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4.1 Pedrotti and the Popular Concerts
Carlo Pedrotti, assuming the position of rehearsal coach and conductor of the Regio orchestra in 1868, gave a considerable boost to the concert activity by founding the Popular Concerts, the first public concert institution in Italy.
Even though they took place outside the opera season at the Teatro Vittorio Emanuele, where the “Arturo Toscanini" Auditorium Rai stands today, the Popular Concerts belong to the history of the Regio precisely because they had as protagonist the Teatro Orchestra.
The sixty-four concerts held between 1872 and 1886 offered the Torinese audience a panorama of classical, romantic and contemporary symphonic repertoire, creating a new interest in instrumental music that was still not cultivated very much in Italy at the time.
4.2 Wagnerian Torino
One of the great novelties introduced by Pedrotti was the music of Wagner, who also aroused impassioned debate in the drawing rooms and literary circles in Italy. Pedrotti directed a few pieces of Lohengrin as part of the Popular Concert series in 1872 and five years later, with the support of the impresario Giovanni Depanis, proposed the entire opera at the Regio, translated into Italian and with staging by Richard Fricke, Wagner’s collaborator in Bayreuth.
After the young opera Rienzi (1882), the entire Tetralogy was presented in 1883 in the original language and with staging by the company of Angelo Neumann, which held the exclusive rights for a European tour. Later Turin contended with Bologna for the title of “Wagnerian city” of Italy, presenting, among other things, Lohengrin with Roberto Stagno (1885) and Tannhäuser with Giovanni Battista De Negri (1888), and then the “prima” in Italy, in Italian, of Die Walküre (1891) and Götterdämmerung (1895) directed by Toscanini.
In the years of Depanis’s management (1877-1881), the Regio reacquired a leading position on the Italian scene: without neglecting operas from the Donizetti and Verdi repertoires, the theatre programmes presented Italian “premières” of operas by composers who were still relatively unknown in our country.
4.3 The “grand pas”
In the 1870s and 1880s dance at the Regio saw a final phase of splendour before the crisis that would lead to the closure of the dance school in 1890. It was the time of the “Grand pas”, characterised by great masses of ballet dancers and impressive scenic displays.
The settings ranged from the Wagnerian influence of German mythology in Sieba, or La spada di Wodan (1878) to the historical reconstructions of Cristoforo Colombo (1893). In 1882, Excelsior also triumphed in Turin after its success at La Scala. The ballet by choreographer Luigi Manzotti and composer Romualdo Marenco was a monumental allegory of the victory of Civilization and Light over obscurantism.
4.4 Alfredo Catalani
Alfredo Catalani had a superior rapport with Turin: at Regio he obtained significant success with the “première” of Elda (1880), represented later in a revised form with the title Loreley (1890). Dejanice, a year after the “première” at La Scala, was staged as part of the shows for the Esposizione Generale Italiana of 1884, with the direction of Franco Faccio and Gemma Bellincioni in the role of Argelia. La Wally, finally, was performed in Turin in 1894 with at least a one year delay compared with the wishes of the composer, who in the meantime departed prematurely because of the strong influence of the music publisher Casa Ricordi, which conditioned the artistic choices of the theatres and had given precedence to Puccini’s Manon Lescaut.
4.5 Arturo Toscanini
Nine years after the debut in Torino at the Teatro Carignano in 1886 with Edmea by Catalani, Toscanini debuted at the Regio by inaugurating the 1895-96 season with the Italian première of Götterdämmerung (with translated text).
From that moment on, Toscanini’s contribution was fundamental to the success of Wagnerian music in Turin and Italy: Tristan und Isolde (1897), Die Walküre (1898) and Siegfried (1905) would follow. The great success with the critics and the audiences also marked the beginning of a strong and profitable relationship with the Municipal Orchestra, which Toscanini directed until April 1898. This collaboration had as significant stages the series of 43 concerts for the Esposizione Generale Italiana in Torino in 1898 and the five concerts on the occasion of the Esposizione Internazionale of 1911.
At the Regio, Toscanini objected to the excessive power of the leading artists. He ordered them to respect the scores, and tried to shift the audience’s interest from the performance of the singer-diva to the totality of the opera, in which the singing, instrumental performance and staging are coordinated by the director.
4.6 Giacomo Puccini
La Bohème, which went on stage on 1 February 1896, was Puccini’s third opera to be presented in absolute “première” at the Regio after Le Villi (adaptation of Le Willis, 1884) and Manon Lescaut (1893). On the orchestra podium was Arturo Toscanini, who would also direct Madama Butterfly in 1906.
Manon was an immediate success with the audience and the critics, whereas La Bohème did not meet with approval initially. While the Milanese press praised the composer, the magazines in Turin and in particular the «Rivista Musicale Italiana», advocate of Wagnerian music, expressed unfavourable opinions. The audience in the auditorium, however, gave lengthy applause to the composer, the conductor and the cast, including the Torinese soprano Cesira Ferrani in the role of Mimì.
4.7 The renovation
From 1901 to 1905 the Teatro Regio was ordered closed by the committee of inspection because of the precarious condition of the building. The question of building a new theatre was discussed at length, but in the end it was decided to renovate it, entrusting the structural work to Ferdinando Cocito and the decorative parts to Giorgio Ceragioli.
In the renovated auditorium, the last two tiers of boxes were substituted by three galleries, bringing the overall seating capacity of the auditorium to about 3,000 seats, and the Teatro assumed a more “popular” appearance: no longer a haunt of the aristocracy, but reflecting the social changes that had taken place not only in the city but elsewhere as well.
4.8 The fire
During the cold night between 8 and 9 February 1936, while Mulè’s Liolà was on the bill, a fire broke out in the subterranean area of the stage, where there were wooden beams and scaffolding crossed by myriads of electrical cables.
The blaze destroyed the Teatro, built almost two hundred years earlier. Despite the immediate intervention of the Fire Brigade and the soldiers of the Corps of Engineers, the spread of the fire was «sudden and very violent» and the flames soon reached the auditorium as well. At two in the morning, thousands of Torinese flocked to piazza Castello, powerless in front of “their” Teatro ablaze.