This post is dedicated to a really good friend who shares my interest in both theatre and theatres, and who’s inspired the return to writing. x
There’s tumbleweed aplenty around this blog, isn’t there. We’ll fix that, eventually. For now though, the first post in a while …
I actually started this particular post 8 months ago. No, I’m not the world’s slowest typist (I might be a strong challenger for the least accurate though!), but rather my mental health went a bit, well, less healthy. The writing stopped. For the first time in … who knows! But it wasn’t permanent, thankfully!
Initially this post was inspired by a visit to La Scala in Milan (or Teatro alla Scala, to give it its full name), something which had been on the infamous bucket list for a while. The reason it was on that bucket list was simple. What happens on stage is undoubtedly special, and I live for my many and frequent escapes to the theatre, but the buildings and rooms which host those escapes are very often a thing to behold and admire as well, many with long storied pasts to recount. I knew enough about it to know that La Scala was one of the most beautiful theatres and of course comes with a long and rich history!
The actual building itself, while architecturally not the dullest you’ve ever seen, wouldn’t exactly blow you away either. But on the inside … well, you know how the Tardis in Doctor Who is ‘bigger on the inside’? La Scala is a whole lot more special on the inside.
(Okay, I know, I compared La Scala to the Tardis, but anyway …)
La Scala has a signature colour for drapery – a rich, deep red that’s dark enough to tone down the cream and gold fixtures and moldings that outline it, but bright enough to not render the theatre dark and foreboding. The opulence is added by that red presenting in the form of sumptuous velvet upholstery and intricate damask wall coverings. The perfect foil for Italy’s notables in their 1920s finery, as they attended any or all of the many classics for which there are original posters lining the walls.
Of course because it’s La Scala, it requires a museum to convey just how rich the history of that building actually is. By museum standards, it’s small in area. But they’re not fans of minimalism, so there is an absolute plethora of objects to excite anyone with an interest in classical music. The star of the show though is undoubtedly Franz Liszt’s restored piano. If you play piano and don’t fantasize about getting your hands on that … well, we can’t be friends, I’m afraid!
Another star, but by no means a supporting player, is an exquisite painting of Maria Callas that instantly struck me as a modern Mona Lisa and saw me spending ten minutes trying to decide if it was sadness, annoyance, confidence or determination that I saw in her expression. I settled on all of the above. It’s not me being indecisive – her expression really is hard to read.
Interesting, another Callas portrait hangs in Teatro La Fenice in Venice. It’s no less stunning, but very different to its Milanese counterpart. In fact, the two portraits could serve as an illustration of how different the two theatres are. Actually … the two cities themselves! La Scala’s red, along with Callas’ classically elegant black dress and simple, minimalist setting, all make way for a more dramatic, more elaborately decorated appearance in Venice, with muted shades of pastels taking the place of the rich reds in the theatre itself.
As if to compensate for the richness, La Fenice doesn’t hold back on the gilt. I’m sure during its construction, if you stood still for ten seconds, you’d likely end up covered in gold leaf and framing a painting or fresco or some small panel of decoration. It’s almost too much though, I found.
Where I will forgive it though is in the royal box, because of the effect it helps to create. A small area, holding no more than 24 seats, is made to look like a never-ending tunnel of opulence by the large gilt mirrors hung on opposing walls. It will literally melt your brain to try to count the number of reflections. Trust me, I tried.
La Fenice fares better than La Scala (at least in my view) on the chandelier front. If you’re a regular theatre-goer, have you noticed just how popular chandeliers are in theatres. And for the most part they’d not be out of place in that chandelier scene in Phantom of the Opera!
There’s a ringer in the group of chandeliers pictured above! The one that’s bottom right is actually in New York (The Broadway Theatre). Exquisite theatres aren’t exclusive to Italy! New York has its fair share, and London … well there’s so much to talk about, it warrants a coffee table book – London Theatres by Michael Coveney – which I’m almost giddy about getting my hands on soon! And even more giddy to continue checking out for myself! (I know I’m lucky, don’t worry!)
And not all theatres are classically decorated. The Royal Albert Hall in London edged towards futuristic for some of the BBC Proms (don’t tell anyone I took this photo – we weren’t supposed to, but come on, how could I not?!?).
And if Art Deco is more your décor of choice, Radio City Music Hall in New York will do a number on you for sure!
So next time you’re at the theatre, don’t just look straight ahead. Look around you too – there are treasures off-stage as well as on! And they’re free with the price of the ticket!