Vita Gazette

News from Italy

House of the Stars: Teatro alla Scala

by Isabella Laiden

Like Venice’s Teatro la Fenice, the Teatro alla Scala was born of fire. Until February 26, 1776, the “Teatro Regina Ducale” was serving the Milanese. Teatro La Scala was being built from the ashes of the theater, which rose on the site of today’s Royal Palace, when it burned down at the premiere of a carnival in 1776.

                                                             Teatro Regina Ducale

Artistic touch of Maria Theresa

After the fire, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria took action to build a new theater in the city. The city’s new theater was to be built on the site of the 14th-century church of Santa Maria della Scala (built in honor of Bernabo Visconti’s wife, Regina della Scala).

                                                                    Maria Teresa

The project, drawn by the architect Giuseppe Piermarini, was brought to life with the contributions of 90 owners of Regio’s smoke-filled lodges. And the construction of the theater was completed in two years. The Piazza della Scala square, which is located in front of the facade of Piazza della Scala today, did not exist then. Buildings were cramped. This is why Piermarini separated the passage of cars and pedestrians.

In accordance with the tradition of the period, no chairs were placed in the theater, which was opened with a capacity of three thousand spectators. There was no orchestra pit. The audience saw the orchestra and the show was watched standing up. The expenses of the building were made with the income from the sale of the lodges. Beneath the lodges were galleries called loggione, which housed viewers of lower economic status. The course of the performances would be clear from the audience in the loggiones. Artists were constantly followed. A bad representation would cause long-lasting gossip.

La Scala was initially lit by eighty-four oil lamps placed on the stage. It is said that hundreds of buckets of water were stored in the two rooms of Scala in case of fire due to the burning of Regina Ducale.

Stendhal: “Impossible to imagine anything newer”

When the calendars showed August 3, 1778, the nearly 250-year history of La Scala began. The opening was made with Salieri’s opera Europa Riconosciuta, which is known to have a great rivalry with Mozart. 

The theater, which gave the greatest musical pleasure to the world, took the breath of those who saw it. “It is impossible to imagine anything bigger, more serious, and new,” said the French writer Stendhal. Considered to be “unchangeable” since then, La Scala continued to exist by changing its face like a cultural giant adapting to the times.

However, the year after the inauguration of the Cisalpine Republic, all noble coats of arms were removed from the boxes. With the arrival of Napoleon, the royal box was also being cancelled. In 1807 the theater was renovated with decorations in the box and vaults: medallions, winged lions, flutists were added that still look out into the halls today. In 1813 the stage was enlarged by demolishing some buildings on the existing Via Verdi. Later, oil lamps were replaced by gas lamps. In 1883, electric bulbs began to be used.

On August 9, 1859, Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti was staged in front of King Vittorio Emanuele II. Verdi was returning to La Scala and presenting the European premiere of Aida. For several years Verdi works were not allowed to be staged at Scala. The reason for this is said to be that the orchestra changed Verdi’s orchestration. Fortunately, somehow the conflict between Scala and Verdi was over.

                          Verdi                                                                            King Vittorio Emanuele II

The crisis that closed the theater

Difficult times followed. In 1897 Scala was closed by the Municipality of Milan due to the serious social crisis. Its reopening a year later took place thanks to the support of the rich patriot Guido Visconti di Modrone. On 21 April 1889 Giacomo Puccini made his debut with Edgar. In 1907 the Scala was being renovated with a capacity of two thousand eight hundred people.

Mussolini edition

At the end of the First World War, the owners of the lodge gave up their property rights and an autonomous administration was born in the theater. In 1929, fascism was also collapsing in Italy and at La Scala. Mussolini would now appoint the head of Scala. Arturo Toscanini, considered one of the most successful conductors, leaves the administration and goes to New York. He was then returning to Italy, but was slapped by the fascists in front of the Teatro Comunale in Bologna after refusing to take responsibility for Giovinezza as well. After this event, Toscanini left the country in 1931.

The war also hit Scala

The war had also seriously injured La Scala. During the bombings of August 16, 1943, the roof of the four-story boxes, the vault and the elongated sections, the costume stores, the dressing rooms, the study rooms of the choir and dance and the theater workshops were destroyed. From 1945 to 1946 the theater was renovated. It reopens to the public with an excellent concert conducted by A. Toscanini and the soloist Renata Tebaldi, one of the most famous sopranos of the time.

There were 5,000 people inside the theater, several thousand equipped with loudspeakers in the Piazza della Scala and adjacent streets. It was a time when ordinary people hummed the tunes of opera, knew their heroes well, and today they know pop singers and actors. This was followed by the economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s.

La Scala was undergoing a major renovation between 2002-2004 by architect Mario Botta. The restoration, which was done faithfully to the original, was highly appreciated. Today, La Scala, which hosts the famous works of the world, also has the Performance Arts Academy, which aims to train young musicians and dancers.

And the “House of the Stars”, which adorns the dreams of those who want to be a star, continues to exist with its timeless splendor.


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