La Scala in Milan is the most famous opera house in the world thanks to its extraordinary history. The revolutionary composer Giuseppe Verdi worked for this theatre for decades; great conductors such as Arturo Toscanini performed here for years, and legendary singers who changed opera, such as Maria Callas, became stars on its stage.
Behind the breathtaking decors and costumes, a complex machine is at work – the sets, sculptures and clothes for the opera and ballet are made in its own factory.
In 2001 the former industrial settlement of the Ansaldo steel plants became the theatre workshops.
They include various departments: stage design, carpentry, stage plastics, costume design and fitting, as well as the wardrobe, which stores almost 60 thousand costumes belonging to over 280 productions from 1911 to the present day.
The workshops are managed by Angelo Sala, a former stage designer who’s been with La Scala for nearly forty years.
“This is the biggest workshop in the world for theatre productions. It’s the backstage, it’s what the public can’t see behind the ‘beautiful side’ of the show. It’s what holds the set together – yet never gets to be seen by the audience. It’s very spectacular, because you can see all the mechanisms involved; they are not always technologically advanced – in fact, they can be simple ropes pulled by hand. It’s stage machinery that very much ressembles eighteenth century machinery.”
It’s machinery that can create strong emotions and generate great passion on the stage, here in Verdi’s Rigoletto.
Leo Nucci is considered the greatest living Rigoletto. At La Scala he’s sung a record 160 times.
“La Scala is La Scala, especially for baritones. One can be successful anywhere but if you’re not at La Scala, there’s a crack that stays in the singer’s soul forever.
“I met my wife at La Scala. Just outside, at the tram stop, on the steps of the number one, I asked her: ‘so, would you like to marry me or not?’ “
After years of crisis, the newly restored Scala is today a thriving theatre, appreciated by the critics and the public. Since 2005 the General Manager is a Frenchman – it’s the first time for a non-Italian. He recounts the first difficulties he encountered.
“I’m a Cartesian and I’m French. To understand how to find a balance between creativity, the Italian imagination, while at the same time maybe trying to give them a few more rules, maybe a little bit more rigour, and to mix those two things together – that’s what was the most exciting.
“The public has a fusional relationship with this theatre, it’s passionate, they consider it to be their theatre, that it’s really part of their life – here it’s all about passion, that’s true.”