The Amici della Scala (Friends of La Scala) was formed in 1978 to promote music, art and culture in Milan and the Lombardy region, though the La Scala opera house is the focus of their activities.
Activities of the Amici della Scala include scholarships for young talents; gifts of musical instruments to young soloists; lectures, conferences, television documentaries and exhibitions on operas programmed at La Scala; and they have published around 70 books and catalogues.
Some of the most interesting of these publications are a series of monographs on the set and costume designers who have worked at La Scala, which have been published at a rate of four a year since 2002. The new batch brings the total in the series to forty. Internationally famous names such as Picasso and Hockney rub shoulders with some less known, but nevertheless fascinating artists who have contributed to the theatre's legacy. These volumes measure just 12 by 17 centimetres, have more or less 100 pages, and cost just €10. Most of the volumes contain material that has never been previously published.
Vittoria Crespi Morbio is responsible for the series, and writes the excellent biographies of the artists, the introductions to their work, and comments succinctly on their importance for the Milanese opera house.
Adolphe Appia, who was the son of Red Cross co-founder Louis Appia, was a Swiss architect and theorist of stage lighting and décor. His philosophy about the use of stage made him one of the most innovative and original designers of all time. He wanted to escape from the two-dimensional painted look of his time and create with sets and lighting a three-dimensional space for singers and actors to inhabit. Appia saw artistic unity as a primary function of the director and the designer so that their work was at one with the music – an avant-garde idea at the time.
The operas of Wagner form the largest and most important part of his his work, and his famous staging of Tristan und Isolde conducted by Arturo Toscanini in Milan in 1923 greatly influenced those who came after him. However the austerity of his designs left the audience perplexed. There were no painted drops, no decorative elements, and little colour. The lighting was moody and introduced shafts of light which produced dark shadows around the bold constructed scenic elements. Revolutionary indeed.
In 1895 he published La Mise en scène du drame Wagnérien (The Staging of the Wagnerian Drama), a collection of stage and lighting plans for 18 of Wagner's operas that clarified the function of stage lighting and enumerated in detail practical suggestions for the application of his theories. He went on to write two further volumes in 1899 and 1921 which laid out his philosophy on theatre staging.
Appia spent the last three years of his life in a psychiatric clinic in Nyon on Lake Geneva. On his death at the age of 65, his ashes were scattered around a tree in the gardens of the clinic.
Over the next week the new monographs on Boris Bilinsky, Sylvano Bussotti and Mario Sironi will be presented on Gramilano.
Amici della Scala, via dei Giardini 18, 20121 Milan
tel 02 783 479 – fax 02 7601 3856
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.