16 dicembre 2022
by Manuela D'Alessandro

A Journey Behind the Scenes of La Scala

La prima al teatro della Scala
La prima al teatro della Scala

TikTokers @alli.carollo and @gaiaagaravaglia point the lasers of their mobile phones upwards, overcome the forces of gravity and capture on their screens in just a few meters a concentration of power that has not been seen in the first row of the sumptuous royal box at La Scala for years. In the middle, President Mattarella, to his right Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission and the host, Mayor Giuseppe Sala. And on his left, Mattarella has Ignazio La Russa, Speaker of the Senate, and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, close to the column. “Wow, what an honor,” @gaiaagaravaglia overlays the image before posting with one click to the millions of followers who choose her and @alli.carollo, the current stars trending on young social media. 

And the trend for Saint Ambrose’s Day 2022, on a cold and clear evening, gusts of wind pushing through the door that opens and closes, lifting the light hems of the ladies' dresses, there is no doubt that this is exactly it. Pure-bred power: old and new, Italian and European, Russian, like Boris Godunov, dictator with a fragile heart full of pins and remorse in the work that all the politicians defend as no more and no less than a masterpiece of Russian culture; the faults of war do not detract from its beauty. 

The ovation is for the President of the Republic alone, the Italian who makes us hope that we are better than we are, and he rests his hand on his heart in thanks. Last year, they asked him for an encore, and here he is: silent, elegant. For Ms Von Der Leyen, there is respect, almost fear. But she too is less severe than may first appear, and when she is asked where she got that enchanting sequined dress, she replies quite simply: “I don't know who the designer is.”

Pure-bred power: old and new, Italian and European, Russian, like Boris Godunov, dictator with a fragile heart full of pins and remorse in the work that all the politicians defend as no more and no less than a masterpiece of Russian culture; the faults of war do not detract from its beauty. 

Curiosity buzzes around the new powerful. Not politics, not here. The COVID-19 that last year still spread fear and thermometers has disappeared, there are maybe a dozen with face masks. We can return guilt-free to a cheerful frivolity and when Giorgia Meloni arrives, wearing a midnight blue dress and eyes full of wonder like a girl gazing at the stars, we hear: “How elegant!”; “She looks younger”; the foyer has no Christmas tree, why not? “The sponsors were Dolce and Gabbana,” replied the staff of La Scala, somewhat mysteriously. 

Natalia Aspesi, 93, who has written memorable sharp and amorous chronicles on La Scala, is in a corner leaning on her stick but still lively, in the bowels of the theater, the part where guests grumble or praise the show, because La Scala is all about belonging. There are people here who haven't missed a premiere for decades. “I would kill them all!” she grins, observing the panorama of power and the crowd that wanders about with their flutes of sparkling wine offered by the theater. Almost all in dark suits, extravagance in very small doses. The photographers wander about disappointed. It must be said that it takes talent to be daring. A young woman enters in black boots with a green rubber sole, a green-checked dress and a pink coat. With typical Milanese ruthlessness, a theater employee exclaims: “Who’s that? Er, didn’t they tell her it's La Scala?”

Let's hear what people are talking about in the foyer of 2022, where people whisper even when the opera is on stage, self-censoring with vigorous 'shhhs' when the noise level rises, because there are those who go out to be photographed, taking advantage of the lesser competition from VIPs.

Let's hear what people are talking about in the foyer of 2022, where people whisper even when the opera is on stage, self-censoring with vigorous 'shhhs' when the noise level rises, because there are those who go out to be photographed, taking advantage of the lesser competition from VIPs and the whole world of La Scala employees, firefighters and police forces, the media experience their 'sotto Scala' illuminated by the chandelier that tenor Francesco Tamagno made tremble with his powerful notes. They talk about war, how beautiful that dress is, about business, they take selfies (in moderation). A gentleman with a red rose drawn on his black jacket philosophizes, “If you eat well, you practice wellness, you don't take drugs, it follows automatically that you respect the environment.” Who knows what the environmentalists who splattered the theater before the premiere think. @alli.carollo posts: “As a child I dreamed of dancing at La Scala.” 

Things worked out just fine for her. Those waiting outside for the autographs on bits of paper by the stars of the opera are the few devotees of an ancient rite on Saint Ambrose's Day, celebrating the man who ran off on a mule to escape being appointed bishop, though in the end, he too said yes to power by acclamation of the people.

70 Years of Glamour and Fashion

Bel canto and much more. Not only music at the highest levels but also fashion, glamor, finance and movie stars walking the red carpet at the entrance to the temple of opera. The Premiere of the Teatro alla Scala in Milan is the most eagerly awaited cultural, social and fashion event in Italy. Indeed in the world, given that, over the years, it has attracted heads of state, royal highnesses, the Aga Khans, princes and princesses, such as the beloved Grace of Monaco who in 1960 listened to Donizetti's Poliuto, sitting between Ranieri and Aristotle Onassis, with Maria Callas on the stage. A complicated situation... but that's another story. All eyes on the stage therefore - watching the stars like The Divine, who made her debut at the Piermarini in 1951, triumphing in Milan - but also on the stalls and on the boxes. 

Starting with the Royal Box, reserved for important figures. On December 7, for the Premiere of Boris Godunov, Musorgsky's masterpiece, which inaugurated the 2022/2023 season, the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella, with his daughter Laura, very elegant in a long, black one-shoulder dress by Armani , was also joined by the Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who both opted for a deep midnight blue for their debut at La Scala: a long Armani dress with a crossover neckline and a large velvet stole ton-sur-ton for the PM; a sequined top in a slightly lighter shade and light silk A-line skirt for the EU president, who, amused by the question of who the designer was, admitted she didn't know, eliciting a laugh. 

They weren't the only ones on the red carpet who chose midnight blue. Indeed, it was the color of the Premiere. Also chosen by Chiara Bazoli, wife of the mayor Beppe Sala, who successfully got away with a sheer Giorgio Armani Privé. 

The opening night of the Scala has for decades been the most glamorous evening of the year in which, before the curtain rises, there is the preceding show of the illustrious guests who star in a haute couture fashion parade. 

Il palco Reale ha ospitato anche Queen Elizabeth per ben due volte, sebbene in realtà non in occasione della Prima: nel 1961 per un concerto in suo onore, accompagnata da Filippo di Edimburgo; e nel 2000 con Riccardo Muti sul podio che fece eseguire all’orchestra l'inno inglese "God save the Queen", seguito dall’Inno di Mameli. L’appuntamento che apre la stagione scaligera è di tale rilievo che inevitabilmente il look della serata richiede molta cura e spesso un intero stipendio.

It is a competition of grand, elegant, sophisticated evening outfits. A parade of clothes by Armani, Ferrè, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, Fendi, Trussardi, Capucci and Curiel. Stylists who, among other things, are perfectly at home in the golden halls of the Piermarini. The unwritten rule - yet engraved in the history of the temple of opera - is strictly long dresses, even if by now the exceptions are the rule. Red is unlikely, as it clashes with the purple of the armchairs, furs very popular in the past, now no longer, often white, the preferred color for the Premiere by Carla Fracci and Liz Taylor, and sparkling sets of jewelry. 

In the many December 7s that have followed since 1951 (when conductor Victor De Sabata moved the inauguration from December 26 to Saint Ambrose’s Day), we have seen everything, from lace and beaded bodices to empire-style slips, from mink furs later targeted by environmentalists with eggs and paint, to bustiers embroidered in sequins and crystals, from flounced skirts in tulle and crinoline to a miniskirt. It was 1966 when a daring girl of just eighteen broke the mold. Let's just say the timing wasn't quite right. But the following year, Giovanna Bergonzoni, historic muse of Armani, made sure she clarified the concept: she showed up with a sleeveless, white, dizzyingly short mini dress, with matching thigh-high boots. 

To understand the importance of the dress code, there was one year that a commission of tailors organized a competition for the most elegant lady of the evening: the winner was Countess Dompé who wore a model called 'Mysterious India', worth approximately 700,000 lire. Each Premiere has its parade of stars: in 1959, for Othello, the very elegant Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan (‘The Begum’) took her place on the central stage; in the 1960s, it was the turn of Princess Grace Kelly, wrapped in a white fur collar. The same color was chosen by the film star Liz Taylor who, in 1972, attracted attention with her beautiful face framed by a white cape trimmed with white fox fur. 

In the 1980s and 1990s, the audience became increasingly heterogeneous: culture, art and entertainment merged more and more with the world of economics and politics. 

And thus, in 1983, the season kicked off with Zeffirelli's Turandot watched by Valentina Cortese, Carla Fracci and Edwige Fenech. And in 1994, the scientist Rita Levi Montalcini, newly appointed the Nobel prize, arrived for Wagner's Valkyrie wearing the velvet dress made for her by Roberto Capucci. 

The sheer looks flaunted by Valeria Marini, a constant presence at the Prima della Scala. In 1998, she made the headlines for her dress by Gianfranco Ferré, studded with precious stones, insured for one billion lire. The ladies of the house at La Scala were Marta Marzotto and before her Wally Toscanini, the maestro's daughter, who never missed a performance.

In the early 2000s, the scene changed, becoming more sober, with the expansion of the Piermarini by Mario Botta, and the away program at the Arcimboldi. The return to Piazza della Scala was illuminated by the best-loved Italian movie star, Sophia Loren, in a long low-cut black lace dress by Armani. 

And in the following years, there were other women, always elegant, sophisticated, strong and even powerful. Like the German chancellor Angela Merkel who, in 2006, enjoyed Zeffirelli's Aida, abandoning the usual trouser suit, for a long black dress, with a forest-green velvet stole. With her also the first woman mayor of Milan, Letizia Moratti, always with sophisticated creations and sets of emeralds, who in 2007 welcomed the Emir of Qatar to the Royal Box with his wife Mozah in a white turban. 

A few years later, it was the turn of the director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde, in finest silver Chanel. Looking back to December 7, 2021, the look that remains etched in our memory is the face mask, because many guests still wore them, and the mood was not and could not be as joyful and carefree as usual. 

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