by Maggie Bell 

On November 17, 1839 Giuseppe Verdi premiered his first opera at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan entitled Oberto–an opera in two acts set in the northern Italian town of Bassano in the thirteenth century.  By the mid-19th century, the Scala had existed for about fifty years, and was a vibrant gathering place for foreign visitors and for wealthy Milanese, who lavishly decorated their private viewing boxes.  The theater was designed by the neoclassical architect Giuseppe Piermarini for Maria Teresa d’Austria, after a fire destroyed the Teatro Regio Ducale in 1776.  Over the subsequent decades the Scala premiered numerous celebrated works by Salieri, Verdi and Rossini, among many others.  

Perhaps the greatest intervention in the ambience of the Scala was the introduction of electric lighting in 1883-1884, which replaced the eighty-four oil lamps illuminating the stage, and the thousands of lamps throughout the theater.  

The Scala was heavily damaged during the bombing of World War II, and required extensive rebuilding.  The finished restorations were celebrated in 1946 by a concert led by Toscanini.  The theater remained largely unchanged until the early 2000s, when the architect Mario Botta, which were designed to reinforce the historic structure and improve acoustics. 

Further Reading:

Scala, Teatro alla in Treccani: Enciclopedie On-line,, accessed Nov. 16. 2017.

Piazza alla Scala, 19th century print. 

Interior view of Teatro alla Scala. 

Giuseppe Piermarini, Plan for Teatro alla Scalac. 1776. 

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