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The Verdi Theatre - Architectural History

The Verdi Theatre - Architectural History

The need to find an area able to hold a new theatre building in Salerno was already alive at the dawn of the fifth decade of the nineteenth century.

On November 15, 1843, in fact, the Intendant of the Province proposes two places to build the theatre:
the largo Santa Teresa, located in the western part of the town and the largo della barriera fuori Portanuova, which extends on the opposite side.

The debate on choosing one site or another, the problems associated with financing the works and the slowness of the Bourbon bureaucracy had prevented, for twenty years, that the building were carried out. The intricate vicissitude knows its positive solution only after the Kingdom of Italy, when the long-standing controversy on the municipal theatre is back on the headlines, keeping coming up, in all its urgency, to the post-Risorgimento political class. At the session of December 15, 1863, the Town Council, thanks to the firm determination of the then new mayor Matteo Luciani, resolves the controversy, choosing the area of Santa Teresa as a place where the building will rise.
The first project, designed by engineers Petrilli and De Luca in 1844, is reviewed by architect Antonio Genovese.

However, the final version was drawn up by Antonino D’Amora, chief engineer of the Civil Engineers of Salerno and architect Giuseppe Manichini.
They will also be entrusted with the supervision of construction works.
The building consists of a main building (35 m L x 65 m W); it features at the short ends two symmetrical appendages, corresponding to the entrance area and the backstage. In the external joints, especially in its front elevation, it reproposes the neoclassical model, already experienced by Piermarini for La Scala in Milan and by Piccolini for the San Carlo in Naples; the interior layout of San Carlo is, also, retaken, reduced and adapted for the Municipal Theatre of Salerno.

On April 1, 1864 the works begin, assigned to the supervisor Vincenzo Fiorillo, also accompanied in 1867, due to the increasing designing difficulties and the resulting economic burden, by Bonaventura della Monica, with the capital support and the firm of Antonio Avallone, for the construction of the complex building works.

On October 1, 1869, the rustic building is completed and the decoration work begins. The image master of the Municipal Theatre is Gaetano D’Agostino, gifted painter and decorator, who is supported by the most prestigious names of the Neapolitan academic world.

He is assisted by: Domenico Morelli, Pasquale Di Criscito, Ignazio Perricci, Giuseppe Sciuti, his brother Antonio, his cousin Ermenegildo Caputo, Matteo Amendola and sculptor Giovan Battista Amendola, native of Episcopio in Sarno. From the foyer, the iconographic drawing very clearly emerges: the selected images have to communicate the intended use of the site, conceived as a temple of music and, particularly the tradition of the bel canto. In the middle of the peristyle it stands the sculpture by Giovan Battista Amendola representing dying Pergolesi, whose symbolic function is to introduce the audience into the temple of music. Of this temple Gioachino Rossini is the undisputed Lord who, in the middle of the plafond, down from a balustrade, becomes a supreme expression and Neapolitan genius, having, the artist, dominated the Neapolitan scene between 1815 and 1822. He is encircled by the muses, progressing from the Prussian blue of the sky and holding hands in a choreographic carousel. Younger sisters of superb and gracious deities by Paolo Veronese, of the flowery and voluptuous figure of Pietro da Cortona, of those lighter and airy of Tiepolo, the muses on the ceiling shock even very cultured Francesco Saverio Malpica.

This last, even though considered Di Criscito a painter of uncommon talent, in two letters sent to a friend in 1872 and then published in Salerno, wrote that on the ceiling of the Municipal Theatre he could not identify even a distant glimmer of artistic inspiration, being Rossini portrayed with a “full moon face” and the muses as “….big and fat women wiggling their buttocks, legs and arms….” and, therefore, unworthy of any modest look. Regardless of such clamours, the nine sisters spread out abundant, neo-baroque favours, enveloping in their joyful swirl, the allegory of musicality, in blue tunic and white hand near the ear; the melody, portrayed the musical power, whose alluded intensity is entrusted to the sound of a Roman bugle, played by a sea creature.

Behind Rossini it opens a series of paintings inspired by his most meaningful works, written in Italy before leaving for Paris:
Tancredi, Armida, Otello, il Barbiere di Siviglia, Mosè in Egitto and Semiramide. While the sky of Di Criscito represents the consecration to the great season of the Italian Opera, the curtain has the duty to celebrate the history of the town, evoking a glorious episode of the past. Thanks to his personal friendship, D’Agostino works so that master Domenico Morelli carries out the most emblematic work of the theatre.

The chosen episode is the Expulsion of the Saracens from Salerno, occurred in the summer of the 1871, when citizens of Salerno, led by Prince Guaiferio, resisted the invaders, led by the violent Abdila. From literary sources, Morelli abridges the moment when bold Saracens, with their military superiority, advance to avenge seventy men of their formations, killed by the opponents during a lightning incursion beyond the walls. The alliance of three towns of Campania (Salerno, Benevento and Capua) shown on the medallion at the top centre of the curtain, the popular participation, exemplified in the figures of the archers and women, painted in the eight cameos of the frame, represent the heroic and victorious resistance of Salerno. Twenty four preparatory drawings, the final sketch, two studies of the central episode, constitute the entire process of the work by Morelli. In fact, the transposition of the work on the large piece of canvas of 122 square meters, is done by two painters very close to the master: Giuseppe Sciuti, from Zafferana Etnea, Sicily, who paints all the figures, Ignazio Perricci, architect from Monopoli, Bari, who makes the precious frame.
It represents the true original feature of the magnificent curtain. Its yellow-blue elegant medallions perfectly fit into the historic tale, built on the able mix of great choreography for melodrama and exotic oriental touches, Mariano Fortuny-style. Skilled master builders, sculptors and gilders support D’Agostino in carrying out the decorations. On the parapets of the boxes in the first tier they stand some putti holding a medallion; in the second tier, there are powerful neo-mannerist giants with flowery bodies; in the third tier, some female figures combine so to form a cameo, which holds the image of a poet, a painter and a musician.

On these medallions, from left to right, from the perspective of those who enter the hall, they are portrayed: Vincenzo Bellini, Domenico Cimarosa, Giovan Battista Pergolesi, Carlo Goldoni, Gioachino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti, Vittorio Alfieri, Torquato Tasso, Dante Alighieri, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Raffaello Sanzio, Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea Sabatini, Benvenuto Cellini, Salvator Rosa and Giuseppe Verdi. The Municipal Theatre of Salerno (Giuseppe Verdi Theatre since 1902, according to the Town Council resolution) is inaugurated on March 30, 1872 with the performance of Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi.

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