The New Theater of the Spanish Quarters: the phoenix rising after 2 fires

by Claudia Colella

In the maze of streets of the Spanish Quarters, going up by vico del Teatro Nuovo or via Montecalvario, two crosses of via Toledo at the intersection with via Diaz, you reach the New Theater.

Inside the hall you can breathe the air of the frontier theater: avant-garde shows, refined reviews, mostly young audiences, in a historic hall of the eighteenth century.

Il Teatro Nuovo dei Quartieri Spagnoli: la fenice che si rialza dopo 2 incendi
The New Theater

The history of the Teatro Nuovo

The origins of this theater are very noble. For more than two centuries the Teatro Nuovo was very popular with court nobles and the rich Neapolitan bourgeoisie.

The construction of the theater dates back to 1724 and is due to the will of two entrepreneurs, Giacomo De Laurentiis and Angelo Casale, who entrusted the project to Domenico Antonio Vaccaro, son of the sculptor Lorenzo.

The Teatro Nuovo project is an incredible architectural test: the space inside the narrow alleys of the Quartieri Spagnoli was narrow and making the space for an audience did not have to be easy for Vaccaro.

The result, according to the chronicles of the time (unfortunately not supported by drawings or images), was amazing. The hall was only eighty palms wide but contained seating for two hundred people, five rows of thirteen boxes each facing the stalls. It was said that Vaccaro "he had brought the possible out of the impossible“.

Il Teatro Nuovo dei Quartieri Spagnoli: la fenice che si rialza dopo 2 incendi
Identification of the plans of the Teatro Nuovo among the building typology of 1775
(drawing by the students of the Scenotecniche course of the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples)

The narrow spaces proved to be the extra value of the theater: the proximity between the stage and the audience created a close and immediate relationship between the audience and the comedians on stage. In addition, the interior was beautifully decorated.

On the stage of the Teatro Nuovo alternated prose companies and the main exponents of the comic opera, to which its fame is still linked today.

The fires that destroyed the Teatro Nuovo

The fame of the comic opera theater grew, attracting foreign companies and enthusiasts from all over Europe to the theater. But it all ended one evening in 1861, when a fire suddenly broke out and destroyed the splendid wooden room. The architect Ulisse Rizzi tried to bring the structure back to life, renovating it in a much simpler way. It immediately became clear to everyone that the theater would no longer be frequented by noble ladies and rich knights.

Not bad, however, twenty years later, at the end of the nineteenth century, the Teatro Nuovo returned to new life thanks to the spread of dialect prose. The hall was loved by comedians and fans of the dialect genre, he worked a lot with day and night shows and the public who came from all over Italy.

1888 is a fundamental year for the history of the New Theater and of the Neapolitan theater in general: the company of comedians of Gennaro Pantalena staged 'O vote, by Salvatore di Giacomo. This operation involved the birth of the Art Theater and the first attempt to create a stable company, which went beyond the limits of traditional masks, in favor of psychological and modern insights.

The success of the Teatro Nuovo continued until January 12, 1935, after the staging of A thousand lights, a show with music, ballets, smiles. The light in a dressing room was fatally lit, the Teatro Nuovo suffers a new devastating fire, which will bring down the shutters in front of the halls for a few years.

Some big names that are linked to the Teatro Nuovo

The name of the Teatro Nuovo in the Spanish Quarters is linked to the names of authors and central actors in the history of the Neapolitan theater: Salvatore Di Giacomo, Ernesto Murolo, Roberto Bracco, Libero Bovio, great actors of the Compagnia del San Carlino.

The impresario Don Pasquale Molinari, with a shrewd move, in those years he secured the exclusivity on Scarpetta's comedies, which brought an interested and acute audience and great success to the Theater.

On this same stage the immortal names of the young were strengthened Raffaele Vivianie Totò, on which Molinari invested in a far-sighted way.

The brothers could not miss within this string of great names of the Neapolitan and Italian theater De Filippo, who for a year, between 1930 and 1931, made the Nuovo their stage, staging their greatest hits and creating amazing sketches.

The recent history of the Teatro Nuovo

Il Teatro Nuovo dei Quartieri Spagnoli: la fenice che si rialza dopo 2 incendi

From that unfortunate night of 1935, the Nuovo disappeared from the history of the Neapolitan theater and from the memory of the public. Until 1985, when two young actors, Angelo Montella and Igina Di Napoli, they decided to revive that space. It was no longer the opulent hall it used to be, but the warmth remained the same. The will was to renew once again the theatrical language in a city that has given so much to the world of theater.

In more recent times, the Teatro Nuovo is linked to leading names in Neapolitan cultural life: here Annibale Ruccello staged his first shows, Mario Martone presented some of his historical shows, Enzo Moscato he built some of his amazing performances.

The secular history of the Teatro Nuovo is that of an entirely Neapolitan phoenix, which is reborn each time from its ashes, metaphorical or otherwise.

The wish is to be able to see the success of a historic place such as the Teatro Nuovo in the Spanish Quarters for many years to come.


Giulio Baffi, Theaters of Naples, origins, events, characters and curiosities of the studios, Newton & Compton editions, October 2002.

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