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La Scala Opera House in Milan

La Scala Opera House has been the home of Italian opera since it opened its doors in 1778 and performed its first opera Salieri’s ‘Europa Riconoscuita’. It replaced the Teatro Regio Ducale which burnt down in 1776 and after a successful petition to Archduke Ferdinand of Austria (Milan being under Austrian control) the theatre was commissioned.

It was designed on a grand scale and comprised of 3000 or so seats split between boxes and the two galleries that house the famed ‘loggione’ or Connoisseurs who are probably the most demanding and knowledgeable audience ion the world. These opera buffs can either be ecstatic or merciless in their appraisal of a performance and a number of performers have been booed off the stage over the years if they don’t meet the exacting standards expected.

The original opera house was illuminated with oil lamps which then progressed to gas lamps and finally electricity in 1883.

The main opera house was remodelled in 1907 and reduced to 1987 seats and then renovated again after the Second World War when it was severely damaged by bombing.

The final reincarnation was designed to give the theatre a 21st century feel and after a 60 million euro face-lift opened in 2004 with a new look, improved acoustics and screens built into the seats where it’s possible to follow the Italian and English versions of the libretti.

Besides the theatre there is a museum attached which houses collections of paintings, costumes and documents that pay tribute to its illustrious past.

La Scala has commissioned many of the greatest composers to write works for it and has premiered over 40 operas in its time including Puccini’s Turandot & Madame Butterfly, Verdi’s Nabucco, Otello and Falstaff and a raft of operas by Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Stockhausen, one of the contemporary writers.

The who’s who of opera singers from Maria Callas to Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland to Enrico Caruso has graced its floorboards.  It retains its place as one of the leading venues in the world and is home to its own theatre, ballet and orchestra as well as providing training to budding singers, choreographers and stage managers.

The most celebrated conductor to perform at La Scala was Arturo Toscanini who progressed from paying the cello at the premiere of Verdi’s Otello to being either the conductor or music director for the next twenty years. His famous moments came during Puccini’s unfinished ‘Turandot’ on the 25 April 1926 when he laid down his baton after act 3 before turning to the audience and saying ‘Here the opera ends, because at this point the maestro died.’

He was also called out of retirement for the reopening concert after the rebuild following World War 2 where he conducted a memorable concert featuring the soprano diva Renata Tebaldi.

The La Scala Milan season opens on 7 December, St Ambrose, the patron saint of Milan’s feast Day and it runs to a tradition where all operas have to finish before midnight! The La Scala Opera House repertoire is more varied and includes a large number of unfamiliar works balanced by a repertoire of perennial favourites.

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