The two upper tiers at La Scala are known as the galleries. For my second evening at La Scala I paid € 24.00 for a ticket in the last row of the topmost gallery. From the seat itself I could see nothing, but since there was no one behind me I could simply stand up the whole time and see nearly the entire stage, except for a small strip that was blocked by a pillar. So my 24-Euro gallery seat was much better than the 66-Euro box seat I had had the week before.
The opera I saw from the gallery was the “premiere” (actually a revival of a 1997 production by Graham Vick, but they still called it a premiere) of Macbeth by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901).
On the back of every La Scala ticket it says: “Formal dress is required at premiere performances.” And on their website they say: “Gentlemen are kindly requested to wear evening dress for premieres. Gentlemen are in any case required to wear a jacket and tie at all performances.” (In Italian: È gradito l’abito scuro per le prime rappresentazioni e sempre la giacca e la cravatta per i Signori spettatori.)
Downstairs in the stalls the men were in fact all wearing black suits, except for one in a blue suit who must have felt totally out of place, but up in the gallery where I was sitting the spectators were just as sloppily dressed as their counterparts in all the other opera houses I know. One man looked as though he had been repairing motorcycles all day, and hadn’t changed his shirt or even washed his hands before coming to the opera.
The people who sit in the galleries at La Scala are reputed to be hyper-critical and quick to boo at the slightest provocation — and this turned out to be very true! At the end of the evening they booed just about everybody who ventured out on stage, including the conductor Kazushi Ono and the soprano Violeta Urmana, both of whom I thought did all right.
One woman in front of me kept shouting “Vergogna! Vergogna!” (Shame! Shame!) and a short but loud altercation erupted between the boo-people and the bravo-people.
In my opinion the performance went reasonably well despite the fact that star baritone Leo Nucci, who was singing the title role of Macbeth, got sick and had to be replaced after the first act. His understudy Ivan Inverardi took over and saved the show, but some people even booed him at the end, quite unfairly. (He’s not a fantastic singer like Nucci, but he’s easier to understand and he’s a good actor.)
A high point of the performance for me was a ballet at the beginning of the third act. This is usually left out nowadays, but La Scala retained it, and it was beautifully danced by La Scala‘s Ballet Company — more about them some other time.
Also present at this same performance of Verdi’s Macbeth was a then-active blogger called Opera Chic, who according to Classical Singer magazine was at the time “the world’s foremost opera blogger”.
Her own self-description: “I’m a young American woman living in Milan, and you’re not. I go to La Scala a lot, and you don’t.”
But she was sitting downstairs somewhere, not up in the galleries with us impecunious folks.
She posted her first report of the evening during the intermission after the first act: “BREAKING: ‘Indisposed’ Leo Nucci Leaves Scala Stage Mid-Macbeth, Understudy Ivan Inverardi (Who?) Saves Teh [sic] Day”. In this report she wrote among other things: “Opera Chic’s hugest get-well-soon to Maestro Nucci, greatest Verdi baritone of this post-Cappuccilli age; and big props — no matter how he sang — to Inverardi who had to step to the plate in an emergency.”
I’ve never met Opera Chic. We used different entrances and staircases, and for several years she made a big deal of keeping her identity a secret. Unfortunately she stopped blogging in 2014, but her archives are still online as of 2018. She now writes mainly for fashion magazines, under her real name Courtney Smith.
As in a lot of older opera houses (Stuttgart, for example) people with gallery tickets do not enter through the main entrance, but through a side entrance leading to this nondescript staircase that leads up to their (relatively) cheap seats.
Gallery spectators have their own foyer for the intermissions aka intervals. As you can see, there is no particular dress code up here.
My photos in this post are from 2008. I revised the text in 2018.
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