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main index © Jeff Matthews entry Apr 2007 updated Sept 2013
Re-Opening of San
Carlo in 1943
I had an interesting note the other day from Michael Seligman of Santa Barbara, California. It read, in part:
He then asked me if I knew anything about it. I didn't. What follows is the result of a bit of research stimulated by Mr. Seligman's interesting note. I consulted a few sources, among which were
-"The San Carlo Chronicles" by Guido Pannain in Il Teatro di San Carlo, published by the autonomo del teatro, no date given but approx. 1950; and
-a number of items that appear on the website Opera in Naples, 1944.
In spite of all that, the cultural life of Naples continued, certainly not unabated, but given the circumstances it is amazing that there was any cultural activity at all. San Carlo did indeed continue opera for the 1940/41 and 42/43 seasons. Bombing damage in 1943, however, though it did not destroy San Carlo, was severe enough to close the theater, apparently "for the duration." The "duration" was not long in coming. The Allies landed at Salerno on September 9, 1943 and had liberated Naples by October 1.
history of the theater (Pannain, above) says: "Substantially spared,
although damaged in some parts of the structure…,
the San Carlo was requisitioned by the English
military authorities during October, 1943. [Opera]
performances recommenced on December 26 of that
year, intended for the Allied troops. The civilian
population was admitted, but only to the gallery and
loggia. The occupation lasted until 1946."
image (above, right) of a San Carlo
program from 1945 comes to
me through the kindness
of Pat White in the UK.
British sources (cited at Opera in Naples, 1944, above) say:
In one week (!)
the theater was cleared, at least for some musical
productions, if not opera. Allied military revues
played in November and December. In the meantime, the
word went out to search for members of the old opera
company-musicians, singers, conductors, chorus, stage
hands, etc. A symphony concert by a 60-piece orchestra
was given in San Carlo on Sunday, November 21. On
Sunday, December 26, the opera season opened with La
To mark the one-year anniversary of the re-opening, Brian Grayson, Captain, R.A.S.C. made the following comments:
should note the extreme circumstances under which
the Phoenix-like rebirth of San Carlo took place.
The months of October and November, 1943, were
anything but stable in Naples. The front was just a
few miles to the north, and the retreating German
army had placed time-bombs in the city. One exploded
at the Naples post office on October 8, killing 100
persons, and smaller ones went off on October 10 and
21. Electrical power was restored on Nov. 2, an
event that forced the evacuation of 500,000 persons(!) from the inner city to the suburbs out of fear
that the new flow of current would set off more time
bombs. That did not happen, but "jittery" doesn't
begin to describe the atmosphere of the city on the
days preceding the re-opening of the theater. Yet,
on the day after Christmas, Mr. Seligman's "festive
and beautiful event" came to pass. He reports that
he was "smitten" by the soprano! I
remain smitten by the whole story.
update September 2013:
This month marks the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion at Salerno that led to the liberation of Naples and the subsequent brutal winter campaign northward to Monte Cassino and Rome. Wartime Naples has inspired significant historical fiction, much of it written when the events were still fresh in our memories--that is, the late 1940s. Yet, those events continue to inspire novelists; I note with interest the publication of Theatres of War by RJJ Hall. The publication was timed to coincide with the Salerno landings. From the author: "...it is set in and around Naples in 1943/44 and includes a fictional account of the reopening of the San Carlo theatre......a love story about sacrifice and duty, and a war story about self-discovery and love. Seen through the eyes of combatants and civilians, it evokes the convulsions of the forgotten Italian campaign of World War II...for anyone with an interest in historical wartime novels, Italy, opera and love stories." Further information may be had at the link to the author (above). Judge as you will, but note the author's accurate phrase, "forgotten Italian campaign of World War II." Unfortunately, that is true. Novels such as this one may help.
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