La Scala is not only the pride of Milan, but also one of the most prestigious and historic opera houses in the world.
Its influence on the world’s performing arts and music can hardly be overstated, and its rich history and exceptional artistic significance make La Scala an integral part of Italy’s cultural landscape and the global music scene.
Since its founding in 1778, La Scala Theater has witnessed numerous artistic breakthroughs and innovations that have forever changed the face of theater and opera.
Artists as renowned as Guiseppe Verdi, Claudio Abbado, Maria Callas, and Luciano Pavarotti have graced its stage, contributing to its growing global reputation.
It is located in Milan, Italy, in the Piazza della Scala, the square from which it took its name. The piazza, in turn, took its name from the church of Santa Maria della Scala, which was built here in 1381 and named after its donor, Princess Beatrice Regina della Scala, wife of Duke Bernabo Visconti, ruler of Milan.
The Teatro Regio Ducale (“Royal Ducal Theater”), which was a wing of the Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace), served as Milan’s opera house from 1717 until 1776, when it burned down after a carnival gala on the last Saturday of the carnival on 25th February 1776.
At that time, a group of ninety wealthy Milanese who owned private boxes in the theater asked Archduke Ferdinand of Austria for a new theater and a temporary theater to be used while the new one was being built.
The author of the design of both theaters was Guiseppe Pierimarini, an Italian architect, and a representative of classicism. His project, approved by Empress Maria Theresa, was completed within two years (1776-1778). Princess Maria Theresa of Austria was a great advocate of the construction of the new theater, especially since she felt sentimental about the burnt Teatro Regio Ducale. An opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was staged at this theater in 1771 to celebrate the wedding of her third son.
Within two years, the theater was completed by Pietro Marliani, Pietro Nosetti, Antonio, and Giuseppe Fe. The result was a building with a seating capacity of about 3000 in the form of 678 booths spread over six levels of boxes, above which are two “loggione” galleries. Funds for the construction were raised from the Milanese aristocracy, who, by financing the theater, secured ownership of the boxes.
La Scala’s stage is one of the largest in Italy and is 16.15 meters deep, 20.4 meters wide, and 26 meters high.
La Scala was built on the site of a former church, and the second theater was built on the site of the Scuole Cannobiane and was called Teatro alla Canobbiana. La Scala was intended for a special, mainly aristocratic audience, while the Canobbiana was open to the so-called general public.
Teatro alla Canobbiana, whose inauguration took place on 21st August 1779, was called Teatro Lirico from 1894. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, it hosted numerous opera performances, including the world premieres of Dionizetti’s Love Drink and Giordano’s Fedora.
The new theater was called Nuovo Regio Ducal Teatro alla Scala. Over time, the abbreviated name of the theater, La Scala, was adopted.
At that time, Antonio Salieri’s opera in two acts “Europa Riconosciuta” was staged-this was the first performance of this opera. It was not staged again until 7th December 2004, on the occasion of the opening of La Scala after a three-year hiatus due to a general renovation.
Only in front of the theater ran a narrow road with a portico under which carriages passed. In 1857, Emperor Franz Joseph ordered the demolition of the buildings to create an open space in front of the opera house. The result was La Scala Square, which opened in 1865 (two years later the famous Victor Emmanuel II Gallery was built).
Today, in front of the palace’s façade stretches the square, where a statue of Leonardo da Vinci stands.
Another thousand kerosene lamps were located in the rest of the theater. Fire was feared, so hundreds of buckets of water were set up in several rooms. Over time, kerosene lamps were replaced by gas lamps, and these in turn were replaced by electricity in 1883.
During the bombing of Milan in 1943, on the night of 15th-16th August, bombs hit the theater building, destroying its roof. After the war, reconstruction began and as early as May 1946, the reopening of La Scala was inaugurated with a concert conducted by Arturo Toscanini and featuring solo soprano Renata Tebaldi.
Toscanini, who had left fascist Italy before the outbreak of war, returned to Milan in 1946 to support fundraising for the theater’s restoration. He was twice chief conductor of La Scala and collaborated with composers Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini.
The theater building is undergoing various modernizations all the time, being expanded and rebuilt. Already at the beginning of the 21st century, as part of a general renovation, among other things, a 40-meter tower was built there, from which the decorations descend, as well as the subway part, where rehearsals are held.
From the very entrance to the theater, viewers are enchanted by the beauty of the architectural details. But in addition to the visual experience, the trump card that attracts audiences is the theater’s unique acoustic, which makes it a perfect venue for musicians and singers.
For many artists, performing on the stage of La Scala is a dream come true and a recognition of their talent. The venue sets the standard for artistic excellence and is extremely demanding of its performers. For young talents, it is the place that paves the way to world fame.
The La Scala stage hosted the premieres of some of his most important works, such as “Nabucco” (1842), “Rigoletto” (1851) and “La Traviata” (1853). With these operas, Verdi gained recognition and became a symbol of Italian opera.
For some time Verdi was in a dispute with La Scala and did not allow his works to be played there. He claimed that the orchestra, by modifying his music, was “spoiling it.” In 1886, however, he announced that La Scala would host the premiere of his penultimate opera, “Otello.” The theater also hosted the premiere of his last opera “Falstaff.”
It was not only a place of artistic experience, but also a space where social life took place. Lodge owners received guests, ate, and even gambled there. Like most theaters of the time, La Scala was also a casino, where gamblers sat in the foyer - all of which happened during performances.
When there was no seating in the auditorium, balls and even horse competitions were held there.
This was the case until 1897 when seats were installed there (now more than 2000 people can sit there). On the gallery (loggione) above the boxes sat the most discerning music lovers and journalists. The orchestra was in full view, as the moat for the orchestra had not yet been built.
The cats help control rodents that could damage musical instruments and stage costumes.
These are small, shaded rooms from which artists can watch performances or rehearsals by other artists.