Teatro Massimo, Palermo

The Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele is an opera house and opera company located on the Piazza Verdi in Palermo, Sicily. It was dedicated to King Victor Emanuel II. It is the biggest in Italy, and one of the largest of Europe (the third after the Opéra National de Paris and the K. K. Hof-Opernhaus in Vienna ), renowned for its perfect acoustics.

Construction and opening

An international competition for the creation of the opera house was announced by the Palermo Council in 1864, primarily at the instigation of the mayor, Antonio Starrabba di Rudinì. For many years there had been talk of building a big new theatre in Palermo, worthy of the second biggest city in southern Italy (after Naples) and designed to promote the image of the city following the recent national unity.

The opera house was designed and overseen by the very genial Italian architect Giovan Battista Filippo Basile and, following his death in 1891, construction was then overseen by his highly artistic son, Architect Ernesto Basile. G. B. Filippo Basile was well known in Sicily also for his previous cathedral restoration design in the city of Acireale, as well as garden and villa designs in the city of Palermo and Caltagirone.

The ' Rutelli & Machi' ' Co., represented by Giovanni Rutelli and Alberto Machi' company's founder members, was the official building contracting company for the entire main construction of the theatre; the whole construction, from the foundations all the way up to the theatre's attic structures, including all the external decorations of the same building, were completed under Architect Giovanni Rutelli's technical and constructive direction; meanwhile Giovanni Rutelli initially designed a steam tower crane machine which was then successfully able to lift to considerable heights the large stone blocks and Greek - roman styled columns during construction of the very large and tall theatre.

Architect Chevalier Giovanni Rutelli, who belongs to a very old renowned Italian family made up also of several architects and sculptor artists from the old sicilian classic and baroque schooling, including competitive building contractors - entrepreneurs all starting from the first half of the 1700s in Palermo with Architect Don Mario Rutelli (Giovanni's great-Grandfather), was considered among the most technically and artistically specialized experts in Sicily at that time, especially because of his profound knowledge and experience of ancient Greek - roman architecture and of the stereotomy related applications, apart being available with his building firm for such type of monumental construction which was based in fact on a original Greek - roman architectonic all natural thick stone made structure design thanks to Giovan Battista Filippo Basile's unique creativity. Part of the external decorations, and one of the two very large bronze made lion statues sitting next to the theatre's main monumental stairway entrance, were done by Giovanni Rutelli's son, sculptor artist Sir Mario Rutelli.

The construction started on 12 January 1874 but was stopped for eight years from 1882 till 1890. Finally, on 16 May 1897, twenty-two years after the laying of the foundation stone, the third largest opera theatre, after Palais Garnier in Paris and the K. K. Hof-Opernhaus in Vienna, was inaugurated with a performance of Verdi's Falstaff conducted by Leopoldo Mugnone.

Sculptural busts of famous composers were carved for the theater by the Italian sculptor, Giusto Liva (born in Montebelluna, Treviso in 1847) and several of his sons.

Facilities and recent history

The Teatro Massimo is the largest theatre in Italy (and the third largest opera house in Europe). Basile was inspired by ancient and classical Sicilian architecture and, thus, the exterior was designed in the high neoclassical style incorporating elements of the Greek temples at Selinunte and Agrigento. Realized in the late-Renaissance style, the auditorium was planned for 3,000 people, but, in its current format, it seats 1,350, with 7 tiers of boxes rising up around an inclined stage, and shaped in the typical horseshoe style.

In 1974, the house was closed to complete renovations required by updated safety regulations, but cost over-runs, corruption, and political in-fighting all added to the delay and it remained closed for twenty-three years, finally re-opening on 12 May 1997, four days before its centenary. The opera season started again in 1999, although Verdi's Aida was performed in 1998 while work in progress continued.

During the restoration regular opera seasons were performed in Teatro Politeama Garibaldi, a minor building not far from Teatro Massimo. In summer a few performances, usually concerts, ballet and operetta, are held in Teatro della Verdura.

In recent years, "charges of corruption and political meddling…along with budget deficits and heavy debts" have plagued the house, but, under its part-English music director, Jan Latham Koenig, it is reported that it is once again on track.


The final scenes of the film Godfather Part III were filmed there.


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