Opera before the 19th century: ancient music and Baroque at La Scala

By Teatro Alla Scala

Giulio Cesare 2019 Danielle Denise e Bejun MehtaTeatro Alla Scala

La Scala is first and foremost the theatre of the great composers of the Italian 19th century, but also the repertoire of previous centuries has been presented with increasing regularity. From the first performances with great voices and pioneering attempts to recreate a baroque sound to the creation of the La Scala ensemble on original instruments, from the collected spaces of the Piccola Scala to the more sumptuous stagings, the Baroque rightly inhabits the walls of the Piermarini, which is after all an 18th century theatre.

L'incoronazione Di PoppeaTeatro Alla Scala

Carlo Maria Giulini attempted a journey to the origins of melodrama in 1953 with The Coronation of Poppea by Claudio Monteverdi. The problems of reconstructing a dramatically deficient score are solved by adopting Giorgio Federico Ghedini's evocative if not philological reconstruction. In the staging of Marherita Wallman Clara Petrella is Poppea and Mario Petri is Seneca. Monteverdi returned to La Scala in 1957 with Orfeo conducted by Antonino Votto and directed by Riccardo Bacchelli.

Giulio CesareTeatro Alla Scala

The first attempts to revive the baroque opera on stage and not only through a few famous arias included in the recitals of the great singers are due to the culture and curiosity of Gianandrea Gavazzeni. In 1956 the maestro brings to La Scala Julius Caesar by Händel. The direction is by Margherita Wallman and the cast includes Virginia Zeani as Cleopatra and Giulietta Simionato as Cornelia. The male roles, originally intended for the voices of the castrati and enriched by a sumptuous coloratura, are drastically simplified and entrusted to bass and tenor voices: Cesare is sung by Nicola Rossi Lemeni and Sesto by Franco Corelli.

Lo Frate 'nnamoratoTeatro Alla Scala

The same approach, still unaware of the knowledge that philology would acquire in the following years, characterizes Heracles by Haendel conducted by Lovro von Matacic in 1958 under the direction of Herbert Graf with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Gerome Hines, Franco Corelli and Fedora Barbieri singing, and the oratorio Israel in Egypt, conducted by Hermann Scherchen in 1959 and Vittorio Gui in 1968. In 1960 Bruno Bartoletti conducted Lo frate 'nnamorato by Pergolesi at the Piccola Scala, and in 1962, again at the Piccola, Piero Bellugi conducted Xerses by Haendel with the young Mirella Freni and Fiorenza Cossotto. Again Piero Bellugi conducted Il ritorno di Ulisse in patria by Monteverdi in 1964, while in 1967 Bruno Maderna reprised L'incoronazione di Poppea with Grace Bumbry and in 1972 Nikolaus Harnoncourt offered the first philological reading of Ulisse.

L'orfeoTeatro Alla Scala

A milestone in the recovery of ancient music from a musical and scenic point of view is the proposal of the Monteverdi trilogy in 1978 under the baton of Nikolaus Harnoncourt and directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle.

AriodanteTeatro Alla Scala

After many years it was again the turn of Piccola Scala to host the gems of the 18th century repertoire with Ariodante by Haendel in a memorable staging by Pier Luigi Pizzi with Carolyn Watkinson and Lella Cuberli. It is 1981. While in the world the roles written for castrati are increasingly entrusted to countertenors, La Scala still chooses the traditional timbre of tenors and basses. For the first time the conductor is a specialist of the baroque repertoire such as Alan Curtis. The same happens in 1985 for Alcina by Haendel with Luciana Serra, conducted by Andrew Parrott. Meanwhile, the hospitality of the Baroque ensembles intensified: in the same year 1985 John Eliot Gardiner conducted Israel in Egypt in the original language with the Monteverdi Choir.

FetonteTeatro Alla Scala

In 1988 the scenic wonders of the Baroque are revived by Luca Ronconi in his fabulous direction of Fetonte by the Neapolitan composer (born in Aversa) Niccolò Iommelli with the voices of Luciana D'Intino, Luciana Serra and Sumi Jo. Ronconi also directed the reopening of La Scala after the restoration with Europa riconosciuta by Antonio Salieri, conducted by Riccardo Muti with scenes by Pier Luigi Pizzi and Diana Damrau and Desirée Rancatore in the main roles.

Lo Frate 'nnamoratoTeatro Alla Scala

Pergolesi returned to La Scala in 1991 with Lo frate 'namorato conducted by Riccardo Muti, an ardent supporter of the Neapolitan 700, directed by Roberto de Simone with Cecilia Gasdia in the leading role.

ArmideTeatro Alla Scala

The systematic rediscovery of Christoph Willibald Gluck promoted by Riccardo Muti was part of a wider cultural project on music between the 18th and the early 19th century from Paisiello to Spontini's neoclassicism. An authentic baroque feast, however, was the opening of the 1996/1997 season with Armide in the sumptuous direction of Pier Luigi Pizzi. It was also a vocal feast: alongside the unforgettable protagonist Anna Caterina Antonacci the Milanese discovered Juan diego Flórez and Violeta Urmana at the beginning of their career.

RinaldoTeatro Alla Scala

We have to wait until 2005 for the return to La Scala of an opera by Haendel. Rinaldo is on stage at the Teatro degli Arcimboldi in the celebrated production by Pier Luigi Pizzi and the direction of Ottavio Dantone. In the leading role triumphs an alto, Daniela Barcellona. In 2009 Alcina, conducted by Giovanni Antonini with Anja Harteros and Monica Bacelli, returns on stage. The charms of Robert Carsen's directing make a sensation also for the full nude of some of the actors.

L'orfeoTeatro Alla Scala

Between 2009 and 2015, Superintendent Stéphane Lissner proposes a new Monteverdi triptych marked by Bob Wilson's elegant stylisation under the direction of Rinaldo Alessandrini, which pushes the La Scala orchestra towards a new stylistic awareness. Among the protagonists are Monica Bacelli and Sara Mingardo.

Il Trionfo Del Tempo E Del DisingannoTeatro Alla Scala

While in the last quarter of the 20th century the revival of Baroque opera overwhelmed much of Europe, Italy remained more focused on the rediscovery of forgotten belcantist composers. In an attempt to trigger an organic project of rebirth, the director Pereira, together with the conductor Diego Fasolis, inaugurated a cycle of performances of baroque operas by creating an ensemble within the orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, joined by specialists in ancient music on historical instruments.

TamerlanoTeatro Alla Scala

Since the inauguration of the ensemble in 2016, with the explosive performance of the oratorio Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno, Haendel has been a focal point of the project. Tamerlano's 2017 staging presented for the first time countertenor voices in a baroque opera at La Scala but also the first temporal transposition, signed by director Davide Livermore.

Giulio Cesare 2019 Danielle DeniseTeatro Alla Scala

When Julius Caesar returned in 2019 with Robert Carsen directing, Giovanni Antonini conducting and a cast that included Danielle De Niese and the three countertenors Bejun Mehta, Philippe Jarrousky and Christophe Dumeaux, Milan seemed to be caught up in Handel's mania: even before the production opened, tickets for the entire show were almost sold out.

Giulio Cesare 2019Teatro Alla Scala

In the third decade of the 21st century, the new superintendent Dominique Meyer announced the extension of the project to Italian Baroque composers, from Cesti to Cavalli.

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