Rome’s Opera House Is The City’s Silver Lining

In just five years, the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma has gone from bankrupt to booming under the careful leadership of Superintendent Carlo Fuortes – and the numbers are impressive.
La Traviata with Francesca Dotto cast as Violetta ©Teatro dell’Opera/Yasuko Kageyama

Rome may seem eternally plagued by challenges but the capital’s unlikely success stories should serve as a reminder that positive change is possible in the Italian city. In just five years, the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma (Rome Opera House) has gone from bankrupt to booming under the careful leadership of Superintendent Carlo Fuortes – and the numbers are impressive. Between 2013 and 2018, the theater has emerged from tens of thousands of euros in debt to enjoy an unprecedented 85% increase in ticket sales and a 50% increase in attendance – a feat accomplished without raising the price of the tickets.

“Paradoxically, the economic crisis was a boon for the Teatro dell’Opera,” explains Mr. Fuortes, who took over management of the theater in 2013 after 13 years as director of the Auditorium Parco della Musica. The crisis provided an opportunity to reorganize the theater and address the trade union’s grievances. “Since we confronted the theater’s underlying problems, we’ve nearly doubled the number of productions and increased the number of ticket sales. And we haven’t had any more strikes.”

La Traviata ©Teatro dell’Opera/Yasuko Kageyama

As a consequence, the quality of the productions has improved as well, and the theater has won recognitions including Best Show, Best Direction and Best Stage Design and Costumes in the past few years.

These achievements underscore the theater’s new direction and its innovative programming. Rome’s Opera House, built in 1880, has traditionally been overshadowed by La Scala in Milan and La Fenice in Venice, but it is finally earning its well-deserved time in the spotlight. From partnerships with celebrity directors and fashion designers to international collaborations and youth initiatives, there is a new era underway that is championing one of Italy’s most celebrated art forms.

“The Teatro dell’Opera has an enormous potential to promote Italy throughout the world. It is Italy’s most distinctive artistic genre and it is the primary reason why Italian is still taught in the world. It appeals to artists of all types, even those outside the world of opera, because it is such a versatile art form,” says Mr. Fuortes. The theater’s unique draw, in fact, has spurred a series of recent collaborations with renowned film directors and fashion houses.

Director Sofia Coppola and Superintendent Carlo Fuortes ©Teatro dell’Opera/Yasuko Kageyama

Sofia Coppola made her opera directorial debut in 2016 when she oversaw a production of La Traviata that featured Valentino gowns; the show attracted media attention and jetsetters and continues to be produced each year to much fanfare. Just last month, the opera hosted a ballet dedicated to Philip Glass with outfits designed by Maria Grazia Chiuri of Dior. South African painter William Kentridge and Italian film directors Marco Bellocchio and Mario Martone have also collaborated on theatrical productions.

“The opera has a big appeal because it is interdisciplinary. And I think it has a bright future ahead of it because it is incredibly counter-culture, and hence, contemporary. It is so opposite to our virtual world: the singers transmit a sense of physicality and the shows are long compared to our short attention spans. It may seem strange but because of this fact, rather than in spite of it, I’m convinced the opera will continue to captivate audiences – not just in the present but also in the future,” explains Mr. Fuortes.

Teatro dell’Opera’s youth orchestra during practice ©Teatro dell’Opera/Yasuko Kageyama

The Teatro dell’Opera has also introduced a number of initiatives aimed to bolster youth involvement and nurture interest in the theater among young people.“Fabbrica”, a mentorship program launched in 2016, gives young singers, directors and stage designers the opportunity to hone their artistic abilities alongside established professionals.

Corri all’Opera” (“Rush to the Opera”) lets young people under 26 purchase unsold tickets for €15 at the box office 30 minutes before the performance. “The unsold tickets are usually the most expensive in the theater, so this offer allows young people to enjoy a show from the best seats in the house,” says Mr. Fuortes. “Since productions are so costly, the goal is always to sell out every performance.”

And with “Opera Camion”, the theater brings the show directly to the people by putting on mobile productions during the summer months. “We wanted to give everyone the opportunity to watch a show, even if they couldn’t make it to the opera house,” says Paolo Petrocelli, the Assistant to the Superintendent for International Development and External Relations.

Opera Camion puts on a show of Figaro! by Director Fabio Cherstich ©Teatro dell’Opera/Yasuko Kageyama

“Once our opera truck arrives in the piazza, we open up the stage and our young singers and orchestra present an hour of music and perform for free. The idea is to help the people of Rome enjoy the opera in a very direct way, with no barrier of any kind.” Opera Camion has been so successful that the opera truck will begin traveling to key cities across Europe, bringing Rome’s Opera outside Italian borders.

Taking a production abroad may pose logistical difficulties but it provides the opportunity to support young talents and to foster cultural diplomacy through the arts. Thanks to a renewed interest in international relations, the Rome Opera House has created new partnerships with theaters in Japan, Oman, Lebanon and Kuwait. “These are not just concert opportunities,” explains Mr. Petrocelli. “These exchanges reinforce the relationship between Italy and other countries.”

“Last year, we brought a special production of Franco Zeffirelli’s Pagliacci to the Royal Opera House Muscat in Oman and it was an amazing opportunity for our musicians, our orchestra and our choir singers to be exposed to a completely different culture. Omani professionals were involved as technicians and extras, resulting in a cross-cultural collaboration,” he says. “It was fantastic to see young musicians in their twenties performing in a country where symphonic and opera music are basically unknown. These international tours are yet another way for us to share our heritage with the world.”

Pagliacci by Franco Zeffirelli on stage in Oman ©Khalid Al Busaidi

In addition to co-productions, the Rome Opera House is also working on international fundraising with much success: Malaysian billionaire and opera enthusiast Tan Sri Francis Yeoh donated €1 million to the Opera House in 2015, an important recognition for the theater. “It was so encouraging to receive this donation because it was proof that our institutions are able to attract funds from abroad if we implement an effective strategy,” says Mr. Petrocelli.

By fostering a passion and enthusiasm for opera in Rome and abroad, the ripple effects are being felt and opportunities for the Rome Opera House seem boundless. To see the calendar of upcoming shows, visit the Teatro dell’Opera website.

©Teatro dell’Opera

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