New notes and updates (2007)
Revising this site ten years after it was first posted, I have decided to leave it substantially unchanged. I could add a few more photographs of productions, and quite a lot more programme notes, etc. but all types of the publications I have are represented.
I have had verious requests for information (including one from the grandson of a member of the orchestra for a protograph of his grandfather playing in the pit; by sheer chance I was able to supply it) but little in the way of new information.
However, some new information has come to light, and details are noted below:
The 'Operatic effect' - the stimulation of interest in opera in Great Britain and elsewhere after the war by those who had experienced it in Italy - was confirmed in a brodcast talk by Sir Michael Howard given in July 1998. A quaotation from it now heads the home page.
The 'Operatic effect' is also mentioned in an extraordinarily interesting two thousand word article which appeared in The Times, 6 November 2003. This records the memories of Peter Francis, who was instrumental in getting the house reopened in 1943.
" Francis was able to round up the old stage crew. "They were so overjoyed to be back that they worked incredibly hard to repair the stage machinery and lighting." The most pressing problem was the power supply. ''At that time most of Naples was running on the generators from submarines." Francis recalls. So he cheekily invited the adjutant general to the reopening gala. As if by magic, the San Carlo was immediately provided with its own generator. Similar tactics got the foyer rebuilt. "We needed cement, and the Navy controlled the big cement works. So I promised their top brass some tickets for Gigli singing Aida. The cement arrived molto prestissimo. Wood, canvas and wire were scrounged, begged or strong-armed from around the city. Francis marched a column of troops up to the music conservatory to requisition a grand piano. Squaddies were detailed to clear the debris. The owner of what Francis describes as "Naple's equivalent of Liberty's" was strongly encouraged to replace the theatre's drapes. Finally, the San Carlo's celebrated front curtain- a spectacular painting of Parnassus by Giuseppe Mancinelli - was brought out of its wartime hiding-place and proudly rehung.
He reopened the San Carlo on November 15,1943, advertising "first-class entertainment for all Allied forces" in a show titled So This is Naples - a saucy revue that must have been a first in the theatre's illustrious 200-year history. Most of the opera orchestra had returned, and on the following Sunday, under the eminent maestro Franco Patané, they gave a concert of operatic overtures and arias - the only music they could lay their hands on until Rome fell to the Allies the following year. A sprinkling of shows by British military bands and passing celebrities followed. Amazingly, even Humphrey Bogart played the Naples Opera House, though Francis can't remember exactly what he played. But those were mere appetisers. Francis had not resurrected the San Carlo merely to turn it into the Golders Green Hippodrome of the south. He wated it to be a working opera house again. And on Boxing Day 1943, just two months after he had first set foot in the rubble-strewn building, he achived his goal with a matinee performance of La Bohème. Officers were charged 100 lire (about five shillings or 25p.: other ranks 30 lire. Lucia di Lammermoor followed that same week. And from then until November 1945, when he returned to England, Captain Francis (he was promoted early in 1944) supervised 713 performances of 30 operas."
Francis points out that in 1946, the San Carlo company gave performances at Covent Garden. This was the earliest instance of a company playing abroad after the war.
The Teatro di San Carlo's website (new location given on the Home Page) now includes an interactive time-line in English which notes: "Largely spared by the ravages of the war - even though some parts were damaged - thanks to the bold initiative of British Lieutenant Peter Francis the performances resumed on the 16th December of 1943 - chiefly for the benefit of the allied troops: civilians were also admitted, but only in the two upper tiers. The allied occupation lasted until 1946. The theatre's status as an autonomous body was restored in 1948."
In connection with its series "The People's War" the BBC's website includes personal memories of the second world war, and about a dozen mention the peformances at the San Carlo. (The site was closed to contributors in 2005, but is still available: search on 'San Carlo' and select 'BBC sites only'.)
Finally, the 'Naples experience' informs Anthony Capella's novel The Wedding Officer' (Sphere paperbacks, 2007) The novel is set in 1943, and according to one review 'brims with fascinating historic detail'.