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La Scala and the La Boheme who made it famous.

La Scala is the most famous opera house in the world. Contrary to the popular believes that its name derives from "scala", it has nothing to do with stairs. It is named after the famous Lady of Milan, Beatrice Regina who was the only person who could make her raging anti-church husband make rational decisions. There is always a woman involved in any opera drama, you see.

Officially La Scalla opened in 1778 and the first opera performed there was by Sallieri - the person who allegedly killed Mozart - called Europa Riconoscuita (Europe recognised). Nothing to do with the EU as the lucky Sallieri lived long before its time. It dealt with the problems in the Ancient Greece mythology rather than Italy’s neighbours and their tricky economical pacts. Nevertheless, back then Milan was part of Austria and when the old theatre of the city burned down, 90 wealthy Milanese aristocrats asked the Archduke Ferdinand to rebuild it as soon as possible. Where else would the people of the capital of fashion show their clothes off if not in their theatre? Their lodges were their business cards.

Nearly 100 years later Italy was no longer part of Austria. Milan belonged to Napoleon for a little while and then become part of the unified new kingdom of Italy. The Italians therefore had experienced their own form of revolution, unity, patriotism and poverty. They did not want to deal with Zeus and Europa anymore. They wanted real stories. Stories about common people, love and live struggles. That was the time for the Verismo. Or the New Wave. The people who represented the New were a bunch of really cool, good looking, socially active and popular young composers who had all come to Milan - the most prestigious music place in Italy and also the most prosperous. La Scala was built for the rich who loved hearing stories about the poor, as long as they remained just stage stories rather than part of their reality.

Unsurprisingly the most beloved verismo songs (aria is essentially a song) were the ones about love. Amongst them the one about the trembling stars of love and hope with which the prince is asking his love to NOT fall asleep (who can sleep when in love!) is probably the most famous of all:

Nessun Dorma was written by Puccini for his opera Turandot. At the prime of his life - he was 35 at the time of his great success - he wrote La Boheme which became a symbol of the social liberties and the freedom of the artists. Although set in Paris, the opera was very much referring to the liberal bohemian life style of Puccini and his friends. Puccini, Mascagni, and Leoncavallo were all living in Milan, partying every night, gathering in the same bar behind the La Scala. They were loud, very popular with the women and very determined to write beautiful music and to become famous. In their search for subjects they would read Prevost, Sardou, Murger, Schiller, Verga whose books would subsequently became the foundations of their operas, the same way film makers would look for their film stories. The opera composers and librettists were not different to their contemporaries to what film makers are to us. The Opera in Milan was what the Cinema was in Hollywood.

Meet them:


Puccini was fast to climb the stares of fame and success. He was 35 years old when Le Boheme premiered and in the next years he also produced Tosca and Madame Butterfly. He became a rich, rich man. His fortune in today's money would be in the range of 130 million ponds sterling. Not bad for a composer! He loved sports cars, motor boats, and above all women. Behind every opera he wrote there was a huge love story and loads of alcohol. A true rock star. The disputes over his house in Torre Del Lago and his inheritance continue until today when more and more illegitimate children come through with claims for recognition.

His buddy Mascagni, the composer of Cavaleria Rusticana

in a similar fashion broke very many women’s hearts as he went along. He was a dandy - trendy clothes, outspoken, clever, with burning eyes - women adored him. The biggest affair of his life (he called it “love of his life”) was with a beautiful singer from the choir 25 years younger than him. His wife not only had to accept it, but also share him with the full lipped, green eyed clever Beauty until his death. In essence he lived in his Cavaleria Rusticana plot his entire life, only no one ever seeked revenge or killed themselves for that. The drama remained for the stage.


He wrote Pagliacci. He actually did write the story and the libretto of the famous story of love and jealousy. It was based on a real murder trial at which his father participated.

The crying clown has remained a symbol of the one's personal drama ever since.

Just like the other three, Leoncavallo was well travelled, well read, ambitious and very popular. He also wrote La Boheme as both him and Puccini, being good friends, were reading the same books at the same time. However only one of them could have a successful opera and that was the reason for the demise of their friendship.

The real La Boheme were not much of a "boheme". The term was referring to the Gipsies who arrived from Bohemia in Paris who were poor and free and not complying to the social norms. The young Italian composers fascinated by that concept were rich and very spoiled intellectuals. None of them had problems with the heating, none of them died of hunger. Did that stop them being dreamers? They chased the dream we all have. The dream for love, passion and freedom. That is the true Verismo. We are grateful for the illusion they give us. For the trembling stars and for the eternal love which we feel every time we hear their top hits.


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