Milan and its Opera

What is the life I am leading when I get to write the following?: I just returned from a 24 hour trip to Milan, scheduled for the express purpose of attending the opera at La Scala. I’ll say it again, I’m a lucky lucky girl.

To be fair, I did spend 8 hours in the library on Friday on a perfect, sunny Roman day writing papers in Italian. I’m not saying that I deserved La Scala, but I am saying that I needed it.

Milan. So, I was prepared to not like Milan. Those who talk about Milan talk about industrialism, fashion, the big city, etc. I love Rome for its charm, for its mismatched buildings, the erosion, the colored shutters, the cobblestones (most times my feet disagree), the tiny roads. Milan, the Industrial North, fast-paced, commercial. I was poised to meet something that I didn’t quite like. I had preconceptions. Unconscious misconceptions.

The first thing Katie and I noticed about Milan: the size of the streets. Something so un-Italian, the streets are huge. Multiple lanes, paved with large pavers, these streets look like the autoban compared to the windy Rome one-ways. And huge streets allow Euro monster cars. I mean, we’re taking 4 doors. We’re talking station wagons.

The public transpo runs on time. Trams, buses, subways, taxis. Organization, so novel.

We found our hostel and made a beeline (if a tram can beeline) for the duomo. This huge, Gothic basilica is the architectural gem of Milan. The edifice almost looks like a snowflake for all its white marble spires. The inside is dauntingly dark and gothic. Its massive columns make the incorruptible saints in the side aisles look like well-preserved ants. Its impressive in the I-don’t-want-to-be-here-at-night way.

Next to the Duomo is the Galleria. Here Prada and the like find shelter. Same with over-priced gelato and wide-eyed tourists. The ceiling is a windowed arch. We’re far from the coffered ceiling of the Pantheon. The Galleria feels open and light and new.

We walked down the fashion streets, window shopping, people watching. We strolled past Milan’s castle. We ate foccacia – this is what you do up north. And then, we did what we came to do. We opera-ed.

Yes, I’m making it a verb, because it takes well-planned action. To properly opera, you must participate in several steps. Here, I’ll give you a guide:

1. Get dressed. Opera is fancy. You need to be fancy. Self-explanatory. Note the irony of two girls getting dressed up in a hostel and then riding the tram to the city center, dressed in little dresses at 5:30pm in the afternoon. The sun is still out. So was the judgement. Katie and I made sure to have a loud conversation about Giuseppe Verdi on the tram. No, people, we are not streetwalkers.

2. Aperitivo. Opera is long. Read, sustenance. You need to be a bit sated going into the marathon. Milan is know for Aperitivo, where you buy a drink and then gain access to a huge spread of appetizers. This is the best time to read&discuss your opera synopsis.

3. Champagne in the Opera foyer.

4. Finding your seats (sometimes tricky).

5. THE SHOW. Verdi’s Macbeth was amazing. La Scala’s adaptation featured 1940s fascist undertones, costume, and projection. The voices were amazing, and the staging, unique. Also, the third act included one of the most beautiful pieces of dance or movement that I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I describe it as the winged victory of the Louvre alive.

6. Post-show amazement. Lots of “unreal,” “unbelievable,” and “amazing”s.

7. It’s now 11pm. You’re hungry and emotionally exhausted. The only answer is risotto. Go find it. Risotto alla Milanese and dessert consumed, your La Scala experience is complete.

I cannot believe the opportunities that come my way sometimes. I will remember yesterday’s outings for a long, long time. Milan surprised me much like the adaptation of Verdi. Milan is like an adaptation of Italy. Still Italian, but transposed onto a functioning, cosmopolitan city. Strange.

Brava weekend. Live long and support the arts.

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