by Rino Alessi
“On the occasion of the opening of the New Theater of the City and Free Port of Trieste, in the spring of 1801, two dramas will be represented: the first titled ‘Ginevra di Scozia’, with music by maestro Simone Mayr, and the second titled Annibale in Capua”, libretto by Salieri. With these words, the “Osservatore Triestino” announced the inauguration of the town’s new theater on April 10, 1801.
Architects Giannantonio Selva and Matteo Pertsch, a pupil of Piermarini, had designed the Teatro Nuovo. Construction started in 1798 and ended in 1801, year of the inauguration. Because of its large parterre and five tiers of box seats, in 1819 the Nuovo was renamed Teatro Grande. It changed name to Teatro Comunale in 1861, after becoming property of Trieste’s Municipality, and was finally renamed Teatro Comunale Giuseppe Verdi in 1901, year of the great composer’s death.
In its second season, in the spring of 1802, the Nuovo presented another premiere: “Semiramide” by Nasolini. The company included the famous Giuseppina Grassini and “the beautiful Guidarini, nicknamed ‘Catalani’”, born in Bologna and mother of Gioachino Rossini (Danziger, “Memorie del Teatro Comunale raccolte da un vecchio teatrofilo”). Even the audience could notice the rivalry between the two ladies, cause of quite a few fainting spells – real or not. During one show, the gorgeous Guidarini had to be rescued by her son – who at 11-years-old decided right then and there to give up his dreams of becoming a singer, and to become a composer instead.
Rossini’s works would take their time reaching Trieste, which only in 1820 was able to applaud a very young Giuditta Pasta for her performance in “La Cenerentola”. Bellini and Donizetti had better luck, not to mention Verdi, who triumphed in 1843 with his “Nabucco” – in the city where Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” had just been given a cold welcome. Then there were “I Lombardi” and “Ernani”, “I Due Foscari” and “Attila”, “I Masnadieri” and finally, in the eventful 1848, the premiere of “Il Corsaro”, based on Lord Byron’s poem “The Corsair”, which fell flat. Verdi made a comeback with “Macbeth”, and soared again with “Stiffelio”, which was specifically meant for Trieste and premiered at the Teatro Grande in 1850.
Trieste’s passion for Verdi is confirmed by its main theater’s program for 2013, with both Michael Güttler’s “Nabucco” – which was performed by the theater’s own ensembles also in Udine and Pordenone – and “Messa da Requiem”, which will close the celebrations for the bicentennial of the composer’s birth. Next year will bring more Verdi (“Un ballo in maschera”, paired with a photography exhibition dedicated to the legendary Trieste-born baritone, Piero Cappuccilli, “La Traviata” and “Attila”), Rossini (“L’occasione fa il ladro”), Puccini (with an impressive “Madama Butterfly”, also performed on tour in Cyprus and Seoul), Mozart (“Il Re pastore”), and last but not least, in representation of the city’s love for operetta, Lehar’s “The land of smiles”.