In the late 19th century, in the wake of other major Italian cities, Bari already had its own municipal public theatre, the Piccinni, which was inaugurated in 1854.
However, its limited capacity (about a thousand seats) led to much discontent among the cityfolk who rebelled against a policy of overpriced tickets and the lack of seats, calling for a theatre “for and belonging to the people”.
This turbulent climate was fuelled by the success, in 1890, of Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, who had burst onto the Italian music scene when he won the Sonzogno Competition back in 1883.
Bari was very much looking forward to hearing the maestro’s latest work, not least because he was Apulian by adoption.
Indeed, Mascagni had composed his masterpiece in Cerignola, where he had lived for many years.
Unfortunately, the Piccinni was not big enough to accommodate this particular opera: the need for a grand theatre was now even more pressing.
The City Council had already addressed this issue with two resolutions during 1877, by which it undertook to award a prize of 12,000 lire and the land required, free of charge, to any firm declaring its willingness to build a theatre thereon, by the deadlines and in the manner specified therein...