I bet the name Giuseppe Verdi rings a bell in everyone mind. He was born in a little village called Le Roncole (and after his death called Le Roncole-Verdi as a tribute) not so far from Parma, he lived and compsed his early works in the nearby Busseto where the local theatre is called after him, and died in Milan. He’s considered one of the most prestigious of my city’s sons.
Each year during the month of october, my city celebrates the Verdi Festival, lots of concerts, operas, debates, photos exhibitions and meetings with the common denominator of Verdi life and work. Last time it was special because the Maestro was born on the 10th october 1813, so it was his 200th birthday.
I’m not a melodrama lover, an opera enthusiast, but living here, well you just breath opera. Our major opera theatre, the Regio Theatre, along with La Scala in Milan, is considered a beast for opera singers and orchestra directors, because the audience here – especially the ones sitting in the gods (we call it “la piccionaia” – the pigeon loft) – are very demanding and true experts. Usually I don’t buy tickets (with few exceptions) because they are very expensive and I watch operas live on the local tv. But when this year Verdi celebration was over, the municipality decided for a little extension, a bunch of concerts and drama performances, and me and daughter M with a couple of friends bought tickets for a concert of the most famous “aria” from Verdi operas.
Originally called the New Ducal Theatre, the Teatro Regio was built at the behest of the Duchess Maria Luigia of Habsburg-Lorraine, wife of Napoleon, who was sent to govern the Duchy of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla following the Congress of Vienna. Work began in 1821 on a project by the court architect Nicola Bettoli and the Theatre opened on 16th May 1829 with Zaira by Vincenzo Bellini with a libretto by Felice Romani. Built in the neo-classical style, the façade is characterised by a colonnade with ionic capitals with a large thermal window above.
Having entered the theatre, we accede to the Foyer adorned with two rows of four columns and still visible on the floor the grills once used for heating the theatre.
A staircase leads up to the large salon called the ‘ridotta’, where Maria Luigia’s throne was situated. The Duchess had direct access to this salon from the Ducal Palace. Two large blown glass chandeliers hang from the ceiling and the tribunes for the dance orchestra overlook the large space. Returning to the foyer, entrance to the main body of the theatre is through the door of honour: the stalls area, four orders of boxes and the gallery and the ceiling painted by Giovan Battista Borghesi with poets and dramatists painted in a circle around the great “astrolamp”. This lamp in gilded bronze was ordered in Paris from the workshop of Lacarrière in Paris. The theatre curtain is also the work of Borghesi and is one of the very few to have survived to the modern day; it depicts an allegory of wisdom with Minerva enthroned surrounded by Gods, nymphs, poets and muses. Minerva is a portrait of Maria Luigia herself. Above the curtain is the special clock ‘a luce’ which tells the time in five minute intervals; it is in the centre of the proscenium arch and on either side of the arch can be seen gilded busts of poets and composers. As we see it today the Theatre is very different from the original; in 1853 the neoclassical décor designed by Paolo Toschi was covered with the gilding and stucco work of Girolamo Magnani who had renovated the newly named Teatro Regio at the behest of Carlo III Bourbon using the new-renaissance style. Magnani was the set designer preferred by Verdi and they often worked together. That same year the new chandelier inaugurated the arrival of gas lighting in the theatre replacing the previous system of candles and oil lamps. Electrical illumination arrived in 1890 and the chandelier was cut down in 1913 to improve visibility from the gallery. The acoustic chamber painted by Giuseppe Carmigiani, another rare survivor from past times, repeats the decoration of the boxes and consists of wood framed canvas panels, which can be opened and closed telescopically to function with orchestras of different sizes and formations.
Originally the Theatre was destined for various types of spectacle, from opera to dance, from poetic declamation to the most diverse art forms; funambulism, gymnastics, acts with animals, scientific demonstrations, illusionism and displays of ‘curiosities’. Right from its inauguration, the Theatre has born witness and been a protagonist of the crucial changes which affected melodrama during the XIX and XX centuries, from the end of the period of Rossini to the triumph of the Verdi repertoire, to appreciation of the French and German experience, to the extreme evolution in terms of realism of Italian opera with Mascagni, Leoncavallo and Puccini.
Inside the theatre there are other leisure facilities, such as the “ridotto” (lesser) a room where informal concerts and conferences are held. The ridotto is located just above the foyer, decorated with frescos of Giovan Battista Azzi (Harmony and the Baccantis on the ceiling) and Alessandro Cocchi on the ceiling as well, and friezes on the walls by Stanislao Campana picturing Apollo among the Muses and Teseo trying to abduct a virgin and a celebration in Delo.
Recently the inside Gran Cafè reopened its rooms to the public, and it’s a very nice and cozy place where to hang out with friends before or after a performance. We had a great time that afternoon, good music, great artists in a beautiful show in a place full of history that has seen generations of enthusiasts and big names in music, cinema, architecture and literature.