“I am now coming out from La Scala. I believe it’s the first theatre worldwide, because it brings the most intense musical pleasures”. This is how French writer Stendhal described the Teatro alla Scala, the first theatre worldwide both for its musical and its architecture system.
And today, after more than 200 years, La Scala still keeps its prestige and it’s envied and admired in every city of the world.
In order to arrive in front of the theatre, you need to get off at the Duomo red metro station, walk through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele and reach Piazza della Scala: here you’ll have the chance to relax a bit on the benches overlooked by the Leonardo da Vinci’s statue while gazing at the building that treasures over 200 years of Milanese history. A building that stands where once stood a church, from which the theatre owes its name: the Church of Santa Maria alla Scala.
In 1776, a fire destroyed Maria Teresa of Austria’s court theatre: she wanted a new theatre to be built and, thus, the construction works of La Scala started. The works involved great architects and artists, like Piermarini.
The Nuovo Regio Ducal Teatro alla Scala opened on August, 3, 1778. On the opening night, Salieri’s pièce Europa Riconosciuta was played.
In the early years of its life, La Scala covered not only the function of theatre: in fact, it was also a ballroom, a ceremonial room and a gambling one.
It shouldn’t surprise you: until 1788 gambling was forbidden everywhere in the city, except for theatres.
Soon, however, the Teatro alla Scala established itself as a cultural hub of the city, also thanks to the debut of many sensational composers, like Giuseppe Verdi.
The relationship between the famous composer and the most prestigious theatre of Milan has became famous for its stormy character: Verdi was in love with the theatre but had to give it up for over 20 years because of its contrast with the contractors.
Probably, it was also Verdi’s absence that influenced the crisis period which the Scala underwent in the late 1800. On July, 1st, 1897, the City of Milan had to face new social emergencies and, thus, had to suspend its contributions: because of this, the Scala shut down.
In 1998, Guido Visconti di Modrone donated a substantial sum to La Scala, that could finally open again. From this date on, La Scala lived in a total splendour, thanks also to Toscanini’s artistic direction: he was considered as “infallible as the Pope.”
Toscanini remained in charge until the arrival of fascism, which took power over the organization of the theatre. Toscanini refused to play Giovinezza as a tribute to fascism: he was therefore slapped in the square and decided to abandon Milan and to move to New York.
After the war, and after numerous bombings, the walls of La Scala were covered with posters that asked for Toscanini’s return, the only artistic director who had managed to make La Scala shine. While the reconstruction works were brought forward, Toscanini returned to Milan. On May, 11 1946, Toscanini inaugurated the new La Scala: that night, Toscanini played not only for his audience, but also and foremost for everyone who believed in the rebirth after the war and who was listening to his music in the square through the speakers.
In 1967, the Teatro alla Scala became, at the behest of the Italian State, Ente Lirico Autonomo: twenty years later, it was converted to Teatro alla Scala Foundation, a non-profit private foundation that allowed it to keep his glory thanks to private funds.
Other reconstruction works occurred between 2002 and 2004, following the innovative guidelines of architect Mario Botta. During the opening night, after the latest construction works, Salieri’s Europa Riconosciuta was played once again, as in 1778: La Scala has therefore kept its heritage with its past and honoured it.
Today, La Scala opens its doors to the most famous and sought after shows in the world: the opening night takes always place during the Sant’Ambrogio holiday and is monitored by television stations and newspapers, also because many politicians and celebrities take part in it.
If you can’t buy tickets for one of the soirées, you can still visit the theatre. As a matter of fact, the museum inside the theatre is open every day. On the first floor, you’ll be welcomed by famous composers’ musical instruments and, if you feel observed, don’t worry: it’s because Verdi’s severe bust is just standing ahead of you. The numerous rooms preserve memories of the first soirées, tickets and clothing of the time: visiting it means becoming witnesses of the history of La Scala, and with it, of the history of Milan.