Sicily Travel – My First Opera Experience

Teatro Massimo in Palermo

Teatro Massimo in Palermo

Sept 22, 2013

On a whim I decided to tour the famous Teatro Massimo. I knew tours were offered here and fortunately this opera house was open today. For the reasonable fee of eight euros, I was thrilled to be able to see this amazing landmark of Palermo.

DSCN3255 (640x479)The Teatro Massimo was built in 1875 and had been closed at different times due to fires.  After a closure of twenty-three years, the theater re-opened in 1997. Almost everything inside is original, including the Murano glass lighting fixtures on the walls. An exception is the refurbished red velvet seats.

DSCN3256The theater boasts the largest stage in Italy and third largest in Europe, with dimensions of fifty meters in height, forty meters in depth, and thirty meters across.

IMG_1190 (640x480)Its unique ceiling features artistic paintings on panels which open on warm evenings for ventilation. Although the theater now has air-conditioning, during an opera this feature is never used as it interferes with the singer’s voices.

I actually heard one of the opera singers rehearsing and was thrilled as I listened.  On the tour I also experienced the echo room, an interesting place not commonly found in opera houses. In the beautiful marble lobby, costumes from previous operas like Aida and La Traviata were on display.

DSCN3252 (640x480)At the end of the thirty-minute tour, my knowledgeable tour guide informed our small group that tickets may still be available for tonight’s performance of the Barber of Seville. My first thought was that I would love to go, but I had no dressy clothing with me.  When I voiced my concerns, the friendly guide said that only in the stalls on the lower level do patrons need to be formally dressed. Seating in the balconies and galleries accommodates those who are more casually dressed. She reassured me that it would not be a problem.

Now I was excited, since I have never been to an opera, yet have always wanted to attend. The thought of being able to see my first opera in Italy really thrilled me. When I went to the box office to check for seats and ticket prices, I decided to buy a ticket for €85 and my seat was in the first balcony, just left of center. The opera would begin at 5:30 and I was advised to arrive an hour early. I walked back to my hotel room with a smile on my face, and thinking about what I was going  to wear.

IMG_1183 (640x480)At 4:20 I left the hotel and walked to Teatro Massimo, wearing black pants, a black and white dressy blouse, my black flats, and sunglasses.  Although this was a warm day in Palermo, I knew my gold-colored scarf would come in handy, and it was the perfect accessory to wear to the opera. I could hardly believe this was really happening.

I arrived before the doors opened, so really there was no need to be there so early. After about twenty or thirty minutes, I was able to go inside and a theater usher showed me to my seat, or to my room, I should say. The balconies consist of individual small rooms with six chairs, reminiscent of what I have seen in the movies. My view was perfect, and I regretted only having my iPhone camera.

IMG_1189 (640x481)The guide wouldn’t allow photos inside during my tour, so I assumed that held true for tonight too. But I saw plenty of others taking photos and no one stopped them.

IMG_1193 (640x480)The interior was magnificent with the velvet curtains and gold-colored walls with exquisite glass chandeliers. As more people entered, I noticed many of the ladies using hand-held fans, again, just like I have seen in films.

IMG_1191 (640x479)Although I was not hot, I assumed these women needed the fans to stay cool, since no air-conditioning was in use.  Soon three others entered my room, or sala, leaving two of the red velvet, cushioned seats vacant.

A few minutes after the scheduled time to start, the lights went down, and the opera began. I was fascinated, watching the performance, and I was glad that I had researched the story, so I could follow the Italian lyrics. A live orchestra played and above, a screen displayed the lyrics in Italian. How interesting. Such an awesome experience; I was thrilled to be here.

IMG_1195 (640x468)The opera lasted almost three hours, including a twenty-minute intermission. As I left the theater with the other patrons, I felt a part of something and energized by this rich cultural experience.

IMG_1199 (640x480)I know that this will not be my last opera, and I am so glad I had the opportunity to attend my very first opera in Sicily.

Unfortunately, there is not enough time to include all the details here. You will have to wait for my book to come out to read more about this awesome event. Stay tuned.

16 Responses

  1. Larry Aiello - Addicted2Italy

    Hey Margie,
    Sounds like an amazing experience. I’ve been by that theater many times, but have not been inside. I’ve heard it described as being very beautiful, with the ornate, red interior with the velvet seats. You’ve captured it well with the photos. I didn’t realize you could tour it for eight euros. Next time I visit Palermo, I’ll have to put that on my list.
    Take care

  2. timelessitaly

    Margie, you looked really well-dressed for the opera, shades and all! The opera building is gorgeous and I adore those rows of side rooms. It reminds me of Phantom of the Opera. Thank you for a lovely write up about a magnificent opera house!

  3. dollygoolsby

    I will have to go there. I have been to the opera at the Arena in Verona, and to the Puccini Festival in Viareggio but not Palermo. There is nothing to compare with the spectacular venues for opera in Italy. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  4. Janice Robinson

    The only time i was there (for la boheme) i had a funny experience in the ladies room, where a girl was calling her other italian boyfriend to come and take her home as the other italian boyfriend was annoying her. She then told me she had 3 italian boyfriends, which was ‘way better’ than having only one. Lol! Some sicilian friends got me a seat in the second row and i was captivated by the opera itself, but also the beauty of the theater…

    • margieinitaly

      Thanks so much Janice and glad it brought back some memories for you..there is always another story..I have a few too, from this nigh, that I will include in my upcoming book, My Love Affair with Sicily.

  5. imarancher

    I love this entry. So glad you finally saw an opera! You know there are many small venues that do these in the USA as well as PBS for the small screen. But if you were waiting for just the right place, I think you got it! And I have to mention this. As I was scrolling down the screen I stopped midway on the next to the last picture to read the legend. And I noted an unusual nurses cap on the pic below. I really did laugh out loud when I realized what it was. Just take a look at the top 1/4th of the last picture and you will see what I saw.

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