Opera is a serious business in Naples. Not the music, that is, but the costumes, the stage design, the players, and the politics. At the season's major openings, what's happening on the stage and in the pit is secondary to the news of who is there, with whom, and what they're wearing. All this takes place in the historic Teatro San Carlo, the luxury liner of opera houses in southern Italy. The company, which favors the classics over contemporary works but performs both,
is usually of high quality. Should the players falter, though, the audience lets them know—rotten vegetables may be passé, but catcalls and hisses are perfectly acceptable.
Teatro San Carlo also hosts ballet performances and musical concerts. For the opera and ballet season (generally from December through June), many seats are presold by subscription, but unless a superstar is performing, some seats will usually be available if you go to the box office several days before the performance you wish to attend. You can also book ahead on the theater's website. If you are under 30, you can buy an unsold ticket one hour before the curtain rises for a steep discount.
Each opera or ballet is usually scheduled for a run of 10 days or so. Prices vary according to seat location and date. The front rows of the stalls, known as poltronissime, might cost as much as €200 for a performance on the first night of an opera, while up in the sixth tier, the Balconata VI, you would pay a fifth of that price, or much less if you go on a later night. Prices are always highest on first nights with the best opera divas, then fall off as top performers are sometimes substituted after a few nights. Ballet and concert performances are up to 50% less expensive than operas.