An Army of Opera Lovers: The Resurrection of the Teatro di San Carlo during the Allied occupation of Naples

Teatro

On 4 November 1943, just over a month after the first Allied troops entered war-torn Naples, Lt. Peter Francis of the Royal Artillery made his first acquaintance with the ruins of the Real Teatro di San Carlo, one of the oldest and most prestigious opera houses in the world. The theatre had been closed in 1942 and it was now in a terrible state: bomb damage had blasted the foyer, debris and layers of dust covered the internal surfaces, there was no electricity or water and a German machine gun nest was still installed on its roof. The British requisitioned the building and, under Peter Francis’s authority, on 15 November 1943, with the frontline just 30 miles away, the theatre officially re-opened its doors to soldiers and civilians. The news that the theatre was about to reopen and in need of workers quickly spread around the city causing excitement among the Neapolitans. The first production of the theatre’s new course was an improvised Italian revue significantly titled So this is Naples.

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SOE and Mussolini's Italy

Inscription on a cell wall in the former Gestapo headquarters at 145 Via Tasso, Rome. Today it is the site of a resistance museum, the Museo Storico della Liberazione. © Roderick Bailey

The Special Operations Executive was a secret British organization set up in 1940 to encourage resistance and carry out sabotage in enemy-occupied territory. As the seventh of SOE’s official historians, I have the task of researching and writing the history of SOE’s cloak-and-dagger work against Fascist Italy between 1940, when Mussolini declared war on Britain and France, and 1943, when Italy reached an armistice with the Allies.

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