A Spirit of Innovation Continues

Massimo Theatre Foundation

This is a story with two acts. The Teatro Massimo in Palermo was first built as Italy’s largest, most groundbreaking monument to opera, enjoyed exclusively by the city's elite. But today this historic landmark is open for everyone. And its long-standing tradition of innovation is inspiring a new generation of music lovers.

The Symbol of the City
The Teatro Massimo was built in 1897 and quickly became the symbol of all of Palermo. You might recognise the grand steps from the final scene of The Godfather Part III. But behind this iconic facade lies a powerful spirit of innovation that continues to change the face of Italian opera. 

A New Opera House for Palermo
The theatre was designed by Giovan Battista Filippo Basile, and his son Ernesto, during Palermo’s belle epoque—a time of great prosperity. It took 22 years to complete, and was the most significant Italian construction project of the 19th century.

The Perfect Theatre

When first opened in 1897, the building was considered avant garde in its approach. The idea was to create a functionally perfect opera house with unrivaled acoustics, using the latest building techniques.

Now playing: La Traviata by Verdi

Sculptures and bronze candelabras make a striking first impression as you step inside.

Enter the Grand Foyer

Now playing: Rigoletto by Verdi

Famous for its perfect acoustics, this magnificent performance space can seat 1,300 guests.

The Auditorium

The Symbolic Wheel

The auditorium features an ingenious mechanical roof made from eleven flower-like petals which open to provide ventilation.

Now playing: Madam Butterfly by Puccini

A gathering space with a unique echo effect, designed to allow for private conversations during intervals.

The Pompeian Hall

Now playing: Carmen by Georges Bizet

As the largest stage in Europe, this space has welcomed elephants, horses and incredible sets the size of buildings.

Back Stage
The Next Generation
The Youth of the Teatro Massimo was founded by six passionate music fans who carried on the theatre's tradition of innovation, and helped attracting future opera lovers, using social media and special under 35s events. Now they want to share what they love most about their city's groundbreaking cultural icon.
Walter Vitale on the Auditorium
“Standing in the center of this room, surrounded by all the Art Nouveau decorations, and the 140 boxes embellished in gold and velvet, creates the most powerful emotion. When I see the ceiling petals opening up in the heat of Palermo, I’m just left speechless.”
Maria Linda Piccione on the Pompeian Hall
“This is one of the rooms I love the most. It looks majestic, with the dome and neoclassical sculptures, and it hides one of the greatest secrets of the Teatro Massimo: an extraordinary echo effect created by Ernesto Basile.”
Martina Montanari on the Stage
“The impressive exterior of the is reflected inside as well, in the most important space for any theatre: the stage. So many productions have made use of the immense size; it’s the largest stage in all of Europe.”
A New Kind of Opera Lover
The Teatro Massimo's innovative approach to art lives on in the community as well. From live-streaming operas online and in public piazzas, to South Italy's first opera on wheels, new technology is helping a younger, more diverse crowd to share in their city’s cultural heritage, and reignite Palermo's love for opera.
“Opera and symphonic music are not a preserve of the elite, but they are an intangible heritage that knows and can speak to all.”
Francesco Giambrone, superintendent of the Teatro Massimo

Opera Under the Stars

During the summer the Piazza Verdi is transformed into Piazza Massimo, an al fresco opera house in the square. Tickets cost just €1 to watch a performance live-streamed from stage.

Madame Butterfly at Piazza Massimo

Giacomo Puccini's seminal opera Madame Butterfly was streamed live here in 2016. Viewers around the world could also enjoy a live broadcast on Teatro Massimo TV.

An excerpt from Madame Butterfly at the Teatro Massimo, 2016.

Opera Camion

Opera Camion (The Truck Opera) took the Barber of Seville on the road to reach a new audience in communities less likely to have access to the opera.

Rossini's famous Barber of Seville was reimagined for a modern audience—with a shorter, more experimental performance featuring a unique cast.

Animation from Opera Camion
Film by Gianluigi Toccafondo, used as part of the Truck Opera set design. Musical adaptation by Thomas Chieco and Marco Giustini.

The Final Encore
Before we leave, take one last look at the architrave above the entrance. The prophetic words engraved when the theatre was first built remain just as true today...

“Art renews people and reveals their life. Love of art is useless where it does not seek to prepare for the future.”

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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