In the Royal Palace of Caserta for Haydn

Sunday, 13 December 2020

The Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra and Riccardo Muti reached the Royal Palace of Caserta for the filming, without audience, of the performance of Franz Joseph Haydn’s The Last Seven Words of Christ on the Cross. The concert in the palace’s court theatre – an event made possible by the collaboration between Ravenna Festival and the Campania Region, through Scabec and in collaboration with the management of the Royal Palace, the Ministry of Culture, and RAI – Italian television – will be aired during the festive season. The broadcast of the concert will be preceded by a short introduction by philosopher Massimo Cacciari, who recently collaborated with Muti for a book, printed by il Mulino, dedicated to Haydn’s work and Masaccio’s Crucifixion displayed in the Capodimonte Museum. 

It is the first time Muti conducts in that small jewel of gold, stuccos, and velvet which is the court theatre of the Royal Palace of Caserta, where Muti received, in 1998, the Vanvitelli international prize, an award in the field of arts and culture. “This is a unique place and it would be belittling to call it a teatrino – points out Muti – Also the acoustic is extraordinary. A concert in the Royal Palace of Caserta is a combination of music, nature, sculpture, art, beauty: the reasons for which humanity should exist. In this captivating hall we experience again the emotion of being steeped in history and beauty, as it happened in Paestum”. In July, Muti led the Cherubini and Syrian musicians for a performance of Beethoven’s Eroica in the archaeological site of Paestum; it was the second concert, after that in Ravenna, dedicated to the Syrian people within the annual Ravenna Festival’s project The Roads of Friendship

The court theatre of the Royal Palace is not only a symbol of the splendour of the Neapolitan court at the time, but also a proof of how the sovereigns did not mean to do without the formative, educational, and political value of a theatre, both as an entertainment and a tool for the spreading of culture. The theatre was inaugurated on January 22, 1769, when the magnificent decorated halls welcomed foreign princes, dignitaries, and ambassadors to celebrate the nuptials of Ferdinand IV of Naples and Maria Carolina of Austria. A remarkable collection of opera librettos of the time, today conserved in the Palatina Library in the royal quarters – bears witness to the love for music of the king and queen. 

Son of the well-known vedutista Gaspar van Wittel, architect Luigi Vanvitelli, the author of the project of the whole Royal Palace, never missed a performance in the theatres San Carlo and Fiorentini in Naples, where he could hone his knowledge of the specific features and technical aspects of such venues. For years, Naples had been ahead of its time in the building of theatres; tellingly, when Vanvitelli died in 1773 the only part of the Royal Palace which had been completed under his direction was the court theatre. Placed on the ground floor in the western wing of the Royal Palace, the theatre features a traditional u-shaped plan and 450 seats. Lavishly adorned with ornaments and allegorical and celebrative elements alluding to the royal dynasty, the theatre was built so that the backstage could be opened onto the park to meet the needs of the performance. A private entrance allowed the king to access the royal box directly.