Naples:life,death &
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entry June 2008

he Teatro di Corte

Keen-eyed observers notice that the grand San Carlo opera house is not just adjacent to the royal palace, it is actually built right onto it as a north wing, if you will, with passage (not open to the public) between the palace and the area of the San Carlo behind and below the stage. King Charles III was taking no chances on having to actually walk outside and around the corner just to see an opera he probably wouldn’t like anyway. There is an apocryphal story (those are the ones we really want to be true, but probably aren’t) that the inside passage wasn’t there when the first opera opened on Nov. 4, 1737, but when the king complained, Guiseppe Architect* got out his hammer and by the time the first opera was over that very same evening, the passageway was ready —or at least there was a big hole in the wall.  In any event, opera theaters as adjuncts to royal palaces are not that common. (I’ll go out on a limb and say that San Carlo is the only one.)

A true royal palace, however, from the age of the divine right of kings, had its own smaller "court theater" in the palace, itself, called a teatro di corte in Italian. The best-known teatro di corte in Bourbon Italy was no doubt the one built by Vanvitelli into the great palace of Caserta. It, however, was fashioned on the one within the royal palace in Naples. This teatro di corte is among the least-known attractions in the city, one, because it is overshadowed by the sumptuous San Carlo, and, two, because you actually have to go into the royal palace, itself, to find it.

There was, no doubt, an original teatro di corte in the first royal palace built on the site, in the year 1600. The one you see today, however, is from 1768 and was designed by Ferdinando Fuga, one of the great names of Italian architecture in the 1700s. It is also called the Gran Sala or the Sala Regia (royal hall). It was a venue for many of the Neapolitan comic operas of the 18th century, although with the passage of time the main theater of San Carlo accommodated those works, as well, in addition to the traditional fare of opera seria.

The teatro di  corte was badly damaged in WWII but was restored by 1954. The original design by Fuga was adhered to; the original ceiling frescoes by Antonio Dominici and Crescenzo La Gamba were faithfully restored, as was a precious series of 12 statues by Angelo Viva, depicting characters from Greek mythology.

*Name in art of Angelo Carasale!

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