La Scala

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La Scala

Milan
Italy

The Teatro alla Scala (or La Scala, as it is known), in Milan, Italy, is one of the world's most famous opera houses. The theatre was inaugurated on 3 August 1778, under the name Nuovo Regio Ducal Teatro alla Scala with Salieri's L'Europa riconosciuta.

The current edifice is the second theatre on the site. A fire destroyed the first, the ancient Teatro Ducale, on 25 February 1776, after a carnival gala. A group of ninety wealthy Milanese, who owned palchi (private boxes) in the theater, wrote to Archduke Ferdinand I of Austria asking for a new theatre and a provisional one to be used while completing the new one. The neoclassical architect Giuseppe Piermarini produced an initial design but it was rejected by Count Firmian (an Austrian governor).

A second plan was accepted in 1776 by Empress Maria Theresa. The new theatre was built on the former location of the church of Santa Maria della Scala, from which the theatre gets its name. The church was deconsecrated and demolished, and over a period of two years the theater was completed by Pietro Marliani, Pietro Nosetti and Antonio and Giuseppe Fe. This theatre had a total over 3,000 seats organized into 678 pit-stalls, arranged in six tiers of boxes above which is the 'loggione' or two galleries. The stage is one of the largest in Italy; the proscenium is 26m wide and 27m high, and the stage was originally 20m deep.

Building expenses were covered by the sale of palchi, which were lavishly decorated by their owners, impressing observers such as Stendhal. La Scala (as it soon became to be known) soon became the preeminent meeting place for noble and wealthy Milanese people. In the tradition of the times, the platea (the main floor) had no chairs and spectators watched the shows standing up. The orchestra was in full sight, as the golfo mistico (orchestra pit) had not yet been built.

Above the boxes, La Scala has always had a gallery where the less wealthy can watch the performances. It is called the loggione. The loggione is typically crowded with the most critical opera aficionados, who can be ecstatic or merciless towards singers' perceived successes or failures. La Scala's loggione is considered a baptism of fire in the opera world, and fiascos are long remembered. As with most of the theaters at that time, La Scala was also a casino, with gamblers sitting in the foyer.

La Scala was originally illuminated with eighty-four oil lamps mounted on the palcoscenico and another thousand in the rest of theater. To prevent the risks of fire, several rooms were filled with hundreds of water buckets. In time, oil lamps were replaced by gas lamps, these in turn were replaced by electric lights in 1883.

The original structure was renovated in 1907, when it was given its current layout with 2,800 seats. In 1943, during WWII, La Scala was severely damaged by bombing. It was rebuilt and reopened on May 11, 1946, with a memorable concert conducted by Arturo Toscanini, with a soprano solo by Renata Tebaldi, which created a sensation.

La Scala hosted the prima (first production) of many famous operas, and had a special relationship with Giuseppe Verdi. For several years, however, Verdi did not allow his work to be played here, as some of his music had been modified (he said "corrupted") by the orchestra.

La Scala's season traditionally opens on December 7, Saint Ambrose's Day, Milan's patron saint. All performances must end before midnight; long operas start earlier in the evening if need be. Ticketholders are not allowed to enter after the performance has begun. No exceptions are made, as Richard Burton once discovered.

The La Scala Museum (accessible from the foyer and a part of the house) contains an extraordinary collection of paintings, drafts, statues, costumes, and other documents regarding opera and La Scala's history.

The theatre was closed for renovation from 19 January 2002 to November 2004 on a project by the Ticinese architect Mario Botta. During the closure, the opera company was transferred to the new Teatro degli Arcimboldi, 4.5 miles from the city centre.

The renovation proved controversial as preservationists feared that historic details would be lost; however, the opera company was said to be impressed with improvements to the structure and the sound quality, which was enhanced when the heavy red carpets in the hall were removed. The stage was entirely re-constructed, and an enlarged backstage will allow more sets to be stored, permitting more productions, and the seats now include monitors for the electronic libretto system, allowing audiences to follow opera libretti in English and Italian in addition to the original language.

Conducted by Riccardo Muti, the opera house re-opened on 7 December 2004 with a production of Salieri's L'Europa riconosciuta, the opera which was performed at La Scala's inauguration in 1778.

Tickets for the re-opening fetched up to €2,000. The renovations cost a reported €61 million, and left a budget shortfall that the opera house is not expected to overcome until 2006.

Carlo Fontana, the general manager of La Scala since 1990, was dismissed in February 2005 by the board of governors over differences with the music director, Riccardo Muti. The resulting staff backlash has caused serious disruptions and staff strikes. In a statement, the theater's board said it was "urgent to unify the theatre's management". On March 16, 2005, the La Scala orchestra and other staff voted overwhelmingly in no confidence motion against Muti, and demanded the resignation of Fontana's replacement, Mauro Meli. Muti had already been forced to cancel a concert a few days earlier because of the disagreements. Italy's culture minister, Giuliano Urbani, supported the conductor, but called for urgent action by management to safeguard the smooth operation and prestige of La Scala. On April 2, 2005, Muti resigned from La Scala, citing "hostility" from staff members.

In May 2005 Stéphane Lissner, who came from the Aix-en-Provence Festival, was appointed as General Manager and Artistic Director of La Scala and on May 15th, 2006, Daniel Barenboim was named Principal Guest Conductor.

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