Outside of Milan’s La Scala building.
Art and culture

Behind the scenes at Milan’s La Scala

December 13, 2021

Teatro alla Scala in Milan has recently focussed on reviving early Italian masterpieces. As a stage for famed dancers such as the principal dancer, Roberto Bolle, and the late Italian prima ballerina, Carla Fracci, this is one of the world's most storied ballet houses.

A rich history

When Milan’s beloved Teatro Regio Ducale tragically burnt down in 1776 during the city’s annual carnival, Empress Maria Theresa acted quickly. She ordered an old church, Santa Maria alla Scala, to be dismantled, then commissioned architect Giuseppe Piermarini to build a new theatre in its place. Completed in just two years, the new Teatro alla Scala was inaugurated in 1778 with Europa Riconosciuta, an opera by Italian composer Antonio Salieri. While the theatre suffered heavy damage in air raids in August 1943, it was rebuilt, reopening in May 1946 with a moving concert conducted by Arturo Toscanini.

XIX century print Piazza della Scala, Milano
Teatro alla Scala Milan
Courtesy of Alejandro, Flickr

Charming interiors

Following the theatre’s inauguration, historian Pietro Verri said, “The auditorium, with its six rows of boxes, is magnificent. It is possibly the biggest theatre in Italy, in the world.” Piermarini created an elegant neoclassical façade featuring columns, pediments and a decorative tympanum with a bas-relief stucco design depicting Greek sun god Helios in a golden chariot above the entrance. Its auditorium is just as impressive, with a backdrop of wood and red velvet, while balconies are detailed with golden illustrations and a Bohemian crystal chandelier donated by glass cutters from Murano after the roof collapsed in the 1943 bombing.

World-famous dancers

Carla Fracci made her professional debut at Teatro alla Scala in 1955 before going on to become one of the 20th century’s greatest ballerinas, best known for her title role in Giselle. Fracci danced with some of the most talented male dancers of her generation, including Rudolf Nureyev and Erik Bruhn, and frequently performed with the American Ballet Theater and Royal Ballet. Meanwhile, Roberto Bolle trained at La Scala from the age of 11 before joining its ballet company at 19. He went on to become a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater and a principal dancer étoile at La Scala.

Carla Fracci print - Teatro alla Scala Milano
Dominique Meyer - Teatro alla Scala - Milano

A new leader: Dominique Meyer

The former director of the Vienna State Opera, Dominique Meyer, took over Teatro alla Scala in 2021. One of his goals is to extend the theatre’s repertoire to include composers from Naples in the 18th century. “Naples was the main place for opera then,” he told the New York Times in an interview. “There are many great, forgotten, unknown operas and I would like to revive some of them,” he added, mentioning composers Nicola Porpora and Leonardo Vinci. As a former director of Switzerland’s Lausanne Opera and artistic director at Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, Meyer served as a commissioner of the French Ministry for the Economy and Finance and as an advisor in the Ministry of Culture in the 1980s.

From Old Masters to contemporary art, Milan’s finest artistic and cultural treasures can all be discovered on the doorstep of Hotel Principe di Savoia.

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