La Scala has an extraordinary collection of costumes from its past productions, going back over a hundred years – including, for example, twenty-five costumes designed for Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi. However, there is little in place to protect them.
Rita Citterio, head of La Scala's costume archive, says, “'Unfortunately, here at Ansaldo [La Scala's workshops] we have no way of preserving them in the correct way. We do not have sufficient space or maintenance staff. There's not even a temperature and humidity detector.
“La Scala's wardrobe department works full time on new productions and cannot deal with restoring old costumes, which is very delicate and often very expensive. We do our best to preserve them with care, but much more is needed. They should be stored in cardboard boxes, stuffed with tissue paper, but there is no space or time for that.”
The vast complex of new, purpose-built workshops in via Rubattino (near Linate airport) should help the situation, but the project has only just been approved, and construction will take several years. Citterio, however, says, “So far no one has asked us what we will need. The risk is that everything will end up crammed in a container where no one will be able to see or touch them again. That would mean that not only would our costume makers no longer be able to refer to them but also historians and researchers. Organising them well, though, would be an opportunity to create a database that we do not have at present. We rely mostly on memory; we don't even know what we really have. If I wanted to, I could take one of Callas's costumes home, and no one would notice.”
A great number of costumes have been lost through neglect in the past. “In the 1990s there was the ‘great destruction',” Citterio reveals. “A mountain of costumes buried in a Scala warehouse under the Central Station were abandoned, and then sent to be destroyed. Who knows what treasures were stored there and now lost forever. The fact is that no costume designer wants to reuse another designer's costumes and so after each new production, trunks of them arrive. We don't know where to put them.”
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.
Totally fascinating Graham. Thank you for posting this.
Very sadly our house is MUCH too full of stuff. The best we can rise to is the old family autograph book with Rachmaninov, Sir John Barbirolli + Elizabeth Schumann in it amongst others.