Perhaps the most venerated temple to opera in the world is the Teatro alla Scala but its outside appearance seems to belie its internal beauty. Designed by architect Giuseppe Piermarini, La Scala opened its doors to the world in 1778 with Antonio Salieri's "L'Europa Riconosciuta." La Scala was built, under the "auspices" of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, to replace the Regio Teatro Ducal built in 1589 which was destroyed by fire. In a complicated situation of land ownership, the owners of theater boxes of the Ducal were the individuals who actually paid for the building of La Scala which is built on the former site of the church of Santa Maria alla Scala.
La Scala is known far and wide for its incomparable acoustics and the many musical giants who performed here or had their works performed here including Verdi; opera singer, Maria Callas; and Arturo Toscanini. It is also home to Scuolo di Ballo (La Scalla's Ballet Company) and Museo Teatrale alla Scala which is located in its annex. For those VT'rs who were Thespians and Garricks, you might enjoy the museum here which is said to be a treasure of paintings, sculpture, backdrops and other memorabilia of prominent singers and composers who have created history in La Scala. La Scala was undergoing renovation (which began in 2002), the face of La Scala was shrouded when I saw it (March 2004). Apparently, renovations have now been completed.
NOTICE: please check the website to make sure that any performances you plan to attend are, in fact, actually taking place. A quick check today (3/25/09) revealed that a performance of "I due Foscari" scheduled for 3/31/09 is being cancelled due to a national strike!!
Check the website for current prices of admission to the various tours, museums or for combination tickets.
The two upper tiers at La Scala are known as the galleries.
For my second evening at La Scala I paid EUR 24.00 for a ticket in the last row of the topmost gallery. From the seat itself I could see nothing, but since there was no one behind me I could simply stand up the whole time and see nearly the entire stage, except for a small strip that was blocked by a pillar. So my 24 Euro gallery seat was much better than the 66 Euro box seat I had had the week before.
The opera I saw from the gallery was the premiere (actually a revival of a 1997 production by Graham Vick, but they still called it a premiere) of Macbeth by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901).
On the back of every La Scala ticket it says: "Formal dress is required at premiere performances." And on their website they say: "Gentlemen are kindly requested to wear evening dress for premieres. Gentlemen are in any case required to wear a jacket and tie at all performances." (In Italian: " È gradito l'abito scuro per le prime rappresentazioni e sempre la giacca e la cravatta per i Signori spettatori.")
I was surprised at this, so I posted a query in the Milan Forum here on VirtualTourist, and was quickly assured by VT member Maurizioago that a suit and tie would do. ("...and no beard! I'm joking!")
In fact it turned out that the gallery spectators at La Scala were just as sloppily dressed as their counterparts in all the other opera houses I know.
Another thing I had heard was that people in the galleries were hyper-critical and quick to boo at the slightest provocation -- and this turned out to be very true! At the end of the evening they booed just about everybody who ventured out on stage, including the conductor Kazushi Ono and the soprano Violeta Urmana, both of whom I thought did all right.
One woman in front of me kept shouting "Vergogna! Vergogna!" (Shame! Shame!) and a short but loud altercation erupted between the boo-people and the bravo-people.
In my opinion the performance went reasonably well despite the fact that star baritone Leo Nucci, who was singing the title role of Macbeth, got sick and had to be replaced after the first act. His understudy Ivan Inverardi took over and saved the show, but some people even booed him at the end, quite unfairly. (He's not a fantastic singer like Nucci, but he's easier to understand and he's a good actor.)
A high point of the performance for me was a ballet at the beginning of the third act. This is usually left out nowadays, but La Scala retained it, and it was beautifully danced by La Scala's Ballet Company -- more about them in a later tip.
Second photo: As in a lot of older opera houses (Stuttgart, for example) people with gallery tickets do not enter through the main entrance, but through a side entrance leading to this nondescript staircase that leads up to their (relatively) cheap seats.
Third photo: Gallery spectators have their own foyer for the intermissions aka intervals. As you can see, they are not formally dressed.
Fourth photo: Spectators in the galleries just before show time.
Also present at this same performance of Verdi's Macbeth was Opera Chic (aka Courtney Smith), who according to Classical Singer magazine is "the world’s foremost opera blogger".
(Her own self-description: "I'm a young American woman living in Milan, and you're not. I go to La Scala a lot, and you don't.")
But she was sitting downstairs somewhere, not up in the galleries with us impecunious folks.
She posted her first report during the intermission after the first act: "BREAKING: 'Indisposed' Leo Nucci Leaves Scala Stage Mid-Macbeth, Understudy Ivan Inverardi (Who?) Saves Teh Day".
In this report she wrote among other things: "Opera Chic's hugest get-well-soon to Maestro Nucci, greatest Verdi baritone of this post-Cappuccilli age; and big props -- no matter how he sang -- to Inverardi who had to step to the plate in an emergency."
I've never met Opera Chic, by the way (we use different entrances and staircases), but she's never met me either, so that makes us even.
If for some reason you would like to attend an opera performance at Milan's Teatro alla Scala (even after reading my other tips, LOL), you of course have to buy a ticket, which can be a problem since performances are generally sold out weeks or months ahead of time.
One way is to line up (well in advance of the date you want!) at the box office in the Duomo subway station, as these young folks are doing, though I suspect they are eligible for student tickets at reduced prices.
Or you can try to get one of the 140 numbered gallery tickets that go on sale on the day of the performance. There are elaborate regulations for getting one of these tickets -- only one per person. I've never done it, so I can't speak from personal experience, but basically you have to line up at the ticket office in Via Filodrammatici (not the one in the subway station) by 1 pm to get your name put on the list, and then be there again at 5.30 pm for the roll call and sale of the tickets. And then be back at 8 pm for the performance, so it's pretty much of an all-day procedure.
Another way is to spend several hundred Euros and buy a black-market ticket from one of the scalpers who hang around the entrance to the Scala Museum every afternoon. These are shady-looking characters who talk out of the sides of their mouths, wear their hats down over their eyes and have several tickets fanned out in one hand (I'm not making this up).
Or you could buy your tickets on the internet, as I did. After lots of clicking around I finally managed to snag tickets for two different performances.
They have a list on their website of when each opera goes on sale (about two months before the premiere), and when I tried to access their website at 9 a.m. Italian time on the first day I kept getting notices saying they were overloaded and please try again later.
When I got in an hour later there were no tickets left, BUT. . . I discovered that the trick is to try again six hours later, because anyone who has reserved a ticket has six hours to pay for it, and if they don't it goes back on sale.
So at 3 pm Italian time the number of available tickets on different dates starts changing from 0 to 1 or 2 or whatever (the record was 13 while I was watching), and then back to 0 again a few minutes later. So you just have to keep watching the numbers, and when a ticket you want shows up on the screen, pounce on it. Of course it helps if you live in the same time zone and have nothing particular to do on that afternoon.
If you live in California, for instance, you would have to get up at six o'clock in the morning to do this.
Second photo: More people lining up for tickets at the box office in the subway station.
When I took this first photo on a sunny spring morning I was trying to get La Scala from the same angle as in a famous painting by Angelo Inganni from the year 1852.
At that time the opera house was in a narrow street because the square, Piazza della Scala, was not created until several years later, in 1858. Of course there were no tram tracks or overhead wires in those days, and no traffic lights.
Actually Inganni did at least two such paintings from slightly different angles, each with a two-horse carriage going off in different directions.
Second photo: Here's what one of the Inganni paintings looks like. In another version I have seen, there are two little boys scuffling in the foreground and the two-horse carriage is veering off to the left (our left, that is; their right).
Third photo: Here's La Scala as seen from the square, with one of the old fashioned orange trams going by.
Fourth photo: La Scala lit up at night, as seen from the square.
Historical postcard views of Teatro alla Scala on Carthalia.
La Scala, Italy's best-known theater, is located alongside the church of St. Maria della Scala, built by Bernabo Visconti's vife Regina della Scala, in 1381. The theatre was officially inaugurated on August 3, 1778 with Antonio Salieri's "Europa Riconosciuta".
La Scala was designed by the architect Giuseppe Piermarini in neo-Classical style.
By the time of my visit, the theatre was still under the major reconstructions.
This building is set on a beautiful square, but is possibly the least attractive building on the square. The square also houses a museum and has a statue of Leonardo Da Vinci.
The La Scala was built at the end of the eighteenth century. Many operas by composers such as Verdi and Bellini premiered in this building.
In 1776 Milan's opera house was burnt down and Empress Maria Theresa, the Duchess of Milan, ordered a new opera house to be built on the site of the fifteenth century church of Santa Maria della Scala. The new opera house was designed by architect, Giuseppe Piermarini. Building work only took two years and the new opera house was inaugurated on 3rd August 1778.
The opera house was destroyed during the bombings of the second world war in 1943. It was rebuilt and reopened on 11th May 1946.
After the stunning cathedral and galleria I was expecting something special from the world famous La Scala opera house, but it struck me as a little ordinary after the wonders of the Piazzo Duomo. Still, what the opera house may lack in extravagant exterior design, it more than makes up for in prestige, and will now again play host to the best musicians on the planet, night after night. Tickets for the opera can be bought for as little as €12, for seats in the central circle, and you can even get them online following the link given below.
The La Scala opera house is now fully restored and operational again after much time under wraps.
On one of my Strasbourg tips I noted that I had paid 46.80 Euros at the Strasbourg opera house for a seat with only a partial view of the stage.
At the time this struck me as being rather crass, but it turns out to have been good value for money compared to Milan's Teatro alla Scala, where I paid 66.00 Euros for a seat with no view of the stage whatsoever. The only way I could see even part of the stage was to stand up and lean over, thus blocking the (limited) view of two other people behind me. So I only did this every five minutes or so, for a quick look.
Actually I was forewarned about this, because La Scala acknowledges the problem on their website.
"Dear members of the audience," they write, "La Scala is a theatre with boxes in the style known as 'Italian', designed by the architect Piermarini in 1778 for Milan back then. It has a plan in straight horseshoe, that is, tapered to the proscenium - which is an extreme and rigorous evolution of the antique Greek theatre."
They go on to say that an opera house like La Scala, "above all in the boxes", requires an "active" participation on the part of the audience, and they mention a famous historical drawing showing people leaning out to see the stage.
"We therefore publish on our website a significant sample of the views from the boxes, so that everyone can know the dimension, the disposition and the spirit of a theatre built for the customs and habits of the late 18th century audience. To prepare oneself to an experience that is somehow also a travel in time."
From the photos on their website you do get a hint of what awaits you, but only a hint, since the photos were taken when the house was empty, so in reality you see even less as soon as someone is sitting in front of you.
There were five people in my box. The Italian man had been to La Scala before and had booked a "seat" where he could stand the whole time and not block anybody else's view. The French woman said she went to all the new productions at the Bastille opera house in Paris, where she never paid more than 20 Euros and always had a full view of the stage.
An elderly American couple had the two front seats of our box. They had paid 170 Euros each for their seats, plus various booking fees and agency markups, so that altogether the evening had cost them well over seven hundred U.S. dollars even though they could see only about a third of the stage.
The woman didn't mind, because she slept through the whole performance anyway, but her husband was bitterly disappointed. He was a 75-year-old retired professor who had been dreaming all his life of seeing an opera at La Scala, and he was totally shattered by the reality of the place. Because of problems with his back he couldn't even lean out over the edge to get a better view.
During the first intermission he complained bitterly to the ushers about this situation, and in the second intermission they told him that he and his wife could move down to the stalls (aka orchestra-level) where they had found two free seats.
So I got to sit in his 170-euro seat for the last third of the evening, which was a great improvement for me because I could actually see a fraction of the stage.
What I "saw" that evening was Il trittico, a collection of three short operas by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924).
When I returned to Frankfurt am Main people asked me if the Scala production of Il trittico was as good as the one at the Frankfurt Opera a few months before. Well, it wasn't, but since I only saw snippets of the staging I can't really comment in any great detail.
Second, third and fourth photos: Looking up at the four tiers of boxes and two galleries. From the center boxes directly opposite the stage you can actually see what's going on.
Fifth photo: Just before show time.
To understand the seating arrangements at La Scala and similar opera houses, keep in mind that in the 18th century the best seats in the house were not the ones where you could see the stage, but the ones where the rest of the audience could see you -- if you chose to expose yourself to their view.
You have to imagine the common folks down in the stalls gazing up at the boxes and exclaiming to each other: "Look, the Countess X is in her box tonight! I saw her! She even smiled at me, sort of." At least the Countess could get her kicks imagining that that's what the common folks were saying.
When the Teatro alla Scala was closed for restructuring at the beginning of 2002 they didn't exactly tell the general public what they were planning to do.
About a year later there was a huge outcry when someone discovered from an aerial photograph that there was nothing but a huge hole where the historic 18th century stage used to be. This is when the management came out with the truth of the matter, which was that the old impractical stage was being replaced by brand new a state-of-the-art high-tech 21st century stage and backstage with all the latest machinery, so they could make scene changes without having hundreds of stage hands lugging things around.
When the restructuring was finished at the end of 2004 there were two very visible new elements sticking out from behind the historical façade.
On the left in the photo is an ellipsis which contains among other things the dressing rooms for the singers, dancers, technicians, orchestra and chorus. On the right is a new rectangular stage tower which contains all the new stage machinery as well as rehearsal halls for the chorus, orchestra and ballet company.
Second photo: In this nighttime photo of the façade you can see the rows of lights that have been placed in the rectangular stage tower.
Third photo: The ellipsis and the stage tower as seen from the roof of the cathedral. The glass dome in the foreground is the roof of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
Easily one of the world's best known opera houses or performance halls, the Teatro all Scala and its accompanying museum are a must see for any visitor to Milano with an interest in music.
The curtain first raised at the venerable old theatre on August 3, 1778, featuring an obscure work by the composer best known as a rival to Mozart, Antonio Salieri. In the 200-plus years since, to sing or conduct at La Scala has become the ultimate goal of performers. The lists of principal conductors and world premier performances is impressive.
What can you see when you visit the theatre? There is a museum which would surely be of paramount interest to real opera buffs, of moderate interest to those of us who are music lovers but not big-time opera fans, and a complete mystery to those who have had no exposure to the world of opera. Our museum ticket allowed us entry into the resplendent foyer outside the performance hall, but only a brief look into the hall itself - that from one of the upper level boxes. Photos were not allowed, as set construction was underway for a new production.
The Teatro alla Scala is one of the things Milan is most famous for, and it is one of the most famous opera houses in the world. I must admit that I don't know much about opera, but it was still on our to do list, and we were not disappointed!
When you arrive, the buildings looks actually quite small - the façade is not that big, but in fact, the building is just very long, you cannot really grasp how huge it is when you stand in front of the entrance. It was constructed from 1776 to 1778 and was named "Scala" after a church that had been located here before. It was commissioned by Maria Theresia, and designed by the architect Guiseppe Piermarini.
Once you have paid your entrance fee, you walk up a big staircase, the walls are decorated with old advertising posters of different operas. You then get to the museum which I liked very much. The architecture of the rooms is most beautiful, most of all the hall of mirrors which is just so elegant. Moreover, I found the things on display very interesting, although, as I said, I am not very knowledgeable when it comes to the opera. There are many historical pictures and portraits, a lot of costumes and props, scores, busts of famous composers and many more interesting things.
If there are no rehearsal going on, you can also have a look at the theatre itself, you can enter the galleries and look down on the stalls, see the stage from above and admire the luxurious interior of this place. It is the original design from 1778, with red velvet and gold-plated stucco. I had seen pictures of this, and the real thing was just as impressive as I had expected!
When you leave the museum, there is of course a big shop where you can buy anything to satisfy the new-found opera freak within yourself...
If you want to know more about this opera house, please visit Nemorino's Milan page, where you will find a lot of info about how to get tickets, where to sit etc.
Opening times: Open every day except special holidays (check website), 09.00am to 12.30pm and 01.30pm to 05.30pm
Admission fee: 6€
If not the birthplace of Italian opera, it is certainly where Italian opera got it's soul. Rather plain from the outside, it hides the great opera inside. It opened August 3, 1778 after replacing the previous theatre which was destroyed by a fire in 1776.