The theater was inaugurated on the 4 November 1737 -- the king's nameday -- with a performance of Metastasio's opera Achille in Sciro, with music written by Domenico Sarro, who also conducted the orchestra and two ballets as intermezzi created by Grossatesta.
The new theater was much admired for its architecture, its gold decorations, and the sumptuousness blue upholstery (the official colours of the Bourbons)
At the time, Neapolitan opera enjoyed great success all over Europe, not only in the field of opera buffa but also in that of opera seria with Leo, Porpora, Traetta, Piccinni, Vinci, Anfossi, Durante, Jommelli, Cimarosa, Paisiello, Zingarelli. Naples became the capital of European music and even foreign composers considered the San Carlo theatre as the goal of their career: Hasse (who later settled in Naples) Haydn, Johann Christian Bach and Gluck.
Similarly the most prominent singers performed at the San Carlo, and many of them consolidated their fame in Naples, from Lucrezia Anguiari, called "La Cochetta" to the renowned castrati Caffarelli (Gaetano Majorano), Farinelli (Carlo Broschi), Gizziello (Gioacchino Conti) the three of them coming from the Conservatories of Naples - to Gian Battista Velluti, the last castrato.
On 12 February 1816 the San Carlo was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt however within ten months on order of King Ferdinand IV, another Bourbon. Apart from the creation of the orchestra pit suggested by Verdi in 1872, the installation of electricity in 1890, the subsequent abolition of the central chandelier and the construction of the new foyer with a new wing dedicated to the dressing rooms, the theatre has undergone no substantial changes since that time..
On 12 January 1817, the rebuilt hall was innaugurated with Mayr's Il sogno di Partenope. Stendhal attened the second night of the inauguration and wrote: "There is nothing in all Europe, I won't say comparible to this theatre, but which gives the slightest idea of what it is like..., it dazzles the eyes, it enraptures the soul...".
From 1815 to 1822, Gioacchino Rossini was house composer and artistic director of the royal opera houses, including the San Carlo, and he wrote nine operas during this time: Elisabetta Regina d'Inghilterra (1815), La Gazzetta, Otello (1816), Armida (1817), MosŤ in Egitto, Ricciardo e Zoraide (1818), Ermione, La Donna del Lago (1819), Maometto Secondo (1820), and Zelmira (1822).
Among the regular singers of the period were, apart from Manuel Garcia, his daughter Maria Malibran, Giuditta Pasta, Isabella Colbran , Giovan Battista Rubini , Domenico Donzelli and the two great rivals: French singers Adolphe Nourrit and Gilbert Duprez -- the inventor of the C from the breast.
After a performance of Zelmira, Rossini fled from Naples with Colbran who had until that moment been the lover the empresario, Barbaja's lover. The impresario signed then up another rising star of Italian opera: Gaetano Donizetti. As artistic director of the royal opera houses Donizetti remained in Naples from 1822 until 1838, composing a sixteen operas for the theatre, among which Maria Stuarda (1834), Roberto Devereux (1837), Poliuto (1838) and the famous Lucia di Lammermoor (1835), written for soprano Tacchinardi-Persiani and for tenor Duprez.
Vincenzo Bellini also staged his first work, Bianca e Gerlando, at the San Carlo.
Giuseppe Verdi was also associated with the theater. In 1841, his Oberto Conte di San Bonifacio was performed there and in 1845 he wrote his first opera for the theatre, Alzira the second was Luisa Miller in 1849. His third should have been Gustavo III but it was forbidden at the last minute by the censor; it was later performed in Rome with the changed title of Ballo in Maschera .
- Teatro di San Carlos website