Thursday, September 19, 2013

Building of the Week: The Teatro Massimo, Palermo, Italy

"Il Massimo"
You are familiar with Palermo’s grand Belle Époque theater though you may not be aware of it. Anyone who has seen The Godfather III will recognize the soaring opera house from the film’s final, tragic scenes. The second largest opera house in Italy and the third largest in Europe, the Teatro Massimo was dedicated to Italian King Victor Emanuel II who had expressed a desire to see a large-scale opulent opera house constructed for that region. 

In 1864, The Palermo Council sponsored a contest wherein local architects and designers were encouraged to submit their ideas for the new opera house. The design of popular architect Giovan Battista Filippo Basile was selected. Construction began in 1874, ten years after the initial selection of a design. Basile oversaw the construction of the edifice until his death in 1891. Following his death, Basile’s son, Ernesto Basile, a talented designer in his own right, inherited his father’s responsibilities.

The contracting firm, Rutelli & Marchi handled the construction of the building. Rutelli and Marchi developed a host of ingenious ways to safely construct the building’s inner-structure and to install the myriad exterior and interior ornaments such as monumental columns and stonework.

The exterior of the building is punctuated by a gorgeous dome reminiscent of the Pantheon. With its Classical façade marked by a magnificent pediment and Corinthian columns, the Teatro Massimo elicits thoughts of traditional Roman architecture which are heightened by decidedly Belle Époque adornments. Giusto Liva sculpted the exceptional busts of famous composers which line the exterior of the building. 

“Il Massimo” was due to be renovated in 1974. The plan was to quickly update the theater’s safety features and to restore the beauty of the original 1874 plan. Sadly, due to politics and financial concerns, the opera house remained closed for twenty-three years. Finally, it reopened in 1997 to much fanfare.

Still thought to have the best acoustics of any opera house in Europe, “Il Massimo” enjoys a flourishing opera season and once again welcomes people from around the world who have come to experience an evening of beauty. Its majestic proscenium and vivid frescoes once again create the perfect backdrop for the comedy and drama which continue to shape our collective culture. 

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