It is also simply a beautiful theatre – the second largest in Italy, though not nearly as big as the Met in New York. It´s also very old, having been built, I believe, in the late 18th Century.
Still, getting there wasn´t easy. I tried to buy my ticket online from the La Scala website a couple of months ago, and when I checked the seating chart the night before sales began, I saw that the vast majority of the theatre was already sold out (perhaps to subscribers). So, I got on my computer at 3:00 in the morning the next day, which is 9 a.m. in Italy, the time the tickets were up for grabs. I tried three times to buy a ticket in a particular price range (each time different) only to be told each time that the tickets were all gone. By 3:30 nothing at all was left, so I went back to bed feeling mightily upset and disappointed.
This was going to be, after all, the highlight of my trip to Italy and here I was, totally shut out. Still, something told me to try again once I got up to go to work, and miraculously, afew tickets were now available! Perhaps some earlier sales had not gone through, but for whatever reason, I got my ticket.
So, let´s go ahead two months later to the day of the performance. Getting between my hotel and the theatre was going to be a snap, as the tram line #1 went directly in front of my hotel and directly in front of the theatre. Practically door to door service. It would all be very easy. Too easy. Naturally, something would have to happen to make things more difficult – and it did. I read earlier in the day that, beginning at 8 p.m., the tram going back toward my hotel would only go as far as Piazza della Republicca, a few stops from the hotel. Still, that would only be a walk of about five minutes, so it wasn´t too bad.
After I made my last posting, I planned to have dinner in the Chinese-run Italian restaurant next to the hotel, then get changed into a jacket and tie to head off to the theater. There was just one problem: the restaurant wasn´t open yet, and it was after 6 p.m. I didn´t have a lot of time as I didn´t want to be late to theater, so I walked around the neighborhood looking for an open restaurant and couldn´t find any! I was starting to get a bit frantic, so I finally went into a cafe that was able to heat up some already-made lasagna and a pizza-like thing for me. Then it was back to the hotel for a quick change and I was off to the theater.
The theater, as I´ve written, is an old with, with an orchestra/stalls level of seats and six levels above that. The first four levels are boxes, with the top two being regular gallery seating. I took a walk up to the gallery levels during one intermission and I saw that the fifth ring only had two rows of seats, while the sith, topmost ring had up to four in some places. The problem with those third and fourth rows is that the grade of the seating is so shallow that one needs to stand up in order to see the stage, as one can only see the top of the proscenium when seated!
The same goes for higher level boxes from where one needs to look down. From the front of the box one can see, but from the back it can be difficult. My seat was in the second row of a box, but fortunately it was on the first level, so although I had to look over somebody´s shoulder, all I needed to do was look straight ahead rather than down. Unfortunately, the box was on the side next to the orchestra pit, so all I got to see was the right side of the stage. The upside is that I was very close to what I could see – the closest I´ve ever been other than being onstage at the Met – and sitting next to the orchestra the music came through fine. (I could actually have read the score of some of the violinists with my binoculars – if I could read music!)
As for the opera – well, “Aida” by Giuseppe Verdi is one of the great operas by one of the great composers. Even though I had appeared in “Aida” at the Met in New York about a dozen times, I had never actually seen the whole thing before, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. (I won´t bore people with details of the singers and so on.)
If I had to pick a favorite moment, it was when the general house lights were dimmed but the lights in the individual boxes were still on, the red fabrics on the walls of the boxes all glowing in unison with everything dark. The women sitting next to me even mentioned to me how beautiful it looked. It was like magic.
As for getting back to the hotel, it was even more difficult than expected. I walked on over to the tram stop, only to see yet another sign posted that included the words sopressa and avanti. I did not have a good feeling about this, so I asked a man who also seemed to waiting for the tram. He had not seen this sign, so he read it and told me (in Italian) that we needed to walk to the next stop. So, we walked a few blocks to the next stop, and he apparently had decided to walk to his destination and he wished me a good evening and continued on. I decided to check the schedule. It was now midnight, and the next tram was scheduled for around 12:19. “Am I going to have to stand here on the Via Manzoni for 20 minutes waiting for a tram to arrive?,” I asked myself.
Then a few minutes later I saw a bus coming down the street with the Piazza della Republicca listed as its destination. Should I try to flag down this bus? Perhaps the driver read my mind, but it did stop and I got one. The bus appeared to be the #1 line, so I wondered if it was a substitute for the tram. At any rate, I took it to it´s last stop and then walked from there to the hotel. “Okay,” I thought as I finally saw the sign for the hotel ahead, “I had some trouble but I´ve made it back.” Then I saw something that made me question everything that had just happened.
I saw the tram #1 coming up the street just as it always did.
I’ll write about the last stop of my trip next time.