Teatro Regio Torino, Italy

Modern Theatres 1950 bis 2020

Bühnentechnische Rundschau

Our next stop on our tour of the world's premier music and drama venues from 1950 to 2020 takes us to Italy, where modern theatre originated. The opulent Teatro Regio in Turin was built in 1740 and rebuilt in 1973, keeping only the facade. It now stands as a unique symbol not only of the colourul history of the region but also of the changing face of opera over the last three centuries.

The cast of characters associated with Teatro Regio Torino (Turin) includes Wagner, Puccini, Richard Strauss, Arturo Toscanini, Maria Callas, and acclaimed architect Carlo Mollino.

The original Teatro Regio was an opera house in the customary form – a horseshoe shaped auditorium with five levels of galleried seating. It was destroyed by fire in 1936 and after a protracted period a new theatre was built and opened in 1973. The new theatre has a radically different form expressed in a unique architecture.

Carlo Emanuele III (1701 BIS 1773), the Duke of Savoy instructed architect Benedetto Alfieri to design a theatre of great prestige. There was then considerable rivalry between the Italian city states with each seeking to create symbols and buildings of greater importance and status. The theatre was completed in only two years and opened in December 1740 with a production of Francesco Feo’s Arsace. It seated about 2,000 in the stalls level surrounded by 143 boxes (including the royal box/palco reale, placed at the center on the second level of boxes) with five levels and a gallery (the piccionaia).

The theatre was richly decorated with an ornate proscenium and elaborately painted ceiling. Charles Burney, an English music historian and composer authored The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771) and described the Teatro Regio as one of the most beautiful theatres in Europe. The Regio was a landmark in the European Grand Tour of the time, and Diderot and D’Alembert chose to include this theatre in the new edition of their Encyclopédie (1775), with numerous plates and accurate details about the innovative solutions adopted in the building.

The theatre was closely tied to the court and was intensively used until the French invasion of Piedmont in 1798. The Savoy decorations and insignia were removed, and it was successively renamed Teatro Nazionale, Grand Théâtre des Arts and finally Théâtre Impérial.

Künstlerischer Fels in unruhigen Zeiten

In 1814 the Piedmont area returned to Savoy rule and the theatre was renamed Teatro Regio and redecorated in neoclassical style by Ernesto Melano and Pelagio Palagi, at the request of King Carlo Alberto. All through the 19th century, great virtuosi of belcanto performed on the stage of the Regio, like Giuditta Pasta and Adelina Patti; serious operas of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi became soon a regular presence in the seasons, and from 1855 the curtain rose for the comic repertoire too. In 1861, the year of Italian unification, a new renovation by Angelo Moja took place: the changes previously made by Palagi were removed and the auditorium got a “neo-baroque” appearance. In 1870 the City of Turin took over ownership of the Regio and began a period full of novel artistic choices.

In 1895 Arturo Toscanini became music director and principal conductor of Teatro Regio for three seasons; the following year he conducted the world premiere of Puccini’s La Bohème and went on to conduct his first symphony concert in the theatre. For the 1898 Italian Expo in Turin, he conducted 43 concerts in just 4 months. Under Toscanini the theatre became one of the Wagnerian strongholds in Italy, and in 1905 he came back to inaugurate the renovated theatre with Sigfried. In 1906 Richard Strauss made his debut in an Italian theatre conducting here the Italian premiere of his Salome.

Umbau für mehr Sitzplätze und demokratische Verhältnisse

In the early years of the twentieth century there was much discussion about building a new theatre or modifying the Teatro Regio to increase its seating capacity. The latter prevailed: the structural work was entrusted to Ferdinando Cocito and the decorative parts to Giorgio Ceragioli. The last two tiers of boxes were substituted by three galleries, increasing 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 in the society.

During the night of 8th to 9th February 1936 an electrical short circuit caused a fire which destroyed the theatre after almost two hundred years. The front wall of the theatre, which dates from the early eighteenth-century fronts onto Piazza Castello, the most important square in Turin, was the only element left standing after the fire (it is today part of UNESCO World Heritage together with the Residences of the Royal House of Savoy).

Ein Neubau hinter historischer Fassade

Within a year a competition was announced for the reconstruction. The competition for a 3,500-seat opera house was won by architects Aldo Morbelli and Robaldo Morozzo della Rocca. Despite this prompt initiative, the Second World War and political issues delayed the works for thirty years until 1967, when architect Carlo Mollino was appointed to design a new theatre with a capacity reduced to a more appropriate 1,800 seats. Mollino was selected by an apposite commission, as one of the most acclaimed architects of his time, having been professor of Architectural Composition at the Turin faculty from 1953 to the death, responsible among many buildings for the Turin Equestrian Society (1937-40), the Rai Auditorium (1950-53), the Torino Chamber of Commerce (1964-72). He had eclectic interests in racing cars, planes, streamlining, steel, and was once credited as saying, “Everything is permissible as long as it is fantastic.” Mollino had no real experience of the buildings for performance or opera houses but determined to produce a new form of theatre for Teatro Regio and Turin.

In 1927 Walter Gropius was head of the renowned Bauhaus and originated a design for what he called the Total Theatre. Carlo Mollino also prepared a concept drawing for a “Teatro Totale” with his sketch for Turin. The city authorities wanted to retain the harmony of Piazza Castello and insisted the front façade and colonnade be retained and restored. Mollino kept this element to house foyers and box office. An open space behind led to a completely new glass façade and entrance to the theatre

Bezüge zum Bauhaus und der Geschichte

The new Teatro Regio foyers have an interesting interplay of levels linked by staircases redolent of those in the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Mollino also picked up the star shape found in Guarino Guarini’s Palazzo Carignano and embodied them in patterns on the foyer walls as on the external, curvilinear side walls, where he declined side by side cotto tiles and great glass surfaces. The traditional symbol of Turin is a bull and he incorporated a bull in semi-abstract form into a marble ellipsoidal section of the foyer floor in what is now called Foyer del Toro. The predominant colours in the foyers are the red of the carpet (a singular, registered pattern that mixes red and purple designed by his own), the white of the marbles, the golden/bronze tint in the laminated walls and in the balustrade. Everywhere glass walls allow the eye to look at the exterior architecture, in a continuous dialogue with the past, and in total transparency between the people inside and the community. He designed very distinctive lighting based on frosted globes which are used throughout the foyers, sometimes assembled in shapes that remember bunches or wisteria flowers.

Origineller Zuschauerraum – klassische Bühne

Although he travelled extensively to review theatre buildings Mollino devised a truly unique, unusual and challenging auditorium for Turin. The auditorium has a wide, deep and quite steeply raked main body of seating. It is surrounded by a single curved row of 37 boxes that rise to follow the line of the raked floor to give, nowadays, a total seating capacity of 1,582. The proscenium was very wide with a purple – Mollino want it to be called indigo – curved frame looking as though it was influenced by Radio City Music Hall in NY, it is reminiscent of a sixties television set. The deep indigo of the proscenium gently fades, through a veining geometrical design, into the white ivory, until the row of boxes. So, the auditorium is capped with a concave curved ceiling looking like a half-opened shell or scallop which generally is a poor acoustic shape in an opera house. The red colour was carried through from the public areas onto the auditorium seats, with originally red carpet on the floors and running up the walls. From the ceiling you have a dramatic chandelier made up of over 3,600 luminous stems creates the effect of an “iridescent cloud”.

The stage is a very conventional cruciform with a main stage (24m wide and 20m deep) incorporating six elevators under a fly tower 32m high, side stages on either side and a rear stage.

The new theatre opened on 10th April 1973 with I Vespri sicilliani (The Sicilian Vespers) by Giuseppe Verdi. It was the first and only stage direction by Maria Callas, together with Giuseppe Di Stefano. The new theatre surprised all the people. Opera houses across Italy had richly decorated historic auditoriums with rows of boxes around the room stacked to very high ceilings. The new theatre was radically different. But the people of Turin took pride in having something different from every other city in Italy and embraced the Mollino project as their own.


Carlo Mollino had travelled extensively to research theatres and opera house precedents after he was appointed to design the new Teatro Regio. He visited theatres in Zurich, Warsaw, Malmo, Vienna, Berlin (Charlottenburg), London, Bucharest, Frankfurt, Cologne, etc. and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. But he was determined to do something different from what had gone before. His interests in curvilinear forms and streamlining appear to have predominated in his approach to the auditorium. To deal with acoustics matters, Mollino had a specialist advisor, prof. Gino Sacerdote, director of acoustics at the National Electrotechnical Institute “Galileo Ferraris” (Turin), member of the Acoustical Society of America and of the French Acoustics Association; he was appointed by the commissioning body, the City of Turin. He made a series of tests in 1968, using sound-generator machines and microphones, applied to a gypsum model of the auditorium, based on the executive project. Other tests with orchestra and chorus were made when the auditorium was almost completed. The auditorium has a generous if not over large plan area but in section the room has relatively low concave ceiling and steep rake to the main body of seating – see the comparative section below.

Akustische Herausforderung

At the time of its opening the new house had difficult acoustics. Singers complained about the difficulty of hearing music from the orchestra pit. The room also had a short reverberation time giving poor acoustics for the audience, this latter problem being caused by the low concave ceiling and the extensive carpeting on walls and floor. In 1996, the auditorium underwent an important refurbishment, led by Roberto Gabetti and Almaro Oreglia d’Isola working with German acoustic consultants Mueller-BBM from Munich. The intervention, reversible in each part, involved wood-panelling the auditorium, slightly modifying the external walls and stage, and installing a new proscenium over Mollino’s structure, which improved the acoustic connection between orchestra pit and stage, and with the stalls.

The acoustics were studied and measured both before and after the renovation. The original “TV” set shape of the proscenium arch did not achieve a balance between singers on stage and orchestra pit and made it difficult for the singers to hear the musicians. A completely new proscenium zone was constructed in front of the original which narrowed the front of the auditorium and created better reflecting surfaces. To increase the reverberation time in the room all the absorbent carpet on the floors and walls was removed to expose harder, more reflective surfaces.

Fast 300 Jahre Operngeschichte

Founded in 1740 the Regio is the second oldest theatre still in use in Italy (after Teatro di San Carlo, Naples, 1736). Since the time of reopening in 1973, productive activity has been progressively increasing, right up to the occasions that have left their mark on the recent history of the Regio: in 1990 the 250th anniversary of its founding; in 1996, live on TV, the centennial of the world première of Puccini’s Bohème, created at Regio; in 2006 the extraordinary adventure of the XX Winter Olympic Games and its Olympics of Culture, an international event after which the Regio has begun to tour all over the world.

The theatre today hosts both new productions and co-productions, along with repertoire stagings; the most renowned world dance companies present ballet masterpieces too. Teatro Regio also offers a symphonic-choral concert season and has also been used for large scale musicals – Cats, West Side Story and Evita.

Turin is the fourth biggest city in Italy, and its opera house is one of the 14 national lyric-symphonic foundations, financed by the central government, by local administration and by many private companies. Today, the people of this area have a unique opera house, both thanks to the “open architecture” by Mollino (in terms of transparency) and at the same time thanks to the variety of events presented at Regio.

Simone Solinas: Spanischer Architekt, mehr zu ihm kommt noch

Übersetzung: Marc Staudacher

BTR Ausgabe 1 2020
Rubrik: English texts, Seite 290
von David Staples and Simone Solinas

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