Behind the Scenes, Creating a Production

By Teatro Alla Scala

Idomeneo - Ansaldo workshopTeatro Alla Scala

During performances at La Scala, the singers, players and directors commonly receive the applause. Behind the scenes, however, there are months of hard work even before a single rehearsal has taken place.

Così Fan Tutte - Ansaldo workshopTeatro Alla Scala

The 150 artisans of the Ansaldo - La Scala’s workshops - work tirelessly to create sets, props and costumes in time for opening night. Formerly a steelworks, the site stretches over 20,000 m2, making it the biggest workshop of any theatre worldwide.

Francesca Da Rimini - Ansaldo workshopTeatro Alla Scala

The birth of the Ansaldo
As productions became increasingly complex in the years following World War II, a larger workshop and storage spaces were drastically required. In 1989, the City Council acquired the Ansaldo, a sprawling former-industrial plant housed behind an imposing 1930s facade. La Scala moved in in 2001.

Benois Pavilion - behind the scenesTeatro Alla Scala

An assault on the senses
Today, visitors are immersed in an all-sensory wash of clashing metal, screeching saws and the smell of industrial paint, as welders, carpenters, costume designers and mechanics race against the clock to deliver sets.

La Traviata - Ansaldo workshopTeatro Alla Scala

Turandot - Ansaldo workshopTeatro Alla Scala

The Benois Pavilion
The epicentre of the action is the Benois Pavilion, where painters with metre-long brushes create sweeping backdrops on canvases spread across the floor and sculptors carve polystyrene statues with brushes and files. Three head scenographers coordinate the hive of activity. Under their supervision, sets take two to three months to complete, with 3 or 4 worked on contemporaneously.

Caramba Pavilion - behind the scenesTeatro Alla Scala

The Caramba Pavilion
800 to 1,000 costumes are created at the Ansaldo from scratch every year. A further 1,500 are brought in from the warehouse to be re-tailored for new casts.

Caramba Pavilion - behind the scenesTeatro Alla Scala

In the Caramba pavilion -- an Aladdin's cave of sewing machines, irons, feathers and pearls -- pattern makers, cutters, seamstresses, tailors, milliners and shoemakers toil. Dyers colour fabrics in large metal vats; costume makers layer dresses with multifarious fabrics.

Anna Bolena, costume by BenoisTeatro Alla Scala

Storing costumes
60,000 costumes from 280 productions dating back to 1911 are stored in 1,400 wardrobes. Many are reused over and over again. Before every rehearsal, each garment is washed and rewashed. The laundry staff can get through 200 in a single day.

Visconti Pavilion - behind the scenesTeatro Alla Scala

The Visconti Pavilion
The Visconti Pavilion contains two rooms for full chorus, a row of private study rooms and a larger practice area whose dimensions are identical to those of La Scala's stage.

Visconti Pavilion - behind the scenesTeatro Alla Scala

Conducting rehearsals at the Ansaldo relieves pressure on La Scala's stage, also allowing singers to become familiar with sets and props even before moving to the theatre. What’s more, directors can nip off between rehearsals to check how construction is progressing.

AidaTeatro Alla Scala

To do an Aida
Building sets in pieces measuring 200 x 40cm allows for easy transportation and reassemblage at La Scala. But getting them there is sometimes an immense task. Franco Zeffirelli's 2006 season-opening production of Aida, for example, featured towering columns, a colossal pharaonic bust, an intricately-carved Gate of Thebes and no less than 400 costumes.

AidaTeatro Alla Scala

30 lorries were required to transfer the staging. Ever since then, Ansaldo staff have referred to grueling, large-scale projects as “to do an Aida”.

Benois Pavilion - behind the scenesTeatro Alla Scala

What happens next?
Thousands of sets for La Scala productions still in the repertoire are stored at the former workshops in Bovisa. A further 100 for productions that have been decommissioned are warehoused at an alternative site in Pero.

Exhibition Luca Ronconi, il laboratorio delle idee Febbraio – Maggio 2016Teatro Alla Scala

Visiting the Ansaldo
Members of the public can see the Ansaldo’s artisans in action on guided tours. There are also further opportunities to visit.

Ronconi ExhibitionTeatro Alla Scala

In 2016, the exhibition "Luca Ronconi-Il laboratorio delle idee" showcased material documenting all twenty-four of the great director’s often mind-bendingly fantastical La Scala productions.

Exhibition Luca Ronconi, il laboratorio delle idee Febbraio – Maggio 2016Teatro Alla Scala

Ronconi ExhibitionTeatro Alla Scala

Curated by Margherita Palli, Ronconi's former set designer, it featured sketches, photos, documents and scenic objects that brought the director’s fantastical worlds to life.

Exhibition Luca Ronconi, il laboratorio delle idee Febbraio – Maggio 2016Teatro Alla Scala

Credits: Story

curated by James Imam and the Teatro alla Scala

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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