San Carlo Theatre
The San Carlo Theatre was commissioned in 1737 by King Charles III of Bourbon, who was determined to give the city a new theatre that might symbolise his royal power. Its design was entrusted to the architect Giovanni Antonio Medrano and to Angelo Carasale, former director of San Bartolomeo, who completed the royal opera house in about eight months.
After the fire in 1816, its reconstruction, which took nine months, was directed by Antonio Niccolini. The Tuscan architect kept its horseshoe shape and the configuration of the proscenium, although it was enlarged and adorned on the inside with the bas relief depicting ‘Time and the Hours’, which still exists today. At the centre of the ceiling is the canvas of ‘Apollo presenting the world’s greatest poets to Minerva’ painted by Antonio, Giuseppe and Giovanni Cammarano, reprising the subject of previous versions.
The curtain completes the fixed furnishings of the theatre: repainted several times by Giuseppe Cammarano, it was replaced in 1854 by the current curtain, the work of Giuseppe Mancinelli and Salvatore Fergola, depicting a ‘symbolic Parnassus’ with eighty poets and musicians. However, no discussion of the Theatre’s construction would be complete without mentioning the side façade designed by Francesco Gavaudan and Pietro Gesuè following he demolition of the last bastion of Palazzo Vecchio (1838-42). In his capacity as ‘Architect and decorator of the Royal Theatres’, Niccolini also directed subsequent maintenance and restoration works.
These included the modernisation carried out in 1844, together with his son Fausto and Francesco Maria dei Giudice, details of which can be found in an autograph memoir published that same year. The present-day Foyer, built in the east part of the garden of Palazzo Reale, however, was built in 1937, to a design by Michele Platania. After being destroyed by a bombing raid in 1943, it was rebuilt in the immediate post-war period.
The impressive artistic and technological restoration works recently carried out, which were completed in January 2010, have restored the enchanting magnificence of Europe’s oldest Opera House to the city of Naples. Italy’s temple to opera stands adjacent to Piazza del Plebiscito, the symbol of the city of Naples, with a date of birth that anticipates by 41 years La Scala in Milan and by 55 years La Fenice in Venice.