If an opera is no longer staged after 150 years, it becomes a sort of novelty. This is the case of Giovanna d’Arco, the seventh operatic work of the young Giuseppe Verdi, which was presented for the first time at La Scala in 1845, then again in 1865, and then no more. In the meantime, in many parts of the world it is performed. Giovanna is a sort of “bridge” opera, which foretells the masterpieces of the mature Verdi. If it’s performed rarely, it’s because it is vocally demanding. But it is this opera—unjustly forgotten—that opens the next season at La Scala, the 7th of December of 2015.
La Scala is the abbreviation for the official name of Teatro alla Scala, which is in Milan. The theatre opened in 1778, and the first production was Europa Riconsosciuta of Antonio Salieri, a contemporary of Mozart’s.
Most of the great lyrical Italian artists, and most of the greatest singers from around the world, have appeared at La Scala over the last 200 or so years. Today, the theatre is known as one of the most important opera and ballet theatres of the world. It hosts the Choral Theatre of La Scala, the Ballet Theatre, and the Orchestra of La Scala.
When it was built, the theatre had 3,000 seats. Through renovations, the theatre today has a little less than 2,000 seats. There are 6 tiers of boxes above which there is the “Loggione” or 2 galleries. The stage is one of the largest in Italy.
The Loggione is where the less rich can watch the productions. The gallery is in general filled with impassioned opera lovers, known as “i loggionisti,” who can be either very enthusiastic or ruthless when evaluating the singers. For their failures, the artists receive a “baptism by fire” from the impassioned viewers, and failures are remembered for a long time. One example is when, in 2006, the tenor Roberto Alagna was hissed from the stage during a performance of Aida, which forced his understudy, Antonello Palombi, to quickly substitute in the middle of a scene without the time to change into costume.
In early times, like with other theatres, La Scala was also a casino, with players that sat in the foyer. These conditions could be very frustrating for opera lovers because La Scala served not only as a salon for the Milanese society, but also as a place for commercial transactions, like horse trading.
The season for La Scala opens traditionally the 7th of December, the feast day of Sant’Ambrogio, the patron saint of Milan. All operas must end by midnight, and long operas begin before the evening, when necessary. For the new season, there are seven Italian operas out of 15. Verdi has pride of place. Besides Giovanna d’Arco, the other Verdi works that will be featured are Rigoletto, I due Foscari, e Simon Boccanegra.