Politeama Theatre (Palermo)

Il Teatro Politeama di Palermo

Teatro Politeama (Politeama Theatre) in Palermo is a splendid example of neoclassical architecture, designed by Giuseppe Damiani Almeyda and built between 1867 and 1874. Originally created as an amphitheatre for open-air performances, it is now home to the Sicilian Symphony Orchestra. In 1896, a young Arturo Toscanini conducted Puccini’s La Bohème at the Teatro Politeama, achieving great success with the public after a poor reception from the critics in Turin.

History of Teatro Politeama in Palermo

The construction of Palermo’s Teatro Politeama took place between 1867 and 1874 based on a design by Giuseppe Damiani Almeyda. Initially used for open-air performances, it had a large marquee serving as a canopy, much like the amphitheatres of ancient Rome. The conversion of the amphitheatre into a theatre took place in 1868. This was done so that the programme could be extended to include music and drama performances. The Politeama was inaugurated, albeit incomplete, on 7th June 1874, with a performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s opera ‘I Capuleti e i Montecchi’ (The Capulets and the Montagues). The roof was added in 1887 and the final decorations were added in 1891 for the National Exhibition held in Palermo. Verdi’s Otello, starring the famous tenor, Francesco Tamagno, was performed for the official opening. Teatro Politeama in Palermo has been home to the Sicilian Symphony Orchestra since 2001.

Architecture and exterior decoration of the Politeama

Teatro Politeama in Palermo is an important example of neoclassical architecture. The entrance features an imposing triumphal arch, crowned by a quadriga representing the ‘Triumph of Apollo and Euterpe’, created by sculptor Mario Rutelli. Two statues of horses by Benedetto Civiletti stand on either side of the quadriga. To the side of the triumphal arch is the semicircular body of the building with two rows of columns: one in Doric style and one in Ionic style. The exterior walls are richly decorated in the Pompeian style following the theme of the Olympic Games and horse racing. The dome roof, made of iron and glass, was added in 1877. This dome, like the whole theatre, was designed by Giuseppe Damiani Almeyda and made by the Fonderia Oretea. 

Interior of Teatro Politeama in Palermo

Teatro Politeama’s auditorium is horseshoe-shaped with two tiers of boxes and a double gallery. At the time, it had a capacity of five thousand spectators (today it is 950). The proscenium features a hexastyle Corinthian colonnade with a bronze bust of Giuseppe Garibaldi in the centre. The dome ceiling is painted sky blue to give the appearance of the sky itself. At its base is a pictorial cycle by Gustavo Mancinelli on the ‘Feste Eleuterie’ (Feast of Pope Eleutherius). Definitely worth mentioning is the theatre’s large curtain, which is 14 metres wide and 13 metres high and weighs a total of 450 kilos. This decoration is also the work of Gustavo Mancinelli and represents ‘Aeschylus at the Court of Hieron of Syracuse’.

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