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La Scala Milan – Culture Is A Business, And Italy Is Sitting On A Gold Mine

Beatrice Lessi

Passion is what gives you a 100% Placement Rate

It took my breath away. I am not exaggerating when I say this: spending a day at La Scala Theatre for an interview with  Paola Bisi (head of Communications and External Relationships at Accademia Teatro alla Scala) and a having a tour in the Academy where 1200 young people – artists, artisans and managers – are trained every day,  I saw what I thought didn’t exist: dreams, art, passion and a deep love  for what you do will bring you well paid, interesting and glamorous jobs. Yes: passion as a main criteria, you read well. In a Europe struck by problems and unemployment, really loving something is what top recruiters are looking for.  Culture is a business too, and Italy is sitting on a gold mine. And this doesn’t apply to La Scala’s  ballerinas only. 

La Scala Ballet School Milan

Wig makers are not enough: learn this incredible job for a 100% employment rate. Photo by Sofia Masini.

All The Pictures In This Article Are Taken By Accademia Teatro alla Scala Photography Students

Please take a moment to browse through these beautiful pictures: they are exclusive (copyright by Accademia Teatro alla Scala) and made by students, to students. You won’t be able to see these pictures anywhere else.

La Scala Ballet School Milan

Adagio della Rosa ballet, performed by the Accademia students. Photo by Alessia Santambrogio.

Brand New Jobs From Tradition

 Did you know that if you learn the art of hand-made wigs for the theatre in this Academy you will have 100% rate of employment within a year? And that being a tailor for theatre costumes (costumes in a theatre need to be adapted to any size therefore its designer needs different skills than those requested by a fashion designer) here will also give you a 100% placement rate?  And that when you learn make-up and special effects in this school you can work for theatres and cinema alike, basically in every country where show business is? Since so many shows are photographed and recorded with cameras, today, all costumes and effects need to be as realistic as for a movie – therefore a skill learnt at the Academy is later applicable to both environments.  At the Accademia you learn to make monsters, witches, aliens and anything that fits Hollywood as well.

 Then there are dancers, singers and musicians. Again, they make it to this top school not because of their technique, but mostly thanks to their passion and dreams. 

foto di Siria Chiesa 3

Costume maker: a profession very much in demand. Photo by Siria Chiesa.

Choose Your Dream

 Let’s go one step backward, to see what exactly is offered at the Academy.  It is divided into four departments: Dance, Stage-Lab, Music and Management. 

Schiaccianoci di Frederic Olivieri, Foto 25 ® Alessia Santambrogio

Nutcracker by maestro Frederic Olivieri. Photo: Alessia Santambrogio.


 Ballet is the most ancient and traditional core of the Academia, and is now directed by Frédéric Olivieri. Founded in 1813 and constantly updated, La Scala Ballet School  has since produced an incredible series of top artists. The reason for this steady – and worldwide- excellence is obviously a combination of factors, but if we have to boil it down to three reasons, then they would probably be: 1. The way students are selected (looking mostly for their inner drive and passion, not for their technical abilities  or their curriculum); 2. The level of teachers and the general environment around the pupils (tutors following and knowing every single student; teachers who can see the students’ full potential and work to let it bloom; an inspiring atmosphere of top stars and professionals to interact with) ; 3. Because the students constantly work, work, work. There isn’t theory only here – once the students are out, they are full professionals with a working experience and good contacts in the real business world. 

 The evening before my interview I was told that the students would do a show to raise money for a non-profit organizationEY Italia onlus. I somehow expected…How shall I put it? A nice, cute students show. And indeed, the dancers that came on stage were very young and inspired tenderness. Not so after five minutes of dancing. The maturity and ability of representing emotions and the most demanding choreographies, their personality and capacity to get the audience’s attention was ageless – I almost had to concentrate to see that they were “just” youngsters.  

Indeed, Paola Bisi told me that the way to evaluate an applicant or a student is very often checking where the audience’s gaze goes when he or she enters the stage. Good dancers simply attract people’s eyes and they are those who get recruited. 

Scuola di Ballo, foto di Barbara Buschiazzo

Entering the dance school is like entering the students’s dreams: be respectful and in awe. Photo: Barbara Buschiazzo.

Performing regularly in the main Italian theatres and abroad also allows dancers of the La Scala Ballet School to become really familiar with the job, prove themselves while still studying  and  establish relationships which will often end up in real contracts later on. The Calendar of the Academia is so busy that the students are constantly preparing performances.  Primary school students go to school in the morning, dance in the afternoons and do homework in the evening. High School pupils dance mornings and afternoons then go to school from 5pm to 9pm. On top of that, they prepare all performances. Only a real passion for ballet can make them endure the hard work and the long hours. 


 The labs are great to visit and the backstage feeling of watching how tricks and effects are made is magic. The skill and precision of details that these future set designers, costume technicians, make-up artists, hairdressers, wigs makers, toolmakers, machinists, mechanics, carpenters, electricians, lighting designers, audio technicians, photographers and videographers all learn here are impressive and fun to watch too. These students learn by doing like the Renaissance artisans learnt from their maestro, but they also use technology and all the latest techniques for creating their art.   

Al lavoro nei Laboratori di scenografia del Teatro alla Scala, foto di Sonia Santagostino--

Everything is hand made – are these artisans or artists? Photo: Sonia Santagostino.

 I especially love fashion and enjoyed the tailoring department a lot. Dressmaking here is very different from fashion designing, because the costumes need to be adapted again and again to be worn by different artists who can have very different sizes.  

I was also stunned by the craftship and patience requested by wig-making. I didn’t know that this job was so in demand, and that theatres all over the world can’t find enough artisans working for them with real hair, pinned to a net one by one and costing about 1000 euro per Kilo. Fake hair don’t have the same beautiful effect under the stage lights, cannot be washed or changed in style – the best product by far is still a traditional real hair wig.  


Paint on any surface at the Accademia. Photo: Adele Neotti


 Founded by Riccardo Muti in 1997 , this department reflects the heritage of the “Cadets of La Scala” realized by Arturo Toscanini in 1950 to hand down the Italian lyric opera tradition.  

Not only is the opera course free of charge, but the students get a scholarship too. Opera singers are the most international group of the Academy and prepare pupils from all over the world to become Ambassadors of Italy, Italian culture and Italian excellence. 

25 novembre – Milano, Sala Verdi del Conservatorio CONCERTO PER LASTAGIONE DELLA SOCIETÀ DEL QUARTETTO DI MILANO Fabio Luisi, direttore Chiara Isotton, soprano Orchestra dell'Accademia Teatro alla Scala Programma: Arnold Schönberg, Verklärte Nacht; Gustav Mahler, Sinfonia n. 4

Orchestra dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala, Fabio Luisi conducting. Photo: Sofia Masini.

The Orchestra Musicians  course is also free and granting a scholarship. Once more, the students work and prepare real shows with the best professionals around, from both La Scala Theater and other international Theatres, like l’Opera in Paris. 

 There is also a course for opera coaches/assistant conductors. They assist the director and replace the conductor, directing the testing stage  during rehearsals; and they also work as master of the stage, following the indications of direction marked on the score, giving signals to singers, chorus, dancers, mime artists and technicians. 

 A Course for Orchestra Musicians, for Chamber Ensemble and the famous Children Chorus complete the offer. 

The Accademia Teatro alla Scala Orchestra. Photo Brescia e Amisano © Teatro alla Scala

The Accademia Teatro alla Scala Orchestra. Photo: Brescia and Amisano.


 I was mostly surprised by my talk to Andrea Grassi, coordinator and teacher for the Accademia Master in Performing Arts, and Federica Pozzi, tutor of the management department . After all, management is mostly about numbers, isn’t it?  

Not really. 

Foto in studio di Allegra Lucarelli

A studio photo by Allegra Lucarelli: excellence of both dancer and photographer.

When I asked Mr Grassi and Mrs Pozzi how candidates are selected for the courses, for example, once more I was told: we look for people’s inner fire, their passions, their dreams, their ideals, their love for art! They have to manage money but also to create ideas and culture. Some people have a “light in their eyes” and speak with such a enthusiasm or so intimately about their dreams that its immediately obvious that they will be accepted.  

 I asked if there is a specific group that ends up here. I was told that there are women who go back to study and work after years of children break, young people who have never been abroad in their life, people who left a very good career to look for something more meaningful, people who are struggling with an illness…all sort of people and backgrounds.  

 The course’s aim is to prepare professionals capable of integrating cultural knowledge and artistic skills in economic and management. The Humanistic approach and ideals will need to go together with  an efficient management of public and private money, and with the ability to raise new funds. 

 The Accademia Master of Arts is considered to be among the most qualified in the field of performing arts, especially for the caliber of the teaching and for the quality of internship opportunities that are offered to students at prestigious institutions and companies. Once more, students are working in hands-on courses, in real theatres and with top professionals who share part of their work with them. The course lasts 18 months, and 6 months are spent abroad or in a very famous Italian institutions. 

A great institution. Photo by Benedetta Pitscheider.

A great institution. Photo by Benedetta Pitscheider.

 At the end of my talk to Paola Bisi, who showed me around and explained a bit of La Scala to me, I asked her what she enjoys mostly about her job. Her eyes sparkled.  

 I am privileged because I can walk in this theatre every day and meet so many people who represent excellence. The greatest artists are always the most humble and friendly ones, and the best listeners. One can really grow as a person, in such a working environment. But what I absolutely enjoy most, by far, is that I am surrounded by the “best youth”. Look at their stamina, passion, and dreams. The future is in education and in these passionate, unstoppable, hardworking young men and women.

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