Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Milano: we begin our visit with opera at La Scala

It was less than an hour's bus ride from Bergamo to Milano Centrale, the huge stone train station built by Mussolini. Somehow it had that square Il Duce appearance with its imposing colonnades and massive staircases. After a short walk in the hot Milano sunshine we were checked into our hotel and ready to go exploring.

It was back to Milano Centrale but this time to board the Metro. This was a very easy straightforward task since we could buy our Metro tickets at the hotel. A few stops later we were catching our first view of the Duomo di Milano, Milan's magnificent Gothic cathedral, one of the world's largest churches. Its dazzling white front facade, arguably the world's most beautiful, dominates the cathedral square. The Duomo is literally at the centre of Milan. Streets radiate from the cathedral and giant square. We took this in quite quickly as we were looking for a late lunch which we found in one of the buildings right on the square.

Several floors of this building were a market restaurant with areas serving different types of food. For only €5 I had the most delicious pasta i pomodori — pasta with sweet cherry tomatoes — I have ever tasted. Why do tomatoes in Italy taste like nowhere else?

We were right by the famed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a magnificent shopping arcade covered with a glass and iron roof. The interior of the impressive five-story structure is decorated with patriotic mosaics and statues. The Galleria was constructed during the turbulent era of Italian unification, and for its architect, the Galleria symbolized Italian unity and self-confidence, so it is no surprise that the arcade is decorated with plenty of patriotic symbols. Mosaics on the floor below the dome depict the coat of arms of Savoy and Italian cities are allegorically represented: a wolf for Rome, a lily for Florence, a bull for Turin and a white flag with red cross for Milan. Stepping with the heel of your foot on the genitals of the bull is supposed to bring good luck, so it's no surprise that the mosaics have to be renovated on a regular basis.

Since it is one of Milan's most popular attractions, the Galleria is constantly crowded with locals and tourists, the latter often snapping pictures or gazing at the spectacular architecture. Others window-shop at the upscale stores or take a break at one of the Galleria's caf├ęs.

On the other side of the Galleria was another square facing onto the famous La Scala opera house.   La Scala, as the Teatro alla Scala is locally known, was built at the end of the eighteenth century. The opera house soon became one of the world's most revered venues and numerous famous works by composers such as Verdi and Bellini premiered here.  We thought let's try to get tickets. This meant a trip back to the level of the Metro where the ticket office was located. We were in luck, La Scala had productions every night while the Milan Expo was open. There wasn't a huge variety of tickets left but with the recommendation of the ticket seller we were going to the Opera tonight.

The outside of La Scala isn't very imposing but in contrast with the exterior, the building's interior is sumptuous. Its foyer is decorated with fluted columns and large mirrors line the walls. The auditorium, known for its exceptional acoustics, has a seating capacity of just over two thousand. It is lavishly decorated with red velvet, silk and gilded stucco. The chandelier is made of Bohemian crystal and contains 365 lamps. The podium is one of the world's largest with a total surface of 1,200 square meters. Surrounding the orchestra section are little boxes that climb up many floors. Our little box was unlocked for us. It was in direct view of the stage and we were the only people in it.

Since we were a little early we decided to find the bar. It was down one floor in a massive ballroom. Not too many people were in there before the performance. Nevertheless we enjoyed our €12 glasses of prosecco with some nibbles. After all, we were at La Scala.

The first opera was Cavalleira Rusticana and the second Pagliacci. Both were extremely well received with Pagliacci receiving a standing ovation. We enjoyed both performances.

It had been a very busy, long day for us full of unexpected surprises. Tomorrow, Expo.

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