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Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Italy - Famous Opera House
421    Dibyendu Banerjee    30/01/2023

With its imposing neoclassical beauty, massive stage, grandiose interior and illustrious star-studded history, Teatro alla Scala, commonly known as La Scala, located on Piazza della Scala, a pedestrian central square in Milan, Italy, is perhaps the most recognizable opera house in the world and certainly among the greatest. Inaugurated on 3 August 1778, it was regarded as one of the leading opera and ballet theatres globally and the centre of the Italian opera scene, which the opera giants like the great Italian composers Gioachino Antonio Rossini, Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi, Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti and the Sicilian composer Vincenzo Salvatore Carmelo Francesco Bellini treated as their home.


The theatre, with its grandiose interior, complete with more than 3000 seats organized into 678 pit-stalls, arranged in six tiers of boxes above the loggione or gallery, where the less wealthy can watch the performances and is typically crowded with the most critical opera aficionados, known as the loggionisti or the spectator in the gallery, who can be ecstatic to applaud wildly, clap and shout enthusiastically if they like a singer, which would encourage the rest of the audience also to clap loudly or mercilessly boo loudly if they do not like the performance.

teatro alla scala

Teatro alla Scala also has a distinctive history, marked by multiple instances of devastating fires, renovation and reconstruction. From 1717, Milan had an opera house, known as the Teatro Regio Ducale or the Royal Ducal Theatre.


Unfortunately, when it was burned down on 25 February 1776 in mysterious circumstances after a carnival gala, a group of 90 wealthy Milanese people bought theatre boxes to cover the cost of a new building and requested archduke Ferdinand of Austria for the construction of a new theatre building. Although the initial design for the proposed building, submitted by the neoclassic architect Giuseppe Piermarini, was rejected by Count Firmian, the then governor of the Austrian Lombardy, the second plan was accepted by Empress Maria Theresa of Austria in 1776. The construction of the new Milan opera house began immediately after that, in 1776, on the site of the old and dilapidated building of the church of Santa Maria alla Scala, which was deconsecrated and razed to make room for it and was completed in 1778, destined to become one of the most important focal points for both Italian and European culture.

teatro alla scala

Finally, the new opera house, Teatro alla Scala, named after the church, was inaugurated on 3rd August of 1778, with Antonio Salieri’s L’Europa riconosciuta.


Initially, in the tradition of the times, the main floor of the new opera house had no chairs and the spectators had to stand to watch the shows, but the boxes were decorated by their owners with elaborate carvings, lavish mirrors and more, as the expenses of the construction of the building were covered by the sale of boxes. Although today, the boxes are no longer privately owned, they still retain the original and unique decorations. While its stage is one of the largest in Italy, like many other theatres of the time, La Scala also had a casino, with gamblers sitting in the foyer, where all sorts of business were conducted, including horse trading.

teatro alla scala
The Foyer

During those early days, La Scala was illuminated with 84 oil lamps mounted on the stage and another thousand in the rest of the theatre, along with several rooms filled with hundreds of water buckets, as a precaution against the possible risk of fire. Later, the oil lamps were replaced by gas lamps and in 1883 La Scala became the first public building in Milan to have electrical lights. The central grand chandelier, dazzling with 383 bulbs, was known as La Scala floodlit for its blinding brightness.

teatro alla scala
The central grand chandelier

The old structure of La Scala was renovated and restructured in 1907, when it was given its current layout with 1,987 seats. However, during WW II, the magnificent building was severely damaged, when on the night between the 15th and 16th of August 1943, air raids were carried out by the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force. Nevertheless, reconstruction began, along with an unusual concert amidst the wreckage, when the orchestra seated in front of the curtain and the audience on ordinary chairs. The Teatro alla Scala was rapidly rebuilt and reopened with its majestic grandeur on 11th May 1946 with a memorable concert conducted by Arturo Toscanini, with a soprano solo by the popular Italian lirico-spinto soprano, Renata Tebaldi, which created a sensation.

teatro alla scala

Between January 2002 and December 2004, La Scala underwent a major renovation by the architect Mario Botta, the most profound work of restoration and modernization of the theatre building since the end of the Second World War, in which the entire area behind the stage was demolished to create a modern and functional service area and all the subsequent modifications added to the structure were eliminated to restore the original splendour of La Scala. The fly tower and the oval tower, which can be seen today from the outside of the building, were also created during the process of restructuring. Although it was a controversial restructuring, since the preservationists feared that it would destroy the historic details of the theatre, it proved to be a unique effort and the opera company was satisfied, as the stage was entirely rebuilt and an enlarged backstage allowed more sets to be stored, permitting more productions. In addition to the improvements to the structure, the sound quality was also improved, which was enhanced, as the heavy red carpets in the hall were removed and the seats were equipped with monitors for the electronic libretto system, a device which presents translations of lyrics into an audience's language or transcribes lyrics that may be difficult to understand when sung, provided by an Italian company, allowing audiences to follow the opera in English and Italian in addition to the original language. The renovated and restructured La Scala was reopened on 7th December 2004 with Antonio Salieri’s L’Europa riconosciuta, which was also performed in the inauguration ceremony of La Scala in 1778.

teatro alla scala
Performance on the stage

Traditionally, La Scala’s season opens on Saint Ambrose’s Day, the feast day of Milan’s patron saint, on 7th December and by tradition, its performances end before midnight and to maintain the time schedule, long operas start earlier in the evening, if necessary. Today, La Scala also contains Museo Teatrale alla Scala, a theatrical museum and library, accessible from the theatre’s foyer and a part of the house, containing an extraordinary collection of paintings, drafts, statues, costumes and other documents about the history and opera of La Scala. Apart from being the home to the La Scala Theatre Chorus, La Scala Theatre Ballet, La Scala Theatre Orchestra and the Filarmonica della Scala orchestra, the theatre also has an associate school, known as Accademia Teatro alla Scala, which offers professional training in music, dance, stagecraft and stage management.

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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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