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Teatro Alla Scala Milan

History and Architecture

One of the most renowned theaters in the world, La Scala Theater was commissioned by Empress Maria Theresa of Austria after the fire that destroyed in 1776 the previous royal theater of Milan, the Teatro Regio Ducale. La Scala was designed by Architect Giuseppe Piermarini, a neoclassical artist from Central Italy (he was born in Foligno, then part of the Papal States) who would be remembered especially for this project (to the point that the “the Piermarini” is sometimes used as a synonym for the Scala in Milan).
Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Poster
Piermarini, as a neoclassical architect, preferred sobriety to the artifices of baroque. However, La Scala underwent several reconstructions and renovations during the centuries so that today only the general structure and the theater’s façade mirror Piermarini’s initial vision.

The theater takes its name from the church of Santa Maria alla Scala, which had to be destroyed to make room for the new opera house. The theater’s construction took two years. The inauguration was on August 3, 1778, with the premiere of Antonio Salieri’s Europa Riconosciuta (Europe Recognized). La Scala’s features caused an immediate sensation: its acoustics was superb, and it was evident that the “noblesse” of Milan would use the opera house as a social meeting place. During those times, in fact, theaters were used not only for art but also as gathering places and even for gambling, which was allowed only in theaters during performances.
In order to improve the acoustics of the theater, Piermarini used two original devices: the columns that separated the boxes were smaller than common, and a wooden vault created almost-perfect audibility from any corner of the theater. In the beginning, the Scala could host up to 3,000 people. Six levels of boxes were built. The boxes were decorated according to their owners (and theater funders’) preference. On top of the boxes, there are two galleries (the loggione). It is the loggione that decides the success or failure of an opera since it is the home of the most passionate theatergoers.
Today, after the renovation following the bombardments in World War II and the renovation in 2002–2004 by Architect Mario Botta (made necessary by the new security regulations), the opera house can host 2,030 spectators: a third in the parterre, a little less than a third in the two galleries, and the remainder in the boxes.


Cultural importance of La Scala

Even before the introduction of genial composer Giuseppe Verdi, La Scala witnessed wonderful premieres of works commissioned to Gioacchino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Vincenzo Bellini. During those times, the choice of the operas was strongly influenced by Ricordi, the official publishing house of the works represented at La Scala.
The premiere of Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra, famous for its incredible overture, was in 1817. Donizetti presented himself to la Scala in 1822, with Chiara and Serafina; Lucrezia Borgia, Gemma di Vergy, and others followed in the 1830s. Bellini’s work appeared in 1827, with Il Pirata, followed by La Straniera and Norma.
Giuseppe Verdi’s first collaboration with La Scala was in 1839, with the good success of his opera Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio. Then came Un Giorno di Regno, which proved to be a failure; apparently, Verdi was incapacitated to write good comic music because he was mourning the loss of his first wife and their children, struck by disease. Verdi’s fortunes turned on March 9, 1842, on occasion of the premiere of the Nabucco. This opera, an allegory of the captivity of the Italian nation under the Austrian rule, was immensely successful and ran 64 times during its first year. However, in spite of the success of the Nabucco and of the two following works (I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata and Giovanna dArco), Verdi left for 20 years the theater that had made him famous because he was reproached for producing operas that were too expensive and did not take into consideration the budget restrictions of the theater. Verdi’s operas returned to Milan only decades later. The premieres of Othello in 1887 and Falstaff in 1893 restored the incredibly fruitful collaboration between the author and the Milanese theater.
The Scala also witnessed the premieres of world-renowned operas in the 20th century (Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly in 1904 and Turandot in 1926). Avant-garde, electronic, and concrete music premiered in Milan as well. In 1963, Luciano Berio’s Passaggio premiered. Two decades later, there were the premieres of works of German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, who is unanimously considered one of the most influential, if not the most influential, composers of the 20th and 21st centuries.


The seasons of the theater

Originally, the theater’s yearly activities were divided in several seasons: the Stagione di Carnevale (Carnival Season), starting on December 26 and ending on the week before Carnival; the Spring Season; the Summer Season; and the Autumn Season. The Stagione di Quaresima (Lent Season) was introduced in 1788 to allow representations even during the period from Carnival to Easter.
Only in 1920 was the division of the Milanese theater’s activity into seasons abolished; performances were held from November to June with little interruption. The new inauguration date of December 7 (day of the patron saint of Milan, Sant’Ambrogio) was experimented in 1940 and made official in 1951. However, in the 21st century there have been few weeks in which La Scala has not been active. The number of yearly performances in the theater now reaches an average of 280.


How to reach La Scala in Milano

La Scala is in the center of Milan, in Piazza della Scala (La Scala Square). As a city-center landmark, it is second only to the Duomo. To reach the theater, you can take the subway (Red Line or MM1) to Duomo station and walk to the theater via the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele (a Gallery that was built to link the Duomo to the theater).

By bus, you can take line 61 and get off at the Via Verdi–Via dell’Orso stop.

By tram, both lines 1 and 2 stop at Via Manzoni–Piazza della Scala. By car, it is very difficult to park in the city center close to La Scala. However, private parking can be found both in Via Agnello and Piazza Diaz. In Via Verdi, you can find a parking for persons with special needs.
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