Many stories about the Museum
The Museum is located between via Filodrammatici and Piazza della Scala, in a lateral body of the historic building designed by Giuseppe Piermarini. The current construction dates back to 1831, 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 museum was officially inaugurated on March 8, 1913, with the display of Giulio Sambon's collection, purchased two years earlier in Paris during a daring auction. This selection of images offers a complete guide through the thousand stories that our paintings, statues and tools are eager to tell you.
Giuseppe Piermarini, the architect who designed La Scala, has been here depicted by Martin Knoller in the years between 1775-1779.
In designing the new theatre, Piermarini was concerned with the notion of maximum functionality, rational allocation of space and backstage systems which used the latest technical devices for the time.
The painting shows him with one hand on a set of compasses, his tool of trade. In that period, Piermarini was very active in Milan where he was occupied with the Regio Ducal Palazzo, the courtyard of the Palazzo di Brera, had just designed La Scala Theatre, created what would be known as the Teatro Lirico (or Canobbiana), the Palazzo Belgioioso, and the Villa Reale in Monza.
Portrait of architect Giuseppe Piermarini (1734-1808) (1778/1779) by Martino Knoller (1725-1804)Teatro Alla Scala
From this famous painting by Angelo Inganni, exposed in the Fourth Room, you can see how La Scala appeared in 1852. Pietro Verri wrote in a letter: “The façade of the new theatre is beautiful on paper, and I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it before building commenced. But now, I am somewhat displeased by it”. In 1858 the modest houses crowded around the Theatre were demolished and the current square was created. Initially called “Piazza del Teatro”, over time it became “Piazza della Scala”.It is this painting more than any other which symbolises our collections, La Scala as it was seen by the great opera composers of the nineteenth century: Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini and a young Verdi.
This 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 Teatro alla Scala façade in 1852 (1852/1852) by Angelo Inganni (1807-1880)Teatro Alla Scala
If we talk about the theatre in general, we can't talk about its curtain.
This painting by Angelo Monticelli (1778-1837) is 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 by then completely worn out. The spectator sees it as a sort of calling card, on the left as they come through the door. The theme is mythological and features Apollo and the Muses.
Today’s curtain is a simple red velvet fabric, but painted front-drops used to separate the stage from the auditorium. They depicted mythological scenes inspired by literary works; and the painter would create a sketch to be approved by the director. The first curtains at La Scala were all inspired by a text by Giuseppe Parini. Here are the first lines from the text: Over a bright, hazy bank of clouds, which descend the canvas from right to left and cast a shadow over the right-hand side, we see a cart drawn by four light, spirited horses, upon which Apollo is seated, and who, resplendent in a bright glow, lights up the entire composition [...]”
Sketch for the second curtain of the Teatro alla Scala (First half of XIX century) by Angelo Monticelli (1778-1837)Teatro Alla Scala
The importance of the instruments
The rooms of the Museum testify the various period of the music history and most of the halls see the presence of musical instruments, real or painted.
This painting in oil on canvas by Evaristo Baschenis from Bergamo, is entitled "Musical Instruments". It is an unusual still life in that it does not depict the usual fruit or game. There are five instruments: a lute, a guitar, a violin and bow, a mandola and a spinet.
The lute, with its characteristic frame with thin strips of wood in two colours, can be attributed to the Venice shop of Michael Hartung.
A book is placed on the guitar: The Island, or fabulous adventures by Maiolino Bisaccioni, printed in Venice in 1648. According to some sources, it is possible that Bisaccioni painted this scene.
This is one of the most precious paintings in our collection and deliberately acquired in 1912 by Ettore Modigliani who was one of the founders of the Museum and director of the picture gallery in Brera at the time.
Musical Instruments by Evaristo Baschenis (1617-1677)Teatro Alla Scala
Regarding musical instruments, we we have to mention this portray of Luigi Belloli.
From 1803, he was the principal horn in the La Scala orchestra. He was a student of the legendary Giovanni Punto (Jan Václav Stich) for whom none other than Beethoven wrote a sonata and 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.
Portrait thought to be of horn player Luigi Belloli (1795/1805) by AnonymousTeatro Alla Scala
Depicting while sitting in front of his instrument, it's Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816) who 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.
This portrait of the composer from 1791 is by the famous painter Marie Louise Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun.
Written on the score is: Rond. di piano/When my beloved comes/Music by Signor Giovanni Paisiello. This is a reference to an aria from Nina, or the Girl Driven Mad by Love, very well known at the time.
Portrait of the composer Giovanni Battista Paisiello (1740-1816) (1791/1791) by M.L. Vigée Lebrun (1755-1842)Teatro Alla Scala
But we promise you also a real instrument: so there is a rectangular spinet, with the
following inscription engraved
on the lowest note: “[Hono]frio Guaracino fecit 1667”. The painting, of Judith showing the decapitated head of Holofernes to the Jews,
is signed “AS 1669” (Photo by F.M. Colombo)
Guaracino Spinet (1667/1667) by Honofrio GuaracinoTeatro Alla Scala
This bronze bust, a copy by Lorenz Von Gedon (stored in Monaco), depicts Richard Wagner.
One of his letters to Arrigo Boito is held in the archive and dates from the première of "Lohengrin" in Bologna. In it, 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 composer is alluding to the prologue from the "Ring Cycle" which was successfully performed in full at La Scala, with the four operas performed in one week in 2013.
Copy of the bust of the composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883) by Lorenz Von Gedon (1834-1883)Teatro Alla Scala
Arrigo Boito 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. He was also an important musician and composer of Mephistopheles (an opera still being staged) and Nero.
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.
Portrait of the composer, librettist and playwright Arrigo Boito (1842-1918) (1909/1909) by Arturo Rietti (1863-1943)Teatro Alla Scala
A great composer was also Giuseppe Verdi depicted here in a bronze bust, 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 direct the rehearsals and execution of Don Carlos and Aida at the San Carlo Theater.
Bust of Giuseppe Verdi (1874/1874) by Vincenzo Gemito (1852-1929)Teatro Alla Scala
Linked to Verdi's professional life is Bartolomeo Merelli, the impresario who
consented to stage Nabucodonosor, quickly abbreviated to Nabucco.
Merelli took all precautions to ensure that another failure had minimum repercussions on his business. The scenery was recycled from previous productions and above all that the opera was the last to be performed during Carnival and Lent. Therefore, strategically, the least important.
However, the opera was an immediate, extraordinary and unquestioned success, so much so that it came to imbued with
a special significance (linked to the Risorgimento) that the most recent critical thinking says is completely false.
Portrait of the theatre impresario Bartolomeo Merelli (1793-1879) by AnonymousTeatro Alla Scala
Precursor to the Verdi style, Gaetano Donizetti was from Bergamo and the greatest Italian opera composer of the first half of the nineteenth century, along with Vincenzo Bellini.
He was by far the most prolific composer, with 73 operas!
Portrait of the composer Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) by AnonymousTeatro Alla Scala
Among the composers portraied in the Museum's collection, there is the Sicilian Vincenzo Bellini, in this 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.
Portrait of the composer Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835) (First half of XIX century) by AnonymousTeatro Alla Scala
One of the interpreters of Norma was
Giuditta Pasta, portrayed here by 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". The Museum houses the handwritten manuscript for Tancredi.
Her eyes,turned upwards, are particurarly expressive, as if to underline her annoyance for a wrong note on the piano.
Portrait of the singer Giuditta Pasta (1797-1865) (1816/1817) by Gioacchino Serangeli (1768-1852)Teatro Alla Scala