Going to an opera at Teatro alla Scala in Milan should be on every opera-lover’s wish list. And the summer opera festival in the Arena di Verona is a massive spectacle you should also try to experience. We did both on a five-day road trip in Italy.
In this post, you will find out:
- How to Buy Tickets for Teatro alla Scala
- Picking a Good Seat at La Scala
- What to Wear to Teatro alla Scala
- How to Enjoy Your Night at the Opera
- Attending the Opera Festival in the Arena di Verona
- Planning your Opera Road Trip in Italy
Buying Tickets to See an Opera at La Scala
Up front, let me say that it isn’t easy or inexpensive. But worth every eurocent. You also need to plan ahead, about four months before the opera you want to see.
First, go to the official website of Teatro alla Scala. Click on English or Italian in the upper right hand corner of the screen and then go through the calendar to find out what’s on. You might plan your trip around a specific opera. Or just try to get tickets for the dates of a trip you’ve already planned.
Next to the information about the opera and its cast, there will be a red box with the date that tickets go on sale. Mark this on your calendar. Ticket sales open at 10 am, European time. On the East Coast of the USA, that meant I would have to be online promptly at 4 am to buy tickets. It’s not consistent, but the date is typically two to four months before the performance.
And then be ready to pounce on the seats you want, with your credit card handy!
Picking a Good Seat at La Scala
The less expensive tickets in the upper galleries are gone in minutes if they are seats with unobstructed views. Click on the seat and then use the tool that allows you to see the “panoramic view” before you buy. There might be a post in front of your face and you can’t change your mind once you’ve paid.
Or you could be in a box with two sets of people’s heads between you and the show. In the boxes (palchi) only the two front seats have unobstructed views of the stage and a small waist-level screen showing the lyrics in English. The four people further back will probably hear the opera more than they will see it. I also avoid buying tickets on the sides of the theater because it cuts off a good deal of the action on stage.
Not surprisingly, the prime box seats and those on the ground floor (platea) are the most expensive. For that reason they don’t sell out right away. But after a few tries to get good but cheaper seats for various operas and failing, we finally resigned ourselves to paying 300 euros per ticket to see Verdi’s Rigoletto. We got two front seats in a “Zone 1” Palco III box with an almost straight-on view of the stage and the orchestra.
Print out your tickets and receipt. Don’t forget to bring them with you to the theater! The bar codes will be scanned at the door.
Stranger Danger: Teatro alla Scala only guarantees the authenticity of tickets sold through their website or at the box office in Milan. Look closely at websites offering “skip the line” tickets for La Scala. They might be tickets for a tour of the La Scala museum next to the theater, not an actual performance.
The Dress Code at Teatro alla Scala
Once I had the tickets, I totally stressed over what to pack for my night at the opera. According to the website:
The public is kindly requested to dress in keeping with the decorum of the Theatre, out of respect for the Theatre and for other viewers. People wearing shorts or sleeveless T-shirts will not be allowed inside the auditorium; in this case, tickets will not be reimbursed.
Functionally, in the hot summer, this means a dress shirt and slacks for the men. We saw plenty of gentlemen in coats and ties, but also a few man-bun guys in sleeved t-shirts and khakis. I brought a tie for my son in my purse, but he wasn’t asked to wear it. Women wore smart cocktail dresses with lots of basic black. However, if you have tickets to a premiere, you might find the fashionable Milanese opera fans decked out in tuxedoes and evening gowns.
La Scala house rules also mention checking your mobile phone in the cloakroom. We didn’t see anyone actually doing this. Of course, remember to silence your phone before the opera starts. And don’t even think about recording even one second of the performance. It is strictly forbidden.
Preparing for Your Visit to La Scala
The doors open 45 minutes before the start of the opera. Don’t be late, or you will have to wait until the first interval to take your seat.
Pro Tip: Theaters in Europe generally don’t hand out free programs, like you might get in the US. If you don’t already know the story of the opera, look up the libretto before you come to the theater. Look on La Scala’s website or use your phone to snap a photo of the poster outside that lists who is playing the lead roles.
We arrived early to admire the statues of Giuseppe Verdi and all the other famous Italian composers who called La Scala home. The opera house is not as fancy its counterparts in Paris, Vienna or Budapest. But it was possible to imagine it in bygone days when flirty aristocrats filled the boxes and gambled during the intermissions.
Enjoying Your Night at the Opera
Today La Scala attracts the best singers in the world. The baritone in the role of Rigoletto was from Mongolia and the soprano playing his daughter was an American. Her performance of the famous aria Caro Nome brought the house down. The staging presented the story as a modern-day class struggle, altering the ending so that the evil duke gets what he deserves.
Verdi is said to have considered Rigoletto to be his favorite opera. My son, a serious opera enthusiast, had seen it nine times in theaters all over Europe and the US. He pronounced this production to be — not only the best Rigoletto — but the best opera he had ever attended.
Six hundred euros for two of the best seats in the house? Totally worth it. Comparable seats at the opera in New York, London, Vienna or Paris would have cost just as much.
Pro Tip: During the interval, leap out of your seat and head for the bar to beat the long line. Who knew that La Scala has their own house brand of Prosecco? Even at 15 euros for a generous pour, we just had to try it. But by the time we got our drinks, the opera was starting again and we ended up chugging it.
Summer Opera Festival at Arena di Verona
For a completely different experience, go online and buy tickets for the Summer Opera Festival in Verona. This is opera on a massive scale. It is performed in one of Italy’s best-preserved Roman amphitheaters, built in the 1st century AD. We paid 59 euros each for seats in the stone amphitheater, but folding chairs closer to the stage were available at prices up to 270 euros.
We had tickets for Carmen, figuring that all the bullfighting would be an excuse for lots of pageantry. It was! And if your level of opera appreciation is, “Look, mom, there are horses on the stage!” this is the opera for you.
Bigger Opera is Not Better Opera
Despite the supersized orchestra and the efforts of world-class singers, this was a frustrating experience because of the poor acoustics and seriously uncomfortable seating on the ancient stones. People rented cushions or brought their own. Waiting for the sun to set meant it didn’t even start until 9:15 pm. And changing gigantic sets required a 20 minute intermission between EVERY act.
In centuries past, operas were intended to have lots of intermissions so that people could gamble during the interval. That’s how opera venues made money at a time when TV, video games and cat videos on YouTube weren’t competing for attention. Modern-day opera companies combine acts and limit intermissions to get people on the way home by 10:30 pm.
The long intermissions between each act in Verona made for an opera that was not going to end until nearly 2 am. There were no concessions to speak of, except for overpriced cheap drinks. Outside food/beverages were not allowed. In different circumstances we’ve happily sat through 5 hours of Wagner, but this was torture. We ended up leaving early, having gotten our money’s worth after the grand spectacle of the first two acts.
My personal feeling is that they should let the audience spread out a bit and picnic, much like the Hollywood Bowl. There’s plenty of space because not all the seats in the massive arena are filled. But this is opera in Italy and they have their own way of celebrating it.
Planning your Opera Road Trip To Milan
We’re already planning our next opera trip to La Fenice in Venice. Click here to read about our Opera Weekend in Paris, when we saw two operas in one weekend at two different opera houses!
Getting to Milan and Verona: We drove to Italy from neighboring Slovenia. We stopped on the way in the charming city of Padua. The giant basilica there is dedicated to Saint Anthony, the Roman Catholic patron saint of Lost Things. We also found one of the best artisan wood-fired pizzas we’ve ever had!
Most of the drive was on the A4 autostrada. You can use a credit card or cash to pay the tolls. The nail-biting moments occurred when we had to share crowded roads in the city with speed-demon local drivers. Save money by reserving your rental car on Auto Europe before you leave the USA. Save your sanity by parking the car and walking or taking mass transit around Milan.
Where to Stay in Milan: There’s a wide choice of hotels in Milan on Trip Advisor. We found a cozy rental with free parking in a secure courtyard. It was also on the #16 tram line, which took us to La Scala and the major sights: the Last Supper, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and the Duomo.
Pro tip: Buy your tram tickets at a tobacco shop the night before, if you get up early to go sightseeing when nothing is open. You’ll also need tickets in hand to get back home after the opera. They don’t sell them on the tram.
Planning Your Opera Road Trip to Verona
Where to Stay in Verona: Verona was a two-hour drive on the autostrada from Milan. Many people visit on a day trip from Venice. The old center of Verona is a car-free pedestrian zone with a choice of hotels. We found a rental with free parking in a residential neighborhood, just a short walk from the Basilica of San Zeno and a square filled with restaurants. Walking another 15 minutes along a beautiful riverside embankment brought us to the Arena.
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