Milan’s Teatro dei Filodrammatici: a story of Italian excellence
by Rino Alessi
Teatro dei Filodrammatici is one of Italy’s major centers for dramatic arts, and one of the oldest cultural institutions in Milan. Located at the heart of Lombardy’s largest city, just a stone’s throw from La Scala, it was first designed by neoclassical architect Luigi Canonica and built between 1798 and 1800, although the current structure is the result of radical renovations carried out in the 20th century.
In 1796, Napoleon entered Milan and many buildings belonging to religious institutions were cleared, including the Collegio de’ Nobili – which became the headquarters of the Patriotic Theater Society. Later, the Collegio returned to the Barnabites and the Society had to find a new location. Before it was expanded, the new venue had one thousand seats and was divided into four areas; there were no box seats, in compliance with the new ideas on theater inspired by the French Revolution.
Teatro dei Filodrammatici was named after the Academy of the same name, which owns it, in 1805. Some of Italian literature’s outstanding figures were chairs or members of the academy, including Vincenzo Monti, Carlo Porta, Ugo Foscolo, and Cesare Beccaria, not to mention the author of “Like Falling Leaves”, Giuseppe Giacosa, who was a close collaborator of Puccini.
While his works triumphed at La Scala, for a certain period Giuseppe Verdi was director and taught harpsichord here. More recently, Ernesto Calindri taught and was director of the Academy.
After 1814, once the Austrians took back Milan, prose and music alternated at Teatro dei Filodrammatici. Milan at the time was a Mecca for composers, who aspired to La Scala and the Canobbiana – known today as Teatro Lirico – but happily settled on the Carcano and the Filodrammatici for less exacting works.
In 1904, the original structure was replaced by an Art Nouveau building by architects Laveni and Avati. The floral stucco and iron decorations are still visible on the façade, while the interior was partly destroyed during World War II bombings and completely rebuilt in the 1960s by architect Luigi Caccia Dominioni.
A few years later, in the late 1960s, four graduates of the Academy were entrusted with managing the theater: Lorenzo Grechi, Riccardo Pradella, Paride Calonghi and Miriam Crotti, who formed a cooperative. They were not to pay rent, but only to allow the use of the house for a few of the school’s yearly performances, and guarantee professional opportunities to the best students in the Academy.
Actor and dubber Gianni Quillico, who is famous in Italy for lending his voice to Spider Man in a popular 1980s’ cartoon series, remembers, “I joined the cooperative in 1973, and was offered the leading part in Pirandello’s ‘But It’s Nothing Serious’ almost immediately.
“Between actors and specialists there were about twenty members, and all of us were paid the same. The season went from October to May, and we staged three titles a year; we performed each one for a month and a half, then went on tour in Lombardy and Veneto. The theater’s charter highlighted the Italian repertoire: Pirandello and Goldoni had major importance, but we also worked on lesser-known works such as Giraud’s ‘The Tutor Embarrassed’ in Roberto Guicciardini’s staging and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ by Rosso di San Secondo, directed by Giancarlo Sbragia. We also performed Ugo Betti’s ‘Corruzione a palazzo di giustizia’, while Massimo Castri tackled Pirandello’s uncelebrated ‘La ragione degli altri’.
“Because we focused particularly on Italian contemporary works, Enrico D’Amato staged Squarzina’s ‘Tre quarti di luna’ and Silvano Piccardi chose Gigi Lunari’s ‘Il senatore Fox’ and ‘Tre sull’altalena’. On one very special occasion, Parini’s ‘The Day’ was performed almost entirely between morning, afternoon and evening, in the box seats’ foyer at La Scala.
“In 200, when Emilio Russo was appointed artistic director, Vittorio Alfieri’s ‘Filippo’ was presented for a handful of performances, honoring what had been the Patriotic Theater Society’s debut, with Umberto Ceriani in the leading role”.
Today, theater cooperatives are gone and the house is back under the management of the Academy, like at its foundation; its activity is split between a theatrical season titled “Tradizione e Tradimenti” (“Tradition and Betrayals”) and a series of Sunday concerts.