The Oldest Theater in Italy: Teatro della Pergola

The Teatro della Pergola is a historic opera house located in the centre of the city on the Via della Pergola, from which the theatre takes its name. It was built in 1656 under the patronage of Cardinal Gian Carlo de’ Medici to designs by the architect Ferdinando Tacca, son of the sculptor Pietro Tacca.

The theatre was the first to be built with superposed tiers of boxes rather than raked semi-circular seating in the Roman fashion, probably inspired by the way people watch the shows of the Renaissance palaces; looking out from the windows, the nobles could admire games, shows and battles held in the courtyard of the palace.

For this reason, the architect created the boxes: little separated spaces that allow each noble family to watch the show from a favourite position.

The opera house is considered to be the oldest in Italy, having occupied the same site for more than 350 years.

It has two auditoria, the Sala Grande, with 1,500 seats, and the Saloncino, a former ballroom located upstairs which has been used as a recital hall since 1804 and which seats 400.

Work on completing the interior was finished in 1661, in time for the celebration of the wedding of the future grand duke Cosimo III de’ Medici, with the court spectacle Ercole in Tebe by Giovanni Antonio Boretti. Primarily a court theatre used by the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, it was only after 1718 that it was opened to the public. In this theatre the great operas of Mozart were heard for the first time in Italy, and Donizetti’s Parisina and Rosmonda d’Inghilterra, Verdi’s Macbeth (1847) and Mascagni’s I Rantzau were given their premiere productions.

By the nineteenth century, La Pergola was performing operas of the best-known composers of the day including Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti and Giuseppe Verdi. Verdi’s Macbeth was given its premiere performance at the Pergola in 1847.

The Pergola’s present appearance dates from an 1855-57 remodelling; it has the traditional horseshoe-shaped auditorium with three rings of boxes and topped with a gallery. It seats 1,000. It was declared a national monument in 1925 and has been restored at least twice since.

Today the theatre presents a broad range of about 250 drama productions each year

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