The halls of the theatre museum

Let's explore the rooms of the Museum

By Teatro Alla Scala

The entrance of the Museum (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

How the Museum was born

Without the efforts of a small group of music lovers, this museum might never have existed. On 1st May 1911, the antique dealer, Jules Sambon, put up for auction his prestigious collection of memorabilia linked to the world of the theatre. A year earlier some of Milan’s most important figures met at the Teatro alla Scala: among these men were the librettist and composer, Arrigo Boito, the artist, Lodovico Pogliaghi, and the director of the Pinacoteca di Brera, Ettore Modigliani. Their purpose was to open a museum and the Sambon collection appeared to be the perfect starting point. But how were they to find the huge sum of Lire 450,000 that the antique dealer was asking?

The entrance of the Museum (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

The sum was raised thanks to the aid of the Italian State and the initiative of 50 citizens who organised a collection. It seemed that everything was ready, but Sambon rejected the offer: “a most powerful person whom I cannot name” wanted the collection. It was discovered that this mysterious person was J.P. Morgan, one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world. Against all odds, the men from Milan, sustained by the reputation of the Teatro alla Scala, were successful in convincing the tycoon to abandon the contest. On March 8, 1913, thanks to the acquisition of the collection, the Museo Teatrale alla Scala opened in what had once been the Casinò Ricordi.

The entrance of the Museum (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

The Museum is actually located between via Filodrammatici and Piazza della Scala, in a lateral wing of the historic building designed by Giuseppe Piermarini. The current construction, dating back to 1831, was designed by Giacomo Tazzini and replaced the so-called "Casino dei Nobili", built according to Piermarini's design at the same time as La Scala. This complex is still known today as "Casino Ricordi". Indeed, the famous music publishing house was located here for many years.

The "Arturo Toscanini" foyer of La Scala (La Scala was inaugurated in 1778)Teatro Alla Scala

The Ridotto dei Palchi

The “Ridotto dei Palchi” is the first visible hall, once you enter the Museum. Here you can find marble and bronze busts of the main composers and conductors of the period following Verdi, from Toscanini to Puccini. The majestic hall adorned with marble columns is often used for exhibitions, conferences and workshops.

The first room of the museum (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

The first room: Piermarini and Paisiello

The Museum building welcomes us and Music overwhelm us. The first room hosts an oil on canvas called "Musical Instruments" by Evaristo Baschenis from Bergamo. Baschenis was famous for his still lifes depicting musical instruments instead of the usual fruit or game. There are five instruments: a lute, a guitar, a violin and bow, a mandola and a spinet. A book is placed on the guitar: The Island, or fabulous adventures by Maiolino Bisaccioni, printed in Venice in 1648. This is one of the most precious paintings in our collection and deliberately acquired in 1912 by Ettore Modigliani who was among the founders of the Museum and the director of the Pinacoteca di Brera.

The first room of the museum (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

The window of original ancient musical instruments has been arranged by Pier Luigi Pizzi. Next to the wall there are the Erard harp, a virginal paintied by Honofrio Guaracino (1667) as well as austere fortepianos, including one by Mathias Sommer that belonged to Verdi.

The first room of the museum (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

The bronze bust of Giuseppe Verdi was made on the occasion of the centenary of his death. It is a replica, with variations, of an original in terracotta now in Villa Verdi, executed in 1872-73, when Verdi was in Naples to conduct the rehearsals and execution of Don Carlo and Aida at the San Carlo Theater. Above the bust of Verdi, a painting by the Austrian artist, Martin Knoller, portrairts the architect of La Scala, Giuseppe Piermarini, holding one of the tools of his trade: the compass. In his day (1775-1779), Piermarini was very active in Milan: he worked on the Royal Ducal Palace and the courtyard of the Brera Palace; he designed the Teatro alla Scala; he built what was later known as the Teatro Lirico, the Belgioioso Palace and the Villa Reale at Monza. In designing the new theatre, Piermarini was concerned with the notion of maximum functionality, rational allocation of space and backstage systems which used the most updated technical devices for the time.

The first room of the museum (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

And yet, not everyone liked the façade of La Scala. Pietro Verri wrote in a letter: “The façade of the new theatre is most beautiful on paper and it surprised me when I saw it before building began, but now I am almost sorry”. But, just a few years later, in 1816, Stendhal wrote: “I arrive exhausted at seven o’clock in the evening. I run to La Scala. My journey was justified” He goes on to describe the beauty of the architecture, the dazzling drapes and the spectacle on stage where not only “the costumes, but even the faces and the gestures speak of the countries in which the action takes place. I saw it all this evening”. The legend of La Scala was born.

The first room of the museum (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

Depicted while sitting in front of his instrument, Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816) was one of the first composers to be performed at La Scala, worked for years in St Petersburg and was the favourite composer of Napoleon.

The first room of the museum (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

This portrait of the composer from 1791 is by the famous painter Marie Louise Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun. The score bears the inscription: “Rond. di piano/When my beloved comes/Music by Signor Giovanni Paisiello”. This is a reference to an aria from Nina, o sia la pazza per amore, very well known at the time.
The same room hosts a rectangular spinet, with the following inscription engraved on the lowest note: “[Hono]frio Guaracino fecit 1667”. The painting, which represents Judith showing the head of Holofernes to the Jews, is signed “AS 1669”

The first room of the museum (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

Angelo Monticelli (1778-1837) draw a sketch in tempera on canvas of La Scala’s second curtain. It was created to replace the first one which was the work of Donnino Riccardi and was by then completely worn out. The theme is mythological and features Apollo and the Muses.

The second room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

The second room: the Commedia dell’Arte

The second room is dedicated to the Commedia dell’Arte, which is the popular form of mask theatre that established itself in Italy between the 16th and 18th centuries. At the time, the actors improvised and mixed acting with acrobatics and singing.

The second room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

Two showcases on the wall host an admirable collection of fine China porcelains whose history is closely bound to La Scala.

PorcelainTeatro Alla Scala

In Europe, production of porcelain began in 1710 in Saxony in imitation of the wares that were imported from China and Japan by the various East India companies. Almost all of the pieces on display come from the Sambon collection. The main subject of inspiration is the Commedia dell’Arte, with masks, performing troupes, or musicians depicted with details of rare instruments or dance masks.

The tihird room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

The third room: the belcanto divas.

The third room of the museum is the early-19th-century belcanto room. On the walls are the portraits of the primedonne who sang in the golden age of Milan and of La Scala.

The tihird room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

Between the two windows hangs a portrait of Isabella Cobran, Rossini’s first wife, whom he married in 1822; she is depicted in the title role of "Saffo" by Giovanni Simone Mayr. On the opposite wall is Maria Malibran, who died prematurely from a fall from a horse; here, she is depicted as "Desdemona" in Rossini’s Otello.

The tihird room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

Among the composers portrayed in the Museum's collection, the Sicilian Vincenzo Bellini is depicted in an anonymous portrait. He owes his European acclaim to Milan even though his most famous opera, Norma, was booed at La Scala during a protest caused by artistic rivalries.

Franz Liszt's piano (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

At the centre of the lunette is Franz Liszt’s piano. The Hungarian composer received this instrument as a gift from Steinway & Sons. In a letter he wrote to the makers in 1883, he expressed his enthusiasm: “a glorious masterpiece in power, sonority, singing quality and perfect harmonic effects”. The piano was then given to his granddaughter, Daniela von Bülow, who brought it to Villa Cargnacco on lake Garda.

The tihird room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

When the Italian state seized the villa and presented it to Gabriele D’Annunzio with the new name of Vittoriale, the instrument went with it. Only after a long legal wrangle and the death of D’Annunzio, Daniela von Bülow regained possession of the piano. She presented it to the museum where it is still on display, looking splendid after its recent restoration.

The fourth room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

The fourth room: Verdi and la Scala in XIX Century

In the fourth room of the Museum, there are paintings by 19th-century artists, all with a connection to La Scala. In the centre is the famous work by Angelo Inganni with the sunlit theatre looking out onto a narrow street. In fact, it was painted in 1852 and the square in front of La Scala was only laid out in 1858 when the modest houses crowded around the Theatre were demolished. Initially called “Piazza del Teatro”, over time it became “Piazza della Scala”.

The Teatro alla Scala façade in 1852 (1852/1852) by Angelo Inganni (1807-1880)Teatro Alla Scala

The painting by Inganni shows, more than any other La Scala as it was seen by the great opera composers of the nineteenth century: Rossini, Donizetti (another portrait of him hangs in the fifth room) , Bellini and a young Verdi. The painting, donated to the Museum by Lorenzo Lorenzetti, is actually the second version of a previous one, exhibited in Brera in 1851, which was subsequently lost.

The fourth room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

The wall on the right is dedicated entirely to Verdi. A portrait of the composer painted by Achille Scalese pairs with one of Giuseppina Strepponi; Bartolomeo Merelli, also portraited here, was the impresario who offered Verdi the libretto of Nabucco, and gave him the chance to stage it at La Scala. Merelli took all precautions to prevent a possible failure to have repercussions on his business.

The fourth room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

The fourth room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

The fourth room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

Therefore the scenery was recycled from previous productions and above all that the opera was the last to be performed during Carnival. However, the opera was an immediate, extraordinary and unquestioned success, although the most recent critical thinking says a pretended special significance linked to the Risorgimento is completely false.

The fourth room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

The central showcase contains stage jewellery and props, as well as some princely gifts, such as Napoleon’s dress-sword, given to Giuditta Pasta in Paris in 1823. The singer was of course the immortal protagonist of Tancredi and the autographed score of this opera is conserved in the museum’s vault.

The fifth room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

The fifth room: Pasta, Patti, Rossini and Wagner

In the fifth room of the museum you can find two portraits of Adelina Patti, a singer and actress who flourished in the second half of the 19th century. She has been the prima donna at La Scala in the 1877 and 1878 seasons. In this room, you will also find Marocchetti’s famous bronze bust of Rossini, a portrait of Gaetano Donizetti and another of Giuditta Pasta, the first interpreter of Norma.

The fifth room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

In her portrait by Gioacchino Giuseppe Serangeli. she is seen holding the score for Rossini’s Tancredi open at the page of the famous aria “Di tanti palpiti”, while in the painting by Gérard she is depicted in her costume as Norma.
Another bronze bust, a copy by Lorenz Von Gedon (stored in Monaco), depicts Richard Wagner.

The fifth room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

One of his letters to Arrigo Boito is held in the archive and dates from the Italian première of Lohengrin in Bologna. The composer reveals a very important hidden detail: “I don’t know if it was a demon or a genius of the kind which takes hold of us in those decisive moments, however, I was lying sleepless in a hotel in La Spezia when the inspiration for the music for Das Rheingold came to me”.

The fifth room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

The room is completed by two showcases containing some small musical instruments, including a curious crystal flute, and some medals belonging to artistes and composers.

The sixt room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

The sixth room: Verdis memorabilia

The sixth room of the museum contains objects that were originally part of the Sambon collection. Busts and statuettes made of bisque porcelain depict famous musicians or theatrical characters.

The sixt room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

In the room are also kept some memorabilia some pieces of memorabilia related to Verdi: his death mask; a lock of his hair; a cast of his right hand; his portable writing desk complete with an inkwell, pens, a letter-holder, a pack of cards and a French-Italian dictionary. These objects were all found in Verdi’s room at the Grand Hotel et de Milan when he died.

The seventh room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

The seventh room: theatre in the early XX century

In the seventh room, there is a bust of the actress Eleonora Duse. She was born in Vigevano, near Pavia, the daughter of a couple of actors who originally camefrom what is now the Veneto region. She débuted at the age of five as Cosette in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.

The seventh room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

Her life was spent travelling with the great acting companies of Italy, Europe and America. She was gradually attracted towards the naturalist theatre of D’Annunzio and Ibsen. Admired by the authors for the intensity of her performance, she had long and tormented relationships with Arrigo Boito and Gabriele D’Annunzio. In the same room, you will find a portrait of Amilcare Ponchielli, the author of La Gioconda, and the sketches for some stage curtains.

The eight room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

The eight room: Verdi, Boito and the stars of the XX century

The eight room of the museum is dedicated to the late 19th and 20th centuries. Lodovico Pogliaghi and Adolf Hohenstein depicted the final hours of Verdi, who passed away on 27th January 1901. Three generations of the Ricordi family who had published the composer’s work are also represented here: Giovanni, Tito and his son Giulio.

The eight room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

Arrigo Boito, here portrayed by Arturo Rietti, was one of the undisputed leaders of musical life in the second half of the nineteenth century. He was a literary figure and member of the Italian movement "scapigliatura". He had studied in Paris and had acquired a refined and international culture. He is remembered mainly as a librettist. Still, he was also an important musician and composer of Mefistofele and Nerone.

The eight room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

Boito was also one of the founders of this Museum and put his exceptional talents to work bring it to fruition. His brother, Camillo, was the architect who designed the Retirement Home for Musicians in Milan, subsidised and maintained for years by Giuseppe Verdi

The eight room (The museum was inaugurated in 1913)Teatro Alla Scala

A large space is devoted to a long line of stars: Rosina Storchio, Claudia Muzio, Francesco Tamagno, Enrico Caruso, Aureliano Pertile, Tancredi Pasero, Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Mario Del Monaco, Franco Corelli and Leyla Gencer. Then there is a tribute to Rudolf Nureyev and one to Giorgio Strehler.

The large showcase in the centre of the room contains numerous mementos and batons belonging to conductors, as well as the anastatic copy of the score of Verdi’s Requiem

Portrait thought to be of horn player Luigi Belloli (1795/1805) by AnonymousTeatro Alla Scala

The corridor leading to the shop and exit hosts a portrait of Luigi Belloli who was the principal horn in the La Scala orchestra from 1803. He had been a student of the legendary Giovanni Punto (Jan Václav Stich) for whom none other than Beethoven wrote a sonata which is still often performed today.
An account of the performances of this sonata from a newspaper published in Pest, Hungary, has become legendary. “Who is this Beethoven? This name is not known to us. I’m sure Punto is much better known”. The horn, held in the hand, is a “natural” instrument, that is, without valves.
The full chromatic scale, impossible on the trumpet before the invention of valves, was however possible on the horn (although with a different timbre) by inserting the hand into the bell.

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