Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews  entry 2004


Angelo Carasale

  San Carlo                 

Carasale is primarily remembered in Naples as the "architect of San Carlo"; however, the original architectthe person who designed the buildingwas Giovanni Antonio Medrano. Medrano was born in 1703 in Sicily, but he did most of his work in Naples. He died before the theater was finished and Carasale finished it for him; in particular, Carasale was the appaltatore, something like "interior designer," the one responsible for the stage, the boxes, the elaborate art-work, the chandeliers, the double staircasesall that; he was responsible for the oohs and aahs on opening night, the one who caused Charles Burney to say that San Carlo "...as a spectacle surpasses all that poetry or romance have painted."

Interestingly, neither Medrano nor Carasale was among the best-known Neapolitan architect/designers of the time, that time being the 1730s, when the Spanish Bourbon king, Charles III, set up a new kingdom and dynasty in the former Spanish vicerealm of Naples. A known architect might have been one such as Domenico Antonio Vaccaro, a holdover from the late Baroque of Spanish architecture in Naples. One source (Anthony Blunt, "Naples Under the Bourbons, 1734-1805" in The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 121, No. 913, Apr. 1979, pp.207-11) says simply that the king didn't like the architecture he found in Naples and decided to go with two lesser known architects for the new opera house. In any event, the king got from Carasale and Medrano a neo-classical design that put an end to the highly ornamental Baroque construction of the previous century. Among Medrano's other works was his design for the spectacular Royal Palace at Caserta. Carasale had earlier worked on the conversion into a church of the old San Bartolomeo theater, the predecessor of San Carlo and was involved with the construction of another "pre-San Carlo" theater, the Teatro Nuovo in the 1720s. He may (although no one really knows for sure) have designed the church of Saints Giovanni and Theresa.

A lasting story that one tells about Carasale is that the king was so impressed by the splendid new theater on opening night that before the opera he called Carasale to the stage to take a bow but mentioned —presumably light-heartedly— that the architect had forgotten to build an interior passageway from the adjacent Royal Palace, thus making him, His Majesty, walk around and come in the front door. Carasale is said to have mumbled something and disappeared from the stage. After the opera, so the story goes, Carasale reappeared and told the king that the passageway was ready. Carasale had knocked down a few walls during the music and built the new entrance! That story was retold by Alexander Dumas (Sr.) in his The Bourbons of Naples; he apparently got the tale from an earlier work entitled Storia del Reame di Napoli [History of the Kingdom of Naples] by Pietro Colletta (1735-1831) first published in 1834 by Presso Baudry in Paris.

Colletta's work (in Vol. 1, section 49) also tells of Carasale's unfortunate fate: He protested to the king that he (Carasale) had put in honest work on the new theater and was nevertheless destitute. Alas, the king started an investigation and came to the conclusion that Carasale had been skimming some construction funds for his own benefit. Carasale wound up in prison, where he died. Colletta, himself, gives almost no sources for any of his history of the kingdom of Naples; thus, there is no way to know how much any of it all really happened the way he says. (Colletta did live through much of the period he chronicled, true, but he was also involved in anti-Bourbon uprisings in 1799 and 1806; thus, his version of things might be skewed. His "History" was so anti-Bourbon in parts that the work had to be published in Paris since Neapolitan censors had rejected it.)  The story about Carasale in jail is likely to be true; the one about the three-hour building job on opening night is now regarded as a good story but nothing more. Plans of the original theater have been found and examined; they reveal an interior passage, built in right from the start. That is what modern guides at San Carlo now tell visitors. Me, I see no need to louse up a good story with facts. Exact dates on Carasale don't seem to be available, but 1700-1750 would fit.


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