Botta's La Scala opens to mixed reception

The "new" La Scala does not please everyone

Milan’s La Scala opera house has reopened after three years of renovation. But a new tower by Swiss architect Mario Botta has failed to please many locals.

This content was published on December 6, 2004 minutes

Critics say Botta’s tower is not in keeping with the rest of the 200-year-old building.

La Scala, which has staged the first nights of operas by Verdi and Puccini, was a favourite of such opera legends as Maria Callas and Guiseppe di Stefano and holds a special place in the hearts of many Milanese.

But it was felt that La Scala’s façade did not live up to its reputation. The inside was also badly in need of refurbishment – furnishings were worn, paint was peeling off the walls and the plumbing was antiquated.

Performers complained, too, that the theatre’s backstage was cramped and a potential fire hazard.


The result was a €60 million revamp, which ran 20 per cent over budget. But the “new” La Scala has failed to live up to the expectations of some Milanese.

This especially applies to Botta’s 38-metre-high tower, which has been built beside the theatre and houses the dressing rooms and other offices.

It is elliptical in shape and echoes the architect’s designs for the Evry Cathedral in France and the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco.

The architect says the tower was designed to get rid of the jumble of rooms backstage.

“My objective is to clean the body of the theatre of all of these annexes,” said Botta after the completion of his work.

But his son, Tobia Botta, who is supervising the building site, has acknowledged that the modern design might take some getting used to for the some Milanese.


“Change always makes people frightened,” he said. “When one has to destroy a church to build the theatre, a controversy has already started.”

One of the most vocal critics has been fellow Swiss architect Kurt Forster.

“The ellipse is an annex which is not in harmony with what already exists and is also not a sign of the new millennium,” wrote Forster in the Italian daily “La Repubblica”.

“One should have found a solution which gave [the impression of] more elegance and lightness. The ellipse is compact, heavy and gives the impression of being plonked on top of the roof,” he added.

But Carlo Fontana, the general manager of La Scala, disagrees. “The argument is pointless because without being renovated, La Scala has no future,” he said.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

In brief

Performances took place at the Teatro degli Arcimboldi in Milan while work was carried out at La Scala.

La Scala officially reopened on December 7 after being shut for nearly three years.

Musical director Riccardo Muti chose the same opera as was shown when La Scala first opened in 1778 - Antonio Salieri’s “L’Europa Riconosciuta”.

The opera is choreographed by Heinz Spoerli of the Zurich Ballet.

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