Palermo Journal: Not Just a Pretty Facade, Palermo’s Opera Is an Anti-Mafia Symbol

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The Teatro particularly targeted the younger generation. It started a Rainbow Choir made up of children of immigrants, for many of whom Sicily is their first landing place in Europe.

“In our community, migrants are an important part,” Dr. Giambrone said. Children are also invited in for sleepovers, complete with pajama-clad treasure hunts in the byzantine corridors.

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“Such a place, such an amazing building,” said Mario Giovanni Ingrassia, a Florence-based manager of classical musicians and a Palermo native. “It’s so huge, it’s just immense, but the acoustics are beautiful.”

It also has a reputation for paying its bills on time, he said, unlike many Italian institutions.

Like all opera houses in Italy, the Teatro has struggled with steadily declining state subsidies from a financially strapped government, but it manages to fill 80 percent of its paid seats. Non-opera fans help out, with more than 100,000 people a year paying for guided tours of the building’s mammoth stage (bigger than the audience’s area), its three rotundas and grand foyer.

Many of the visitors are foreign tourists attracted by the opera house’s appearance in the climactic bloody scenes of the movie “The Godfather: Part III.” Some, like Andrew Martin, a teacher visiting from London, are drawn in by its surprising grandeur. “I didn’t expect to see something like this in Palermo,” he said after a recent tour.

While the opera house puts on classics — it just finished a run of the opera “Guillaume Tell,” in Gioachino Rossini’s original French version — it also has a reputation for theatrical innovation. Currently it is staging “Don Quixote,” a ballet produced by the Tbilisi Opera from Georgia and choreographed by the dancer Lienz Chang, from Cuba.

In October when the Teatro stages “Rigoletto,” Verdi’s classic about a tragic hunchback, the Sicilian-American movie actor John Turturro will be making his opera debut — as the opera’s director. “We are convinced that opera is not pesante, not stuffy and boring,” Dr. Giambrone said. “It’s something that belongs to everyone.”

Mr. Orlando is once again the mayor of Palermo, for the third time.

“Nowhere does the opera symbolize its city like the Teatro Massimo symbolizes Palermo,” he said. “Covent Garden is not the symbol of London, the Opera in Paris is not the symbol of Paris, the Met doesn’t represent New York. But our opera house is not only the symbol of the rebirth of the city, it’s a symbol of the end of the domination of the Mafia.”

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