(Reuters) - Here are some facts about La Scala, Milan, one of the world’s most famous opera houses, as it’s new season opens on Wednesday.
* Teatro alla Scala was founded under the auspices of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria to replace the Royal Ducal Theatre, which was destroyed by fire in February 1776.
* Designed by neoclassical architect Giuseppe Piermarini, La Scala opened on August 3, 1778 with Antonio Salieri’s opera “Europa Riconosciuta”. The same opera was performed when the house re-opened after its three-year closure ended in 2004.
* In 1839, La Scala staged “Oberto Conte di San Bonifacio”, its first opera by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), whose name is linked more than any other to the history of La Scala. In 1842, “Nabucco” was held, the first real triumph of Verdi’s career.
* In 1926, Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957), one of the most celebrated conductors of all time, conducted the premiere of Giacomo Puccini’s “Turandot”, considered one of the last great Italian operas to be written.
* In 1943, during World War Two, a bomb crashed through the roof of the auditorium. La Scala reopened three years later, with an historic concert conducted by Toscanini.
* In 1986, Riccardo Muti was named musical director. He reintroduced some of Verdi’s best-loved works including “Rigoletto” and “La Traviata”.
* After the 2001 season’s opening night, the house closed for a three-year renovation. It added 214 seats to the carmine-and-gilt hall. The backstage was demolished and replaced with a bigger stage and new equipment to hold scenery for three operas at the same time.
* Famous singers who have performed at La Scala include Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli, Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano, Renata Tebaldi, Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo and Angela Gheorghiu.
* La Scala’s season always starts on December 7, the feast day of Milan’s patron saint, Saint Ambrose.
* Barenboim was named “maestro” at La Scala in 2006, filling the void left by Riccardo Muti’s exit as music director. He is conducting the opening night performance on December 7 of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” with Peter Mattei in the lead role of the Don and opera star Anna Netrebko as Donna Anna.
* As in previous years, the opening night will be shown live in Italian cinemas, on state Television and in cinemas all over the world.