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1.1 Alfieri’s theatre
The Teatro Regio, on the left side in the engraving by Giambattista Borra (1749), is camouflaged in the middle of the adjoining architecture of the buildings in Piazza Castello, from Palazzo Reale to via Po.
Set in the old command zone that included the nerve centres of life in the Savoy state, it was the instrument of entertainment and for celebrating the stability of power. The connection with the court was also physically reasserted by the possibility for the royal family and other dignitaries to get to the theatre from Palazzo Reale without having to go out into the street, or rather by way of the Beaumont Gallery (today the Royal Armoury) and the palazzo of the Secretaries (today the Prefecture).
1.2 A destination of the Grand Tour
The large elliptical auditorium is furnished with 152 boxes divided in five tiers and embellished with crimson and gold decorations. The foreign travellers who made the Grand Tour to discover the beauties of the peninsula describe the theatre with great admiration in their memoirs.
Charles Burney, one of the foremost musical historians, mentioned it in The Present State of Music in France and Italy as «the great opera theatre that is considered one of the most beautiful in Europe».
In 1761, the Royal Printing House published the engravings by Giovanni Antonio Belmondo, based on original designs by Alfieri, to reveal the splendours of the Savoy dynasty throughout Europe. Reproduced in various treatises on architecture, the plates received a definitive consecration with their publication, in 1772, in the Encyclopédie di Diderot e D’Alembert.
1.3 The opera hall
The preparatory designs and the engravings let us see some of the innovative characteristics of the Teatro, such as the shell under the orchestra to improve the acoustic output, the oblique orientation of the boxes towards the stage, and the arrangement of the five tiers surmounted by the upper gallery, or pigeon hole.
Unlike French theatres, the Regio did not have fixed seats, but ones that could be moved by the audience: the Teatro was not just for shows, but also a meeting place where one could get together for conversation, eating or gambling. Inside the Regio a few shops were opened (like the «refreshments shop» and the one of the «courtesies»), contracted by the Knights’ Society.
1.4 The scenery
After calling to Turin, with annual appointments, such great stage designers as Crosato and Giuseppe Galli Bibiena, who designed the scenes for the inaugural opera, Arsace, the Knights’ Society assured themselves of the regular collaboration of “resident” stage designers, the «Signori Fratelli Galliari»: Bernardino, Fabrizio and Giovanni Antonio, later joined by Fabrizio’s sons, Giovannino and Giuseppino, active until the end of the century.
Sketches and engravings that have come down to us illustrate the evolution from rather undefined subjects, tied to the Metastasian librettos, to a greater variety of settings which, starting from the 1760s and 1770s, included the world of the Middle Ages, Egyptian civilization, chinoiseries and pre-Colombian civilizations.
1.5 The original curtain
The curtain of the Teatro, made for the inauguration by Sebastiano Galeotti and representing the Triumph of Bacchus, was quickly restored because damaged by the rigid framework and smoke from the lamps.
In 1756 it was substituted by one on the same subject made by stage designer Bernardino Galliari, who had already made the curtain for Teatro Carignano and had been active since 1747 as stage designer of the Regio, together with his brother Fabrizio.
The chiaroscuro style and the choice of colours ensured the success of the author, who became one of the favourite decorators of the Torinese aristocracy.
1.6 Paisiello at the Regio
In January 1771, having reached Turin from Milan, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his father Leopold had the opportunity to see «a magnificent opera» at the Regio: Annibale in Torino by Giovanni Paisiello.
In those years Paisiello was one of the composers most in vogue in Naples, where he was trained, and his fame was spreading throughout Europe (in just a few years he would be invited to St Petersburg by Catherine II).
After the successes, especially in the buffo genre, the Regio gave Paisiello one of the first important commissions for an opera seria. The libretto, by the Piedmontese lawyer Jacopo Durandi, describes the clash and reconciliation between Hannibal and King Artace of the Taurini.
1.7 Prima donnas and castratos
In the 18th Century, singers and ballerinas were hired for the entire season rather than for the single opera. Crucial to the success of the performance, they were also the most expensive item of expenditure for the organizers. Among the “prima donnas” who performed at the Regio, at least as famous for their tantrums as for their vocal qualities, one recalls Lucrezia Agujari, Caterina Gabrielli and Brigida Giorgi Banti.
The Regio, moreover, witnessed the last phase of the golden age of the castratos: singing there were Giovanni Carestini in art “il Cusanino”, Gioachino Conti known as “il Gizziello”, Gaetano Majorana “il Caffarelli”, and Gaetano Guadagni. Luigi Marchesi, depicted here in Achille in Sciro (1785) written for him by Gaetano Pugnani, was engaged by the Regio for three seasons and named “first virtuoso of chapel and chamber” by the King of Sardinia.
While the names in the world of song were all Italian, for dance there was a strong French influence: the Torino court saw the arrival of many choreographers, dance maestros and ballerinas from the other side of the Alps, including François Sauveterre, Jean Dauberval and Sébastien Gallet, but also such celebrated Italian choreographers as Gasparo Angiolini. Great musicians performed at the Teatro, like Giovanni Paisiello, who met with enormous success above all in the buffo genre, and Gaetano Pugnani, named first violin of the Teatro and Royal Chapel in 1770.