The theatre’s story begins with Napoleon’s occupation of Milan in 1796. One of the first laws of the French government was to abolish religious schools such as Collegio dei Nobili, ran by the Barnabites, whose aim was to educate the young heirs of Milanese noble families; the school had a small theatre, too. The space was later assigned to a group of actors (Compagnia dei Giovani Repubblicani) that established the Teatro Patriottico Society.
The new company debuted with Guglielmo Tell by Giacomo Rossini, in the presence of Napoleon, and the society quickly gained success as a company performing modern plays. After the Leoben armistice in 1798, the Barnabites got the Collegio dei Nobili back and the Giovani Repubblicani Company commissioned a new structure to Luigi Canonica who re-elaborated Piermarini and Pollack’s plans: the new theatre had over 1000 seats with four orders of loggias and without daises. When Napoleon was made king of Italy in 1805, the theatre was renamed Teatro dei Filodrammatici, with shows on Fridays, the Teatro alla Scala’s weekly closing day.
The theatre’s original structure was replaced by an Art-Nouveau building in 1904 (we can still see it partially) and was restored (between 1960 and 1970) after the bombings during World War II by architect Luigi Caccia Diminioni. The Teatro dei Filodrammatici has been run since 2010 by Accademia dei Filodrammatici that, in addition to the shows, organizes events, exhibitions and lectures.