History, charm and beauty have always been characteristic of the marvellous archeological site of the Roman Baths; Terme di Caracalla, an absolutely unique theatrical stage. The ancient Romans called them Antonian after their founder Marcus Aurelius Antonino Bassiano, known as Caracalla. The Baths were opened in 216 a.d., during his reign, but the general belief among academics now is that, given the vast scale of the construction, it was probably his father, Settimio Severo, who conceived the idea of the Baths as a place capable of accommodating thousands of people at the same time.
Inside this national treasure, which still defies the passing centuries, the Teatro dell’Opera’s open-air theatre was born in 1937. It was begun as an experiment, according to the governor of Rome, Piero Colonna, who presented the initiative to the press on 27th July 1937. But the Teatro dell’Opera’s Summer Season at the open-air theatre quickly became an event you couldn’t afford to miss, not only for Romans, but spectators from all over the world. And so it was that on 1st August 1937, with Maestro Oliviero de Fabritiis on the podium, the notes of Lucia of Lammermoor struck the opening of the first season. In leading roles, Toti Dal Monte and Beniamino Gigli gave memorable performances. These were followed by two recitals of Tosca. An instant triumph. among the 7,000 present, Mussolini’s jubilant profile was silhoutted in the front row of the stalls. The meager five evenings of the experimental season jumped to almost 40 performances the following year, staged throughout the entire summer period. An auditorium capable of seating 20,000 people was built and the stage was moved from the tepidarium to the more spacious calidarium. Then Aida made its debut among the magnificent ruins. As it is undoubtedly the opera most frequently performed at Caracalla, the writer Giorgio Vigolo even proposed calling the summer arena the “Aideo”.
Between singers, chorus, dancers and mime artists, almost 500 performers managed to crowd on to the 25 metres of proscenium and immense stage to take the applause in triumph.
From 1937 to 1993 – apart from an enforced pause between 1940 and 1945 during which no performances took place due to the war and the Baths were given over to war effort kitchen gardens – the magnificence of the stage settings, the careful choice of titles, directors and artists have made millions of opera lovers and the merely curious, flock to see these eleven cycles of performances. In addition to the best-loved pieces in the repertoire, the calendar of events has often featured original works by contemporary authors, without forgetting the natural and inborn popular talent of the artistic offering.
We had to wait until 2001 for this enchanting place to be reopened to music with a temporary, moveable stage which is very advanced compared to the ruins, but manages to preserve the magic intact.
And so we come to Caracalla 2014. A new season which marks a decisive step forward in the process of the Teatro dell’Opera’s renewal. A season of classics, some reworked with a contemporary touch, but all under the banner of the marvellous repertory so much loved by audiences, willing to let themselves, once again, be enchanted beneath the stars.