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Italian Opera Take 2: Verona Arena

Posted on August 19th, 2006 filed in Travelogues    |   

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While La Scala is the ultimate connoisseur italian indoor opera venue, Verona Arena is the must-experience-open-air venue for all including those non opera fans. It is not only listed on every touristic guide of Verona but also ranks high on almost every must-do list in Italy. It is now accepted that if you want to attend to one opera in your life, then you must do it at the Verona Arena.

The Arena is a roman amphitheater in Verona, an ancient city located one hour west of Venice and famous for its being the stage of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliette’ (More on that in a later post). The arena is almost 2000 years old and for centuries has been the mecca for lavish games and art productions.

Each opera season runs mostly in July and August and includes 6 opera productions. These change from year to year with the exception of one, Aida, which plays every year. Accordingly, it is recommended that this particular one be seen.

The Arena holds 30,000 spectators and seats range from center front (pontrinissimo) to unreserved stone steps (Gradinata ridotta) with pricing reflected accordingly ranging from 170 euros to 20 euros each. Reserved tickets must be purchased in advance as they tend to sell out early while unreserved seats on the stones are sold on performance day.

As a typical performance is outdoors, and as it usually stretches to more than 3 hours, many in the know bring their blankets with them. For added comfort, stone seaters get pillows.

The opera usually starts at 8 pm. Patrons start filling the nearby piazza starting 6 pm to enjoy a pre-performance dinner and just gaze at the massive number of people passing by. Be prepared however to pay $$$$ for not that great food. Street vendors approach diners with the opera lyrics (libretti). I grabbed one od Aida for 5 euros and refreshed my memory with the story . This ended up being a good move as Aida is in Italian and there are no subtitles at the Arena.

Starting 7:30 pm, seating starts and if you are sitting upfront, you are treated to a parade of luxury and elegance while a more relaxed dress code abounds at the steps.

What strikes you most as you watch Aida is how lavish the production is. The props are massive, the stage humongous, and the cast is undoubtedly the largest cast I have ever seen for a single opera production, and I have attended more than 200. You are immediately transcended back in time of sphinxes, pyramids, egyptian artifacts, and a myriad of pharaohs’ era costumes.

The most impressive however is the arena’s acoustics. It was quite amazing to watch this production unveil in this massive venue without a single microphone. All tenors and sopranos use their natural voice to reach 30,000 spectator without any amplification whatsoever. Quite amazing.

There is a short break between different acts. Vendors walk down the isles with refreshments and snacks.

A must-do on the post performance day is to stroll at Verona’s main piazza next to the amphitheater and observe the giant stage artifacts being shuttled out of stage and laid outside the arena. The sheer size of these is indicative by itself of the magnitude of the production. And where else would you see a crane ferrying a giant pyramid in the skies?

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2 Responses to “Italian Opera Take 2: Verona Arena”

  1. Denise Says:

    I saw Aida in Verona and it was a great experience. We had one of those expensive tickets at front velvet red seat and it was great to sit underneath the stars (hoping it doesn’t rain), next to all well dressed upper class Europeans and watch the famous Aida in a theater that has been frozen in time!

    However, there are a few things that annoyed me;

    First of all, the main actors were really too much overweight. I am not a judgmental person and I have no problem with obese people but when the actors are supposed to exhibit beauty and portray love and passion, physical beauty and lust..well, it was just not working for me and it annoyed me, that the great warrior so strong and handsome was so fat and out of shape…..

    Second of all, it is quite amazing that their voices were heard all over the arena with microphones, but they were still little far and that took away from the strength that you would otherwise feel in an opera so I did not get those chills that I usually get when I hear high notes

    Third of all, it was all in Italian (as it should be) but there were no subtitles, and that also annoyed me because it is hard to keep my interest for 3 hours when I don’t understand what they are singing !

    But I still say it is a must do if you are in Verona, for the set, the decor, the music is wonderful !

  2. Jerome Says:

    My girlfriend and I went to Verona while backpacking in Europe and we actually saw Aida at the arena. I totally agree with you, it is quite the production. Amazing, the costumes, the decor, everything but the arena itself is the most picturesque, dramatic asset to the play….To think it has been built hundreds of years ago and still standing, functioning …amazing….you can feel the history as you sit in this arena, and quite frankly it made me wonder which Number I would be sitting in that particular seat!

    So I recommend it not only for Opera lovers but also for those who wish to be part of history and experience a world wide cultural event!

    ps: If you do not want to spend a lot of money, you can get a nice seat at the staircases of the arena and enjoy the show, I too however, recommend a blanket for those seats

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