- Venue's Capacity: 1386
The "San Carlo" is the world's oldest opera house still in activity. Right from the start, in 1737, people came from far and wide to admire the theatre's excellent 42-musician orchestra, and to applaud the castratos trained at the Naples Conservatory (like the famous Farinelli), as well as divas known by their nicknames, "la Parruchierrina," or "la Bastarella," for example. And the house in itself, with its sumptuous architecture and no less than six stories of boxes, was no minor attraction: Stendhal was enchanted by the hall's charm, and Paul Klee was fascinated by what he described as this "superb, heavy, and obscure theatre."
In 1816, fire burned down the theatre, and Ferdinand de Bourbon reconstructed an identical building with amazing speed, for Naples, robbed of its opera house, was plunged in mourning, and threatened to not support its sovereign. Let's not forget that at that time, the reign of Domenico Barbaja (nicknamed "The Prince of Impresarios" by Alexander Dumas) had already begun brilliantly. In 1815. this Milanese ex-cafe waiter, who is often credited with the invention of whipped-cream, had had the brilliant idea of hiring Gioacchino Rossini in person as the theatre's artistic director. This exceptional LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR for the San Carlo), while launching, in 1826, a young composer called Vincenzo Bellini. The Neapolitan stage became the place where several singers' careers were made or broken; the famous French tenor Adolphe Nourrit, for example, who considered that the applause had not been sufficient, commited suicide after a performance at the San Carlo. The composer Saverio Mercadante then won the favours of the San Carlo's notorious audience, to such an extent that Verdi at first felt ill at ease in the theatre. Only to better triumph in 1872, when he organized an entire season, and had an orchestra pit added.
During the twentieth century, the stars of the Scala have sometimes overshadowed those of the San Carlo, an historic rivalry that has always existed, in a country where music lovers must choose sides. But the Neapolitan stage defends itself by ever enriching, even to this day, the world's largest repertoire of works ever premiered in an opera house, while legendary singers, such as Beniamino Gigli (who performed in the theatre from 1915 to 1953), have always remained exceptionally faithful to the San Carlo audience, which also happens to be one of the warmest anyone could imagine.