Teatro alla Scala
To great traffic-stopping fanfare, La Scala opens each season on patron saint’s day, 7 December, but rightfully so as it is not just the greatest opera house in Milan, but possibly the planet. The streets are thronged with TV crews, police, well-wishers, and often animal rights activists (since La Scala’s guests usually resemble a mink farm on the run). Built in 1778 for Empress Maria Theresa of Austria by the neoclassical architect Piermarini (who also designed the Palazzo Reale) and recently extensively restored, it remains superlatively sumptuous – all in red, gold and cream with an unfeasibly large chandelier (that takes 365 lamps) under a magnificently stuccoed dome. Six tiers of stalls with red velvet seats, jewelled curtains and gilt stucco run around the horseshoe auditorium that holds 2,030 guests. It’s usually fully booked up to two months in advance and black market tickets trade for thousands (original cost around ?160). The ticket office in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II sometimes has cancellations, hotel concierges might ‘know a friend’ and touts loiter in the piazza. Thwarted fans should visit its museum next door, which gives auditorium access between rehearsals (as well as exhibiting operatic paraphernalia).