La Scala, Milan: Three-year renovation cycle from 2019 to 2021 for the acoustic refurbishment of historic boxes and balconies
In three consecutive years, restorers will use the annual four-week summer break of the world-famous opera house for improving its acoustics lastingly and effectively based on specifications from MÜLLER-BBM
The Teatro alla Scala in Milan is one of the best known and most important opera houses in the world. Its cornerstone was laid with the Teatro Regio Ducale in 1598, which was built to celebrate the passage of Margaret of Austria through Milan. In 1699, the opera house went up in flames and was severely damaged. Thereafter, it underwent several modifications and renovations until it was completely destroyed by another fire in 1708.
The second Teatro Regio Ducale was built in 1717 and fell victim to the flames in February 1776. The successive building, the Teatro alla Scala, was inaugurated in August 1778. After suffering severe damage during World War II, the opera house was rebuilt in record time and re-inaugurated in May 1946.
Partial demolition and restoration works from 2002 to 2004
During the reconstruction after World War II, rubble was deposited under the auditorium and the orchestra pit, which had a negative effect on the acoustics. In the course of a comprehensive, yet partly controversial restoration and extension between 2002 and December 2004, the obvious deficiencies of the rapid post-war reconstruction should be remedied, among other things. The entire fly tower was demolished as a precondition for the planned installation of a modern and efficient stage machinery. New rehearsal rooms, workshops as well as administration space were located in a new elliptical building designed by the Swiss architect Mario Botta. However, the appearance of the foyer and auditorium was completely preserved, i.e. they were restored according to plans dating back to 1778. Following the tradition of La Scala’s annual season opening on the name day of Milan’s patron saint, the opera house reopened on December 7, 2004, with the same opera like at its inauguration in 1778: “L’Europa riconosciuta” by Antonio Salieri.
Acoustic analyses from 2010 to 2018
The initial elation and high expectations on Milan’s restored Teatro alla Scala quickly subsided and turned into disillusion and increasing criticism. Orchestra members, vocal soloists as well as international visiting artists complained that the sound was too dry and that they did not get an acoustic response from the auditorium. In the years 2010 to 2012, various acoustic consulting firms performed analyses; based on their findings, selective measures were implemented in the boxes. However, they did not result in any significant improvement.
Involvement of MÜLLER-BBM starting 2018
In 2018, MÜLLER-BBM was commissioned to perform extensive acoustic analyses, room acoustic measurements, audio recordings, subjective listening tests, to conduct interviews with musicians as well as to prepare a catalog of measures. In the first place, the recommended measures were to address the boxes and balconies only.
In the first half of 2019, the planned acoustic measures were discussed with the Italian heritage preservation authority, and all construction works planned for the next three years were approved. During the four-week summer break in July 2019, the first restoration phase started in the first balcony: all surface coverings of the boxes as well as all existing upholstery on the walls and armrests were replaced for the purpose of minimizing sound absorption as well as for achieving a longer reverberation and a more natural sound coloration in these boxes. The improved acoustic quality is already and clearly perceptible in the individual restored boxes; however, the overall improvement in the opera hall will not be noticeable until considerably more boxes have been restored – up to now, these make up less than 20 %. In August 2020, the second and third balconies will be restored, and in summer 2021, the fourth balcony as well as the galleries.