I would like to know [how many at La Scala] are vaccinated, but the law on privacy does not allow us to know who is vaccinated and who isn’t. So, at a dress rehearsal, when someone sings without a mask, all it takes is for someone to have the virus and the contagion spreads, and everything comes to a halt.
[The Green Pass] must be adopted. Theatres cannot continue to run half empty. Compared to last year, we now have the tools: green passes and masks guarantee the safety of everyone and the very life of the theatres. They are already doing this in France and Austria, and I hope it will happen here soon.
It has since been announced that from 6 August, indoor venues in Italy (as well as gyms, restaurants, and bars; nightclubs will remain closed) will welcome only those with a European Green Pass. A Green Pass is for those who have received the first dose of a vaccine, or have recovered from Covid within the previous six months, or have been tested in the previous 48 hours with a negative result.
This year, La Scala put on a free mini festival – La Scala in città – in piazzas, an open-air swimming pool, and courtyards, both in the city centre and on the outskirts, with groups from the chorus, orchestra and ballet company performing. Its success is something Meyer is keen to repeat.
I have learned the lesson of Claudio Abbado, of opening up La Scala and visiting the suburbs and workplaces; and also that of Jack Lang, with whom I worked in Paris, a champion of the inclusive force of music and culture. It’s enriching not only for those who enjoy the performances but also for those who make them. The artists and technicians who took part in this four-day event were thrilled by the warmth they received.
I discovered a Milan I did not know. I have been living here for two years, but my job always locks me in the same streets in the centre. This time, running from one event to another, I went to areas where I had never been. Milan is stimulating in its diversity. La Scala, which is everyone’s theatre, must take this into account.
So if this possible new audience then arrives at La Scala, will they be expected to wear evening dress?
An elegant audience is part of the pleasure of going to La Scala, but those who cannot afford evening dress should not be excluded because of it. All that is required is orderly decorum. When I was a boy, I loved going to the opera but having little money I could not afford the tenue de soirée. One evening in Paris I found two tickets for the cheapest seats at the back of a box. In the front seats there was an elegant gentleman and his companion. They looked at us with disdain, then called the usher and said, “I didn’t know this theatre let people like that in.” I’ll never forget it.
[For next year], in addition to the summer mini-festival, which could be brought forward to June and also include opera singing, I would like to launch an open day at La Scala and invite the public to explore the backstage areas, watch special effects and scene changes, see how makeup is applied and costumes are made… all the magic of being backstage. Then, at the end, to offer a short performance.
I have been attending the Piermarini [the architect Giuseppe Piermarini designed La Scala, and the theatre is often, fondly, called by his name] since 1980, and every time I cross the threshold, I feel something special. The secret of La Scala is that it is a large and intimate theatre at the same time. The foyer is small, and it gets crowded straight away, but then you enter the auditorium and you find yourself in a balanced space, where you can feel the breath of the past, and memories come to the surface: of being a spectator, and of certain photos and engravings.
[My dream] is to be able to have the Piccola Scala back!
The Piccola Scala was built inside the main theatre complex during its reconstruction after the second world war. It sat about 600 people and was used for baroque, experimental and chamber operas, as well as concert and occasionally plays. It was named after Arturo Toscanini in 1982, and then closed in 1983, the space being used to expand the box-office and create a scenery store.
Closing it down was a crime, and La Scala urgently needs a second, smaller stage for baroque, contemporary and children’s performances. Children are the future after all.
Dominique Meyer was talking to Giuseppina Manin, Corriere della Sera
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.