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The origins of the theatre date to the beginning of the 18th Century, when Vittorio Amedeo II commissioned architect Filippo Juvarra to design and construct a grand new theatre as part of the more general urban reorganization of Piazza Castello.
The intention, however, was completed only a few years later by Carlo Emanuele III (crowned king in 1730) who, after the death of Juvarra, chose to entrust the project to architect Benedetto Alfieri, with the demand to design a very prestigious theatre. The «Teatro Regio» of Torino, built in the record time of two years, was inaugurated on 26 December 1740 with Arsace by Francesco Feo. It immediately became an international reference point because of its capacity – about 2,500 seats among the stalls and the five tiers of boxes –, the magnificent decorations in the auditorium with the vault painted by Sebastiano Galeotti, the impressive scenes and the technical equipment, as well as the quality of the performances.
Each season began on 26 December, concluded with the end of Carnival and included two new opere serie written specially for the Teatro. During the 18th Century such celebrated Italian composers as Galuppi, Jommelli, Cimarosa and Paisiello wrote for the Regio, as did foreign authors like Gluck, Johann Christian Bach and Hasse. Moreover, the most famous castratos and prima donnas of the epoch sang there, contributing in a decisive way to the success of the performances. Arousing no less interest were the dancers, who appeared in the two entr’acte dances and in the final choreographic action that was part of each opera.
After being closed for five years (1792-1797) the Regio changed name several times, reflecting the changes in historical events: in 1798 it became Teatro Nazionale, in 1801 Grand Théâtre des Arts and in 1804 Théâtre Impérial.
In the moralizing climate of the Republican years gambling was abolished and hiring castratos was prohibited (they would later return in the Imperial Age). Italian operas continued to be in the repertoire, with the librettos more or less superficially adapted to suit Jacobinic taste. Napoleon attended performances there on three occasions and the very finest artists like the soprano Isabella Colbran, the tenor Nicola Tacchinardi and the choreographer Salvatore Viganò also came to Torino.
The Savoys regained possession of the theatre with the Restoration. At the time of Carlo Felice, a great lover of music, virtuosos like Giuditta Pasta and Domenico Donzelli performed on stage at the Regio, but in the nineteenth century Torino lost its importance compared to Milan, Naples and Venice.
Under Carlo Alberto the auditorium received a Neo-classical imprint (emphasized by the renovation works entrusted to Ernesto Melano and Pelagio Palagi). In the middle of the century a few changes were introduced in the programming. There was a shift to the season of Carnival-Lent, divided into five or more mainly repertoire operas (and no longer those written specially for the Teatro). Furthermore, beginning with Rossini’s Barbire di Siviglia (1855), the Regio opened up to opera buffa.
New renovations by Angelo Moja in 1861 did away with the changes made by Pelagi and gave the auditorium a “Neo-baroque” appearance.
In 1870 the City of Turin took over ownership of the Regio. In those years the history of the Teatro interwove with that of the Civic Orchestra and the Popular Concerts conceived by Carlo Pedrotti, who brought important novelties to the repertoire by introducing the music of Wagner and Massenet in the programming. The debut of Arturo Toscanini at the Teatro was also in the name of Wagner. The Maestro collaborated with the Orchestra from 1895 to 1898 and on 26 December 1905, after the renovations supervised by Ferdinando Cocito, inaugurated the new auditorium with Siegfried.
Other important composers in the history of the Regio are Giacomo Puccini, who christened Manon Lescaut (1893) and La bohéme (1896) in Turin, and Richard Strauss, who in 1906 conducted Salome in the Italian “première”. The last great “première” held by the old Regio was Francesca da Rimini by Riccardo Zandonai, libretto by Gabriele D’Annunzio (1914). After being closed during the wartime period, the Teatro dedicated itself to repertoire operas.
During the night of 8 and 9 February 1936 the Teatro was destroyed by a violent fire and it would take almost forty years to rebuild it.
After the fire of 1936, there was the problem of deciding who should be in charge of the project of reconstructing the Teatro. The announcement of competition published in 1937 was won by the architects Aldo Morbelli and Robaldo Morozzo della Rocca. Their project, however, was never fully accomplished.
In 1965, in fact, the city administration proposed a new solution by entrusting the work to architect Carlo Mollino and engineer Marcello Zavelani Rossi. The work began in early September 1967 and was completed in the very first months of 1973.
From 1973 to today
The new Teatro Regio was inaugurated on 10 April 1973 with Giuseppe Verdi's opera I vespri siciliani, directed by Maria Callas and Giuseppe Di Stefano. Since that date productive activity has been progressively increasing, right up to the occasions that have left their mark on the history of the Regio’s recent years: in 1990 the 250th anniversary of its founding, in 1996, live on TV, the centennial of the absolute “première” of Bohème, in 1998 the 25 years of the new theatre (with an important acoustic restoration), in 2006 the extraordinary adventure of the XX Winter Olympic Games and the Olympics of Culture.
The Opera and Ballet Season, which provides for at least ten titles from October to June, is joined by many other activities: symphonic-choral and chamber concerts that see the involvement of the Teatro Regio Orchestra and Chorus; a series of shows staged at the Piccolo Regio and intended for a new audience and for families; events like Torino Settembre Musica, Torinodanza, RegioneInTour, Punto Verde Giardini Reali and others that are organized in collaboration with the local institutions; School at the Opera (italian program), a full calendar of activities and shows for children and teens; and then conferences, guided tours and ehxibitions. All the events that Teatro Regio places at the centre of the artistic and cultural life of Torino and Piedmont, but not only.