Cultural Milan: Tosca Premiere At La Scala

Tosca premiered at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan a three-act opera by Giacomo Puccini taken from an original play by Victorien Sardou.

Teatro Alla Scala
Teatro alla Scala” by Alejandro, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Tosca premiered at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, receiving mixed criticism

On December 7, Teatro alla Scala in Milan — one of Italy’s most historical theaters — held the opening night with Tosca, an opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini. This new production of Tosca by Roger Parker and the musical director Riccardo Chailly, is part of an opera series showcasing Puccini’s work.

Giacomo Puccini, as presented by Teatro alla Scala, has been so far interpreted in both original and traditional keys. However, it was about time that this opera was highlighted as a “music celebration” with the voices of Anna Netrebko, Francesco Meli, Luca Salsi, and Davide Livermore — who returned and was alredy known for his work in the opera Attila, performed in 2018.

Tosca: Plot and critique

Originally, La Tosca is a melodramatic piece set in Rome in 1800 during Napoleon’s invasion of Italy that threatened the Kingdom of Naples’s control of Rome. It took Puccini four years to turn the original French play by Victorien Sardou into an opera. Giacomo Puccini had seen Sardou’s play in 1889 and had obtained permission to do so. It first premiered in 1900 and it was a event of national importance, to which even Queen Margherita, Prime Minister Luigi Pelloux, and other members of the cabinet participated. Although it generally received negative criticism, the following twenty performances were full houses.

Decades later, the 1992 television version saw reknown opera singer Luciano Pavarotti as Cavaradossi. In 2000, Pavarotti performed in the same role to celebrate the opera’s centenary and at his last performance on stage in 2004, before passing away.

For criticism, Puccini’s opera is deemed missing of enthusiasm compared to its popularity among the public. Critics of the first premiere described the opera as “grateful to the ear”, but also remarked that the “rush of action did not permit enough lyricism [and just] three hours of noise.”

Although received slightly better in London, the opera was reviewed negatively in Paris due to the apparent lack of cohesion and style filled with, “…disconcerting vulgarities.” More recent times have seen the veteran critic Ernest Newman acknowledging the hard task Puccini put to convert Sardou’s play into an opera stating, “[Puccini’s Opera are] to some extent a mere bundle of tricks, but no one else has performed the same tricks nearly as well.”

Teatro alla Scala’s History

The Teatro alla Scala was first inaugurated on August 3, 1778. Two years before, the Teatro Regio Ducal (Royal Ducal Theater), a wing of the Royal Palace, burned down following a carnival gala. Empress Maria Theresa decided to build a new theater in Santa Maria alla Scala. Constructed under the supervision of Architect Giuseppe Piermarini, the new theater first hosted an opera by Antonio Salieri, Recognized Europe. At the beginning, between 1778 and 1786, people used to play card games and smoke. Before Napoleon’s arrival, the Royal stems were taken away from the seats. In 1813 the stage was extended and, throughout the years, many surrounding buildings have been taken down or renovated to make space to the theater. The square now residing on the other side of the theater did not exist and was purposely created. 

It is only in 1858 that La Scala began to look similar to what is present today. Moreover, Ricordi opened its offices a little South of the theater, specifically to control who would play. What is now a famous record company, used to be a big industry in the sheet music which had the power to decide who was allowed to play in the theater.

In 1897, Socialists pressured the City of Milan to close the theater due to a deep social crisis. It stayed closed for a year until Guido Visconti provided the money to re-open it. 

After World War One, an association was created for management purposes, but in 1929 Fascism fell upon this artistic location. In fact, in 1943 a bomb literally fell on the theater and, in the following years, it was re-built from the ground. 

Many years followed and the theater was renovated as it is today only between 2002 and 2004. The latest, most criticized change was completed by Mario Botta who added two massive voluminous towers on the outside of the theater, changing the original front of the building and leading to a new “history being made.”

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