Going Places, Far & Near

Letter from Abroad: A Grand Concert at La Scala in Milan, Italy

Seeing a performance at the famed La Scala theater in Milan, Italy, is a grand experience that transports you back to the Belle Epoque. Designed by Giuseppe Piermarini, the theater opened in 1778 (photo by Leiberman-Nemett)

Seeing a performance at the famed La Scala theater in Milan, Italy, is a grand experience that transports you back to the Belle Epoque. Designed by Giuseppe Piermarini, the theater opened in 1778 (photo by Leiberman-Nemett)

By Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Nemett

Seeing a performance at the famed La Scala opera house in Milan, Italy, transports you back to the Belle Epoque.

After collecting our tickets in the box office, we began the night with a perfect Negroni and aperitivo snack in the bar of Ristorante Teatro alla Scala. With about ten minutes until curtain, we walked through the ornate grand foyer adorned with marble columns and tall narrow mirrors lining the walls. We entered the theater itself just early enough to first glimpse the orchestra through the open doors of the palci, the balcony boxes lining the horseshoe auditorium.

The demographic of the crowd skewed older than some opera houses in the United States with most of the audience in their 50s to 80s. Everyone was dressed as you would expect at La Scala: men in jackets and women in dresses.

We walked to our seats in the front right side of the Orchestra. Though we were fairly close to the stage, the sound didn’t feel as full as we imagined it could have. During intermission we were able to move up to one of the balcony boxes, where the sound was significantly richer than in the orchestra section.

First glimpse the orchestra through the open doors of the palci, the balcony boxes lining the horseshoe auditorium (photo by Leiberman-Nemett)

First glimpse the orchestra through the open doors of the palci, the balcony boxes lining the horseshoe auditorium (photo by Leiberman-Nemett)

The amazing acoustics in the gallery is only one aspect of the experience sitting in the balcony boxes of La Scala. We were lucky that the show we saw did not have a sold out house so we were the only 2 in our box and actually got to sit at the front with a great side view of the orchestra. Hundreds of burgundy jacquard-wallpapered cubes line the horseshoe of the 6 rows of boxes. It felt like an elaborate film set with each box its own scene. Sitting in a closed room with only a few others (or in our case just one companion), you are simultaneously watching hundreds of little boxed narratives in the panorama of the audience, while realizing you are within the same composition of boxes and one of these stories yourself. Hundreds of moments all within their own world, theater-goers hang out of the boxes with arms draped around the cushioned ledges, all watching and listening to their shared soundtrack.

The Teatro alla Scala was founded under the auspices of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, to replace the Royal Ducal Theatre, which was destroyed by fire on February  26 1776, which until then was the home of opera in Milan. The cost of building the new theatre was borne by the owners of the boxes at the Ducal in exchange for possession of the land on which stood the church of Santa Maria alla Scala (hence the name) and for renewed ownership of their boxes. The theater was designed by the great neoclassical architect Giuseppe Piermarini  (1734-1808) and opened in 1778.

What is not widely known is that you can visit La Scala’s museum. The current exhibition is “Riccardo Muti: The years at La Scala” (on through October 16). The museum is open daily except on: Christmas, New Year’s and Easter Sunday and certain holidays..  It is open from 9 am to 12.30 pm (last entrance at noon) and from 1.30 pm to 5.30 pm (last entrance at 5 pm). The auditorium can be seen from the boxes excepted when rehearsals or performances are in progress. (Information: Tel +39 02 88 79 74 73).

La Scala’s program includes not only opera, but also symphony concerts, academy concerts, ballet, programming for children, and other cultural events. The programming is also not only the famous Italian composers. Though Verdi and Puccini frequent the lineup (or the season), upcoming performances at La Scala include Benjamin Britton’s Turn of the Screw (Sept 14 – Oct 17, 2016), George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (Nov 13-23, 2016), Mozart’s The Magic Flute (Sept 2 – 25, 2016) and Marriage of Figaro (Oct 26-Nov 27, 2016).

You can see the schedule and purchase your tickets in advance online. Ufficio Stampa Teatro alla Scala, Via Filodrammatici 2 – 20121 Milano, tel. +39 02 8879 2412, fax +39 02 8879 2331, www.teatroallascala.org.

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