For over seventy years it has been in the hearts of not only romans but tourists alike that take home wonderful memories of performances set up in a magical frame of antiquity. It was the year 1937 when the Teatro dell'Opera set up its summer season at the Caracalla Baths for the first time: as the monumental archeological site becomes a stage.
Apart from the the interruption during the war from 1940 to 1944 and the closure from 1994 to 2000, there have always been performances of lyrics and dance that have been most known for charming a large international public.
In the beginning the stage was situated in one of the large rooms situated in the Tepidarium, it took up 1500 metres of space. The stage was 22 metres long and was in fact the largest in the world. The seating plan could host eight thousand people (with the following move of the stage to the exedra of the calidarium the numbers were amplified reaching twenty thousand places)
With Olivieri De Fabritis in the pulpit, Toti dal Monte and Beniamino Gigli the most exceptional voices of the time on the evening of the 1st of august 1937 the opera being sung was Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti.
From that moment on famous musicians and artists have performed under the lights of this green oasis with its ruins that tower above us gently touching the skies thirty metres above creating a timeless atmosphere with the help of the theatre's orchestra, choir and ballet corps.
We could quote some names such as: Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, Mario Del Monaco, Tito Gobbi, Giulietta Simionato, Antonietta Stella, Fedora Barbieri, Magda Olivero, Alfredo Krauss, Franco Corelli and many others not to mention the most recent José Carreras, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti stars of the first concert of the world famous three Tenors Tenors in the summer of 1990. Among the directors we fondly remember Ottaviano Ziino, Ferruccio Scaglia, Franco Capuana, Gianandrea Gavazzeni, Giuseppe Patanè and Zubin Mehta.
The Baths of Caracalla were among one of the major spa complexes in antique Rome, maybe the richest for its splendid decoration which has today in part been lost. They were constructed entirely by the emperor starting from after 212 AD, in a southern periphery of the city. Nine thousand workmen worked for five years digging out the Aventine hill to make the enormous quadrangular platform of over three hundred metres to house, above the storage cellars and working areas, the central corp made in opus caementicium then covered in bricks.
The Baths were in use until 537 when Vitige, King of the Goths, cut the aquaeducts during the siege of Rome. Since then the Baths were abandoned and thus became a cemetery. The excavations of the 1500's brought to light colossal groups of statues, mostly copies of the Hellenistic period that ended up in the greatest collections of the time such as the Farnese Collection, now at the National Archeological Museum of Naples.
In the first half of the 19th cent the palaestra was rediscovered and mosaics of athletes and sporting judges were removed. Since then non stop excavations, above all in the 20th cent, have contributed to our knowledge of the monument revealing the underground areas and the mitreum.
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