During World War II the building at number 2 on Via Rovello, previously owned by the Carmagnola family, is known to the Milanese for having contained the Cinema Broletto and, from September 1943 to April 1945, more grimly, for having housed the Ettore Muti Autonomous Police Legion, the infamous Fascist police facility equipped with cells for solitary confinement and torture chambers.
After the sad chapter of the war and Fascism, in January 1947 the municipal government of Milan, guided by the mayor Antonio Greppi, with Lamberto Jori as alderman of culture and entertainment, decides to put the same spaces to a new use, founding the first established public theater in Italy.
This undertaking is heartily supported by Mario Apollonio, a professor at the Catholic University; Giorgio Strehler, an already famous actor and director; Paolo Grassi, actor, critic, cultural organizer, involved during the war in the Sala Sammartini, where he had met Strehler and staged works by Ernesto Treccani; and Virgilio Tosi, previously on the staff of the Ente Teatrale Italiano. The role played by Nina Vinchi should also be mentioned.
In spite of the urgency and gravity of the problems facing the government of Milan, as the outcome of the long war years, the institutions respond to the appeal and take charge of the management of the Piccolo Teatro della Città di Milano (the theater’s full name), assigning the artistic direction to a commission of experts, including the four original promoters of the initiative.
But the city itself is also ready to make its contribution: the founding trustees also include many personalities from the entrepreneurial bourgeoisie and the professions, along with banks like the Cassa di Risparmio delle Province Lombarde, and companies like Motta and Alfa Romeo.
The Piccolo Teatro, in short, is truly “of the City of Milan,” which adopts the institution, bringing it great ongoing success. The theater, in turn, operates not only to welcome an already erudite audience, but also to create a new one, finding its members above all in the streets and factories, i.e. among the less well educated working classes: if the theater is to have a social and identifying function, as written in the programmatic letter published in the Politecnico in the January-March 1947 issue, it must address the community as a whole.
The curtain is raised for the first time on 14 May that same year: the play is The Lower Depths by Maxim Gorky, directed by Giorgio Strehler, with Armando Alzelmo, Antonio Battistella, Tino Bianchi, Lilla Brignone, Marcello Moretti, Salvo Randone, Gianni Santuccio, Giorgio Strehler, Elena Zareschi, Lia Zoppelli, leading players in many of the subsequent productions.
In May and June the theater presents, all under the direction of Strehler, Les Nuits de la colère by Armand Salacrou, The Mighty Magician by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, and The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni.