The Teatro alla Scala (or La Scala, as it is also known), in Milan, Italy, is one of the world's most famous opera houses. The theatre was inaugurated on 3 August 1778, under the name Nuovo Regio Ducal Teatro alla Scala with Salieri's Europa riconosciuta.
La Scala's season traditionally opens on 7 December, Saint Ambrose's Day, the feast day of Milan's patron saint. All performances must end before midnight; long operas start earlier in the evening if need be. Ticketholders are not allowed to enter after the performance has begun.
The La Scala Museum (Museo Teatrale alla Scala), accessible from the theatre's foyer and a part of the house, contains an extraordinary collection of paintings, drafts, statues, costumes, and other documents regarding opera and La Scala's history.
La Scala also hosts the Accademia d’Arti e Mestieri dello Spettacolo (Academy for the Performing Arts). Its goal is to train a new generation of young musicians, technical staff, and dancers (at the Scuola di Ballo del Teatro alla Scala, one of the Academy's divisions).
A fire destroyed the previous theatre, the ancient Teatro Regio Ducal, on 25 February 1776, after a carnival gala. A group of ninety wealthy Milanese, who owned palchi (private boxes) in the theatre, wrote to Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Este asking for a new theatre and a provisional one to be used while completing the new one. The neoclassical architect Giuseppe Piermarini produced an initial design but it was rejected by Count Firmian (the governor of the then Austrian Lombardy).
A second plan was accepted in 1776 by Empress Maria Theresa. The new theatre was built on the former location of the church of Santa Maria della Scala, from which the theatre gets its name. The church was deconsecrated and demolished, and over a period of two years the theatre was completed by Pietro Marliani, Pietro Nosetti and Antonio and Giuseppe Fe. This theatre had a total over 3,000 seats organized into 678 pit-stalls, arranged in six tiers of boxes above which is the 'loggione' or two galleries. Now the stage is one of the largest in Italy (16.15m d x 20.4m w x 26m h).
Building expenses were covered by the sale of palchi, which were lavishly decorated by their owners, impressing observers such as Stendhal. La Scala (as it soon became to be known) soon became the preeminent meeting place for noble and wealthy Milanese people. In the tradition of the times, the platea (the main floor) had no chairs and spectators watched the shows standing up. The orchestra was in full sight, as the golfo mistico (orchestra pit) had not yet been built.
Above the boxes, La Scala has always had a gallery where the less wealthy can watch the performances. It is called the loggione. The loggione is typically crowded with the most critical opera aficionados, who can be ecstatic or merciless towards singers' perceived successes or failures. La Scala's loggione is considered a baptism of fire in the opera world, and fiascos are long remembered. (One recent incident occurred in 2006 when tenor Roberto Alagna was booed off the stage during a performance of Aïda, forcing an understudy to replace him mid-scene wearing street clothes.)As with most of the theaters at that time, La Scala was also a casino, with gamblers sitting in the foyer.
La Scala was originally illuminated with eighty-four oil lamps mounted on the palcoscenico and another thousand in the rest of theater. To prevent the risks of fire, several rooms were filled with hundreds of water buckets. In time, oil lamps were replaced by gas lamps, these in turn were replaced by electric lights in 1883.
The original structure was renovated in 1907, when it was given its current layout with 2,800 seats. In 1943, during WWII, La Scala was severely damaged by bombing. It was rebuilt and reopened on 11 May 1946, with a memorable concert conducted by Arturo Toscanini, with a soprano solo by Renata Tebaldi, which created a sensation.
La Scala hosted the prima (first production) of many famous operas, and had a special relationship with Giuseppe Verdi. For several years, however, Verdi did not allow his work to be played here, as some of his music had been modified (he said "corrupted") by the orchestra. This dispute originated in a disagreement over the production of his Giovanna d'Arco in 1845; however the composer later conducted his Requiem there on 25 May 1874, and in 1886 announced that La Scala would host the premiere of his opera Otello. The premiere of his last opera, Falstaff was also given in the theatre.
In 1982, the Filarmonica della Scala was established, drawing its members from the larger pool of musicians that comprise the Orchestra della Scala.
Following the traditional 7 December 2001 season opening performances of Otello, which ran through December, the theatre was closed for renovation and, from 19 January 2002 to November 2004, the opera company was transferred to the new Teatro degli Arcimboldi, built in the Pirelli-Bicocca industrial area 4.5 miles from the city centre. The renovation by the renowned architect Mario Botta proved controversial, as preservationists feared that historic details would be lost; however, the opera company was said to be impressed with improvements to the structure and the sound quality, which was enhanced when the heavy red carpets in the hall were removed. The stage was entirely re-constructed, and an enlarged backstage will allow more sets to be stored, permitting more productions, and the seats now include monitors for the electronic libretto system, allowing audiences to follow opera libretti in English and Italian in addition to the original language.
Conducted by Riccardo Muti, the opera house re-opened on 7 December 2004 with a production of Salieri's Europa riconosciuta, the opera which was performed at La Scala's inauguration in 1778.  . Tickets for the re-opening fetched up to €2,000. The renovations cost a reported €61 million, and left a budget shortfall that the opera house did not overcome until 2006.
Carlo Fontana, the general manager of La Scala since 1990, was dismissed in February 2005 by the board of governors over differences with the music director, Riccardo Muti. The resulting staff backlash has caused serious disruptions and staff strikes. In a statement, the theater's board said it was "urgent to unify the theatre's management". On 16 March 2005, the La Scala orchestra and other staff voted overwhelmingly in no confidence motion against Muti, and demanded the resignation of Fontana's replacement, Mauro Meli. Muti had already been forced to cancel a concert a few days earlier because of the disagreements. Italy's culture minister, Giuliano Urbani, supported the conductor, but called for urgent action by management to safeguard the smooth operation and prestige of La Scala. On 2 April 2005, Muti resigned from La Scala, citing "hostility" from staff members.
In May 2005 Stéphane Lissner, who came from the Aix-en-Provence Festival, was appointed as General Manager and Artistic Director of La Scala and on 15 May 2006, Daniel Barenboim was named Principal Guest Conductor.
La Scala generated contoversy in December 2008 when it removed tenor Giuseppe Filianoti for the season-opening premiere of "Don Carlo" after he made some mistakes during a dress rehearsal . He was replaced by American tenor Stuart Neill.