinale is now) to the opposite side, where Piazza Beniamino Gigli exists today. In addition, the amphitheatre inside the theatre was replaced by a fourth tier of boxes (now the third tier) and the balcony. The interior was embellished by new stucco work, decorations, and furnishings, including a magnificent chandelier measuring six meters in diameter and composed of 27,000 crystal drops.
In 1936, a performance of Franco Alfono’s opera Cyrano de Bergerac was scheduled to be performed. One of the opera’s lead soloists was found dead in a bizarre fashion which brought the Vatican City SAVE Office into an investigation.