This year offers two reasons for operatic celebration, the bicentennials of two of the art form's most important composers, Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner. The biggest party is being held at Milan's famous La Scala theater, a building worth a visit whether or not you're prepared to appreciate the works of Verdi, whose reputation as opera's most accessible composer doesn't exactly mean his work inspires hilarity.
Built in 1778, this neoclassical theater may look a little unprepossessing from the outside. Wonders await inside – a thorough renovation from 2002 to 2004 left the house as plush and gilded as it was under the Italian monarchy. The royal box is now called the "central box," but the theater is a monument to majesterial excess – as well as acoustics. The sound had better be clear: Major opera stars have been booed off this stage when their voices proved inadequate.
La Scala's season runs from its famed opening night – always on the feast day of Milan's patron Saint Ambrose on December 7 – until the following October, with a short hiatus in August. This year's opening was as fine a black-tie extravaganza as any – Italian celebrities and politicians galore, all under the blaring flashes of the paparazzi's cameras. Former prime minister Mario Monti was there, looking unfazed despite a no-confidence vote going on that very evening. Another whiff of nationalist scandal came from the opening night performance – a new production of Wagner's 'Lohengrin.'
La Scala boasts five new productions of Verdi operas this year, all from different phases in the composer's career, including his first opera 'Oberto, Conte di San Bonifaccio' (1839), and his last, 'Falstaff' (1893). In between, the avid opera fan or first-time visitor can enjoy 'Nabucco,' 'Macbeth,' and 'Un Ballo in Maschera.' If that's not enough, revivals of 'Aida' and 'Don Carlo' will appear in October.
More information: La Scala is in downtown Milan and can be reached by a pleasant stroll from anywhere in the city, which is connected to Paris, Amsterdam, and London by Air France, KLM, and British Airways.