The long history of Teatro dell’Opera di Roma is prestigious and peculiar as far as the ownership assets, the institutional profile and the architectural design are concerned. For over fifty years, from its edification (1879) to the year when it was bought by the Rome City Council of that time (1926), it was named after the building contractor, a Roman by adoption, who wanted, tenaciously wanted it and built it up, brick after brick. Domenico Costanzi commissioned to the Milanese architect Achille Sfondrini, a specialist in the building and renovation of theatres, the task to finally give the capital of Italy an appropriate location for the rank and universal prestige of the Italian operatic tradition.
The design that Sfrondini fine tuned privileges the acoustic effect, by conceiving the interior structure as a "resonance chamber": as is particularly evident from the horseshoe shape. It had a seating capacity of 2,212 spectators, three tiers of boxes, an amphitheatre, a gallery. All was surmounted by a dome with splendid frescoes by Annibale Brugnoli from Perugia.
Built in record times, eighteen months, on the site where the house of Heliogabalus stood in ancient times, the Teatro Costanzi is inaugurated on 27 November 1880 with a performance of Semiramide by Gioachino Rossini. The Maestro Giovanni Rossi was the conductor, in the presence of the King Umbert I of Italy and the Queen Margherita of Savoy.
Costanzi invested all his personal assets in the venture. However, due to the despotic refusal of the City Council to redeem the theatre, Costanzi was obliged to manage it himself. Despite the fact that he had to deal with huge financial problems, he was proud that the opera house held many world premières of operas that later on became very famous. One title is worth mentioning among the others: Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni (on 17 May 1890).
For a brief period, the theatre was managed by the founder's son, Enrico Costanzi, who gained prominence by having contributed to another great première: Tosca by Giacomo Puccini, on 14 January 1900. In 1907, the Teatro Costanzi was purchased by the versatile impresario Walter Mocchi on behalf of the Società Teatrale Internazionale e Nazionale, a creature of his own, which managed some of the most important Italian operatic companies, exporting the performances and acting companies to both North and South America during the Summer break of the season.
In 1912 Emma Carelli, famous soprano and Mocchi's wife, became the managing director of the «Impresa Costanzi», named as such following various changes in the company structure. During the fourteen years of her artistic tenure, major works which had not been performed before either in Rome or in Italy, were staged at the Costanzi, such as La fanciulla del West, Turandot and Trittico by Puccini; Parsifal by Richard Wagner; Francesca da Rimini by Renato Zandonai; Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgskij; Sansone e Dalila by Camille Saint-Saëns and many others; also Les Ballets Russes by Serghej Diaghilev were staged there.
The turning point is 1926: at the request of Mussolini, Rome City Council finally bought the Costanzi. The name was changed to Teatro Reale dell'Opera. The partial rebuilding of the structure was commissioned to the architect Marcello Piacentini. However, Piacentini’s rebuilding resulted in a number of major and substantial changes from the original. The entrance, located in the street formerly known as Via del Teatro (it was situated where now the garden of the next Hotel Quirinale is) is moved to the diametrically opposite side. He built the Piazza, subsequently entitled to Beniamino Gigli, where the speactors are still welcomed nowadays.
Inside the theatre, the amphitheatre is demolished and replaced by a fourth tier of boxes (currently, the third tier) and a balcony. The interior are embellished by new stucco-work, decorations, furnishings. A magnificent chandelier measuring 6 meters in diameter, composed of 27,000 crystal drops, stands out overlooking and lighting up the stalls on 28 February 1928, when the theatre was re-opened with the opera Nerone by Arrigo Boito, conducted by the Maestro Gino Marinuzzi. The works lasted less than sixteen months. However, it is not the final appearance of the theatre. Thirty years later the construction site will be opened again.
With the advent of the Republic, the theatre gained the name of Teatro dell'Opera. In 1958, in the view of the 1960 Olympic Games, the building was further remodeled and modernised at the request of the Rome City Council. The project is commissioned again to Piacentini, who radically alters the existing architectural style and gives us the present facade, with related entrance and foyer.
For over a century, 128 years to be exact, the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma has written many unforgettable pages in the history of music theatre, opera, ballet. Therefore, it is impossible to list here all the famous composers, conductors, singers, dancers, directors, set and costume designers, choreographers who treaded its boards.
In the course of time, the most acclaimed voices followed one another: Enrico Caruso; Beniamino Gigli; Giacomo Lauri-Volpi; Fëdor Ivanovic Šaljapin; Aureliano Pertile; Claudia Muzio; Maria Caniglia; Maria Callas; Renata Tebaldi; Montserrat Caballé; Marilyn Horne; Raina Kabaivanska; Mario Del Monaco; Giuseppe Di Stefano; Franco Corelli; Tito Gobbi; Alfredo Kraus; Ruggero Raimondi; José Carreras; Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti.
Among the finest conductors, it is sufficient to mention the prestige of Otto Klemperer, Arturo Toscanini, Victor De Sabata, Vittorio Gui, Tullio Serafin, Erich Kleiber, Gianandrea Gavazzeni, Carlo Maria Giulini, Georg Solti, Claudio Abbado, Georges Prêtre, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel, Mstislav Rostropovich, Giuseppe Patanè, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Nino Sanzogno, Gianluigi Gelmetti and in the latest times Riccardo Muti.
The wood, velvet, stucco-work of the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma welcomed and reproduced the operas of great composers such as: Pietro Mascagni; Giacomo Puccini; Ildebrando Pizzetti; Ottorino Respighi, Goffredo Petrassi; Alfredo Casella, Gian Francesco Malipiero; Umberto Giordan, to mention only a few. As such, it identifies itself as the cradle par excellence of the verist opera and the 20th century music theatre.
The Orchestra of the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma was founded in 1880 along with the Teatro Costanzi. There, the premières of Cavalleria Rusticana, L’amico Fritz, Iris and Tosca were performed, and the first years of the 20th century the orchestra saw such musicians as Pietro Mascagni, Igor Stravinskij and Riccardo Zandonai. When, in 1928, the Costanzi turned into the Teatro Reale dell’Opera di Roma, the Orchestra received an extraordinary qualitative boost with the chief conduction of Gino Marinuzzi, Tullio Serafin and Gabriele Santini. Not to forget, among the others, the Italian première of Wozzeck by Alban Berg, in 1942, conducted by Tullio Serafin. In more recent times, Bruno Bartoletti and Gianluigi Gelmetti were appointed chief conductors.
Among the conductors who happily collaborated with the Orchestra of the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma we can remember, to mention only a few, Arturo Toscanini, Victor de Sabata, Gianandrea Gavazzeni, Herbert von Karajan, Carlo Maria Giulini, Zubin Mehta, Leonard Bernstein, Georges Pretre, Georg Solti, Thomas Schippers, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Jeffrey Tate. In August 2011, Riccardo Muti was appointed Honorary Lifetime Conductor.