Toscanini, Verdi, Puccini – just some of the great names of conductors and composers associated with Milan’s famous Opera House, Teatro alla Scala. Most of the greatest singers in the past 200 years, such as Enrico Caruso and Maria Callas, have performed here, as well as some of the greatest ballet dancers. La Scala was built in 1778 and rebuilt several times. It is arguably the most prestigious opera house in the world.
The History of La Scala begins as a church in 1381, the Santa Maria alla Scala, named after Beatrice Regina della Scala the wife of Bernabò Visconti, Lord of Milan, who commissioned the church, but was later excommunicated as a heretic in 1363 by Pope Urban V. Legend says that the name also means “Holy Mary of the Staircase” because it is said that a sick boy was cured after his mother placed a statue of the Virgin Mary on the landing.
The church eventually went into disuse, and because Milan’s opera house, the Royal Ducal Theater, burned to the ground during Carnival, construction began in 1776 on the new Opera House which was built on the church site and took the La Scala name. It was lit by 84 oil lamps on the stage and a thousand candles for performances, with hundreds of buckets of water on standby in case of fire. Electric light came in 1883. A good deal of its history includes a casino, as gamblers set up shop in the foyer, as was popular with opera houses at the time.
The theater was seriously damaged in 1943 during World War II and rebuilt. It’s grand re-opening was in May of 1946, 75 years ago. In 2001, La Scala was closed for $67 million in renovations. It reopened in December 2004. The first performance was Antonio Salieri’s Europa riconosciuta (Europe Revealed), which had been La Scala’s opening performance on August 3, 1778.
Teatro alla Scala has an excellent museum that is well worth your time exploring, both in person and online. Other interesting history can be found here. For information on performances and tickets visit Teatro All Scala.
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