If you can get hold of, or afford, a ticket to La Scala, opera-lovers worldwide will hold you in higher esteem. When the new season begins on 7 December (the feast of Sant'Ambrogio, Milan's much-loved patron saint), paparazzi and TV crews descend to catch shots of the fur- and jewel-heavy ladies and their suave male companions.
The opera house takes its name from Santa Maria della Scala, the 1381 church that once stood on the same site. It was commissioned by Regina della Scala, wife of Bernabò Visconti, but torn down in 1776, when the Palazzo Reale was damaged by a fire, leaving the city with no principal theatre. Giuseppe Piermarini was given the task of building a replacement, and what a fine job he did: La Scala has a massive stage, 2,015 seats and some of the best acoustics in the world, and it draws in some of the very finest performers.
It was inaugurated in 1778 with an opera by Salieri; many of the best-known works of Puccini, Verdi, Bellini and others premièred here. La Scala is also a significant symbol of national pride. Destroyed by heavy bombing during World War II, it was swiftly rebuilt after the war's close and reinaugurated in 1946 with an opera conducted by one of Milan's favourites, Arturo Toscanini. Three years of refurbishments were completed in late 2004, although controversy about the directorship continues.
The museum, created in 1913, gives a taste of La Scala's splendour. Visitors can see a room dedicated to portraits of the greats, from Puccini to Caruso, and stand inside boxes 13, 15 and 18 for a peek at the splendid auditorium itself.