The Stages, Teatro alla Scala

Piermarini, in designing the Scala, was inspired by the court theater of the Royal Palace of Caserta by Vanvitelli and the San Carlo Theater in Naples.. The room is in the shape of a horseshoe embellished with neoclassical decorations. .

Until the bombing of 1943, the original structure of the vault had been preserved, consisting of a thick layer of plaster pressed on “rods”, strips about five centimeters wide obtained from not completely dried chestnut rounds and left to macerate in water, nailed to ribs in poplar wood. These were in turn hung by thin wooden tie rods on the rafters resting on the large trusses placed in support of the roof slopes. This system, almost a false ceiling, has in some ways been taken up in the Teatro degli Arcimboldi, where the ceiling that the spectator sees is actually composed of reflective panels facing the audience and soundproofing facing the orchestra.

The simple vault of the hall was plastered, as well as the walls of the four tiers of boxes and the four large columns that enclose the proscenium boxes. The room originally appeared in a very different way from what we see today: there have been numerous interventions, including that curated by Luigi Canonica (1808) and that of the scenographer Alessandro Sanquirico (1830), still admirable as a whole today.

The proscenium is 16 x 12 meters (identical to that of the Arcimboldi theater, which was in fact built in such a way that the scenes can pass from one theater to another). The original painted canvas curtain that opened at the drop was replaced by the current one in crimson velvet, with an imperial opening, richly decorated with gold embroidery. In the upper part stands the coat of arms of the Municipality of Milan. Above the proscenium, a clock indicating the hour (Roman numeral) and the minutes (Arabic numerals, marked at five minute intervals) is supported by two large female figures in low relief.

The stage, originally in poplar boards furrowed by the guides for the movable panels of the scenes, had considerable dimensions (over thirty meters long and almost twenty-six wide) and once extended into the hall up beyond the proscenium, in the space now occupied by the orchestra pit. According to the initial project, it should have had not six but seven spans, reduced during construction due to difficulties in acquiring the necessary land. Long balconies allowed the train drivers to maneuver the scenes.

The orchestra played until the beginning of the twentieth century at the same level as the stalls, from which it was separated thanks to a “slope assata” that could be removed on the occasion of the dance parties. The current pit was built in the early twentieth century.

The dominant colors of the current decoration are gold and ivory. The decorations, medallions and floral and zoomorphic motifs are made of golden papier-mâché applied on the ivory-colored lacquered wood of the parapets. The columns that separate one stage from the other are slightly backward and the walls themselves of the individual stages are directed so as to allow a better view even from the more lateral stages. The tapestries on the walls have been uniformed in crimson damask. The appearance from the stalls of the two galleries is completely similar. Even the current second gallery, in Piermarini’s project conceived as the only gallery, offered the view in an identical way to the five orders of underlying boxes, but in reality it had a vaulted ceiling.

From the vault, decorated in grisaille, hangs the large chandelier donated by the Murano glass masters after the Second World War.

Stages and galleries
The six levels are now organized into four tiers of boxes and two galleries. The first three orders have thirty-six boxes, eighteen on the right and eighteen on the left, numbered in ascending order starting from the proscenium; the fourth order instead counts thirty-nine, since three boxes occupy the space that in the orders below is reserved for the royal stage. On both sides of the proscenium there are a further four proscenium boxes, corresponding to the first four orders.

The stages and backrooms were once decorated by the individual owners with tapestries of different colors, rugs, furniture, mirrors and chairs of their choice. On the basis of an inventory from 1790 we are aware of the fabric mainly chosen for the walls of the boxes, a «Vienna canvas, with a white, red, light blue, striped background, on which branches are scattered or intertwined or enveloped imaginative Chinese compositions; the classical trend is represented by “mosaic” tapestries ». It was decided that only the colors and the trend of the valances should be uniform, red in color, and, unlike what happens today, in such a way as to completely isolate the stage from the hall.

On the occasion of the renovations of 1830, it was decided, on the advice of Sanquirico, to adopt a new color and a new style, as described in a letter dated 6 August of that year: «one single fold in the middle and two tails side, of a single color, the blue one ». The model of the new curtains, to be reproduced by the owners of the individual stages, was installed on the stage used by the IR Military Command (number 16 of the first order) and, for the proscenium stages, in that of the governor, Count Francis of Hartin. In 1838 the gilding, the drapery and the restoration of the decorations were renewed, but, as can be deduced from a letter by Franz Liszt(which held two piano concerts in February 1838 and one in September), the curtains did not change color.

In 1844, all the draperies of the theater became “cedrone”, a bright green, with the exception of the royal stage, whose predominant crimson red color was chosen as the traditional sign of power.

One of the important transformations that followed the institution of the Autonomous Body was the uniformization of the decoration of the boxes. The task was entrusted in 1928 to the architect Giordani, who decided to cover them uniformly with a red silk damask with empire-style decorations. The curtains returned to be crimson, finished with golden drops and pine cones. In 1988, the silk damasks were replaced with a fairly similar design fabric, but in fire retardant synthetic fiber. During the last restoration works, silk damask, always red in color, was again laid between the ruby and the ancient garnet.

Stairs and hallways
A complex system of multi-flight stairs (called “pincers”) connects the foyer with the access corridors to the stages. In the first three orders the corridors of the right and left stages are not communicating due to the volume of the royal stage, which is accessed from the second order through a large vestibule. On the corridors open both the doors of the dressing rooms, now used as a wardrobe for the spectators of the individual stages, and those for access to the stages. Once through this first door in lacquered wood, to access the room you need to open a second door covered with velvet.

The prevailing color of the walls of the corridors and of the stairs is yellow / orange, while the plinths are black. On the walls of the stairs to the first order, however, the marmorino is gray-green with the vertical band near the yellow corridor, in continuity with the color of the walls of that floor. The floors of the stages are now in terracotta, the same material as Piermarini envisaged, the corridors and the landings of the stairs are instead in Venetian terrace.

The original single gallery was connected to the vestibule for servants via two spiral staircases. Spectators with gallery tickets enter today through the entrance of the Theater Museum, in Largo Ghiringhelli. In the space occupied on the floors below by the dressing rooms, the wardrobes are located in correspondence of the two galleries, not unlike those of the stalls. The design of the ramps connecting the two top floors, which were redesigned during the 20th century, is different.

There are today two reductions. The first, corresponding to the third tier of boxes, is intended for the spectators of the boxes. The second, opened in 1958 in the place once used as a “room of the stoves”, is intended for those of the two galleries. The appearance of both these environments has been modified several times over the years. Originally, the embers were produced in the room that currently houses the reduced gallery to be placed in special braziers located in the various rooms of the theater.

The current decoration of the first reduced, named after Arturo Toscanini, dates back to the intervention of Luigi Lorenzo Secchi (1936). The first room which is accessed from the third order corridor, narrow and very elongated, acts almost as an antechamber to the largest hall, corresponding to the projecting body area. To divide them a wall in which there is a large passage supported by four marble columns and two minor passages, on the right and left, which give access to as many smaller rooms, hosting the buffets. The walls of all four rooms are decorated with mirrors, friezes and pilasters with gilded Corinthian capitals made of stucco. Above the latter runs the entablature, very important in the two main rooms, less conspicuous in the two buffets. Three French windows and two windows open from the living room towards Piazza della Scala, a light window for each of the two smaller rooms. Three large crystal chandeliers hang from the vault of the hall and as many, smaller, illuminate the corridor. The hall is decorated with busts of composers (Giacomo Puccini, Pietro Mascagni, Umberto Giordano), musicians (Arturo Toscanini, the work of Adolfo Wildt) and theater managers, made of marble or bronze from the post-war period. The upholstery of the armchairs and sofas are made with the same yellow silk used for the curtains.

The layout of the rooms is the same also in the lower upper, which is accessed from the second gallery. Only the height of the vaults is lower and the decoration is more discreet.

Equally important was the conservative intervention that concerned the monumental part. Once the cleaning of the facade of the theater was completed at the end of the 1990s, the renovation works were carried out from 2002 to 2004 at the same time as the restoration of the monumental area, curated by Elisabetta Fabbri.

The first step was the acquisition of all the necessary historical, material and dimensional information. Three areas of intervention have been recognized: the theater room (including, in addition to the stalls and the stages, the corridors, the stairs and the backstage dressing rooms), the foyer and the foyers, and, finally, the rooms hosting the Theater Museum. While for these latter areas we can speak of “extraordinary maintenance”, rather than “conservative restoration” (the plants already built in the twentieth century were exploited, suitably overhauled, and materials replaced, such as wooden floors and tapestries, now worn out), intervention in the theater room was more complex.

In particular, a new wiring of the stages has been made, with the revision of the electrical systems and air conditioning. As regards the structural adjustment, steps were taken to tie the wooden beams of the boxes and reinforcements with injections of special resins in the masonry vaults. The intervention on the wall coverings was also complex. Thanks to careful surveys, it was partially possible to bring to light the original imitation marble plaster, well preserved on the walls of the first two orders. On the upper floors and in the subplatea, a new marmorino was created.

Until the recent restoration, the floor of the stalls, in addition to that of the stairs and corridors, was covered with carpet. Instead, a layer of linoleum had been laid on the stages. The stalls have now been paved with exposed wood, arranged in special layers in order to improve the acoustics. The flooring of terracotta tiles, already foreseen by Piermarini, was recovered in the boxes and dressing rooms, while in the corridors the marble sowing or Venetian terrazzo was restored.

Teatro alla Scala
La Scala is an opera house in Milan, Italy. The theatre was inaugurated on 3 August 1778 and was originally known as the Nuovo Regio Ducale Teatro alla Scala (New Royal-Ducal Theatre alla Scala). The premiere performance was Antonio Salieri’s Europa riconosciuta.

Most of Italy’s greatest operatic artists, and many of the finest singers from around the world, have appeared at La Scala. The theatre is regarded as one of the leading opera and ballet theatres in the world and is home to the La Scala Theatre Chorus, La Scala Theatre Ballet and La Scala Theatre Orchestra. The theatre also has an associate school, known as the La Scala Theatre Academy (Italian: Accademia Teatro alla Scala), which offers professional training in music, dance, stage craft and stage management.

La Scala Theatre was founded in 1778 and soon became the home of the great Italian composers: Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini are just some of the musicians who presented the premieres of their operas here.

In the 20th century the prestige of La Scala was assured by great conductors. After Toscanini, masters such as Victor de Sabata, Gianandrea Gavazzeni, Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, Daniel Barenboim and today Riccardo Chailly preserve and enrich the tradition. The Scala stage has seen the stars of Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi, Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo shine on, followed today by Anna Netrebko, Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Florez and Francesco Meli.

At La Scala, Carla Fracci and Rudolf Nureev, Alessandra Ferri and Roberto Bolle danced. La Scala’s productions were conceived by stage directors such as Giorgio Strehler and Luca Ronconi, Bob Wilson and Robert Carsen, while designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Gianni Versace, Karl Lagerfeld and Giorgio Armani designed the costumes.

La Scala’s opening season is the world’s most famous opera night, broadcast to all continents and celebrated by a festival that fills the streets of Milan for weeks. La Scala’s tours have touched five continents and are the most effective ambassador of Italian culture in the world. Today La Scala is waiting to resume its activities: in 2019 it welcomed an audience of over 400,000.