Aida under the Stars

Red dress decorated in a window in Verona
Like Callas | Verona | 2019

Besides my photography and my love for travel, I am a big opera aficionado. There is a perfect place to combine my three passions….Verona. A place where you sit on the warm stone steps of a two thousand years old roman amphitheater on a placid Italian summer night. Listening to the magic music of one of the world’s most popular operas. Aida under the Stars…

Verona is primarily known as the home town of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s medieval star struck lovers that just couldn’t come together, for their families were bitter enemies, their love ending in a sad joint death scene (I won’t go into this, look it up here if you don’t know the story). There is still a Palazzo dubbed “Casa di Giulietta” with Juliets famous balcony, a popular destination for a gazillion of tourists (we visited 17 years ago but didn’t bother this time).

But there is also the ancient Arena di Verona on the Piazza Bra, a roman amphitheater built 30 AD. It is still in use today and site of the annual Verona opera festival. In ancient times, capacity was 30,000 people, while for today’s opera performances the available places are about 15,000. A major earthquake in 1117 almost completely destroyed the structure’s outer ring, except for the so-called “ala”, the “wing” that you can see in the candle-image below and in the last photograph.

With the cheaper tickets one sits on the ancient stone steps in a very relaxed atmosphere, but the lover levels and the arena floor feature more expensive padded seating. But for the real experience you have to sit on the comfortably warm (heated from the day’s blazing sun) stone steps. Make sure to bring a cushion, because 5 1/2 hours can be quite hard (pardon the pun).

Candles lit in the Arena di Verona
Candle in the Wind | Verona | 2019

When entering the arena spectators can pick up a candle from the large unmarked box in the middle of the gate where you go in. These are small candles (like the ones used on birthday cakes) packed in cellophane. The legend goes that there was no electricity in the Arena when the first performance of Aida took place on August 10, 1913. The spectators brought thousands of candles with them “to illuminate the scenery and read the programs”. This tradition of the candles was resurrected in the 1980s by a sponsoring company. Since then they have been providing candles for people sitting on the stone steps. Shortly before the performance begins, an announcer asks to light them. It really creates an almost eerie feeling with all those candles glowing in the dusk as the lights go down and the orchestra starts to play the overture.

Night performance of Aida in the Arena di Verona

The story of Verdi’s Aida is similar sad as Romeo and Juliet’s. Only it is a love triangle. Pharao’s daughter loves Pharao’s general who loves Pharao’s daughter’s slave (in reality a princess captured from a conquered country). And love triangles never have happy ends, be it in real life or in the opera. Long story short (read it here if you like), General and slave find their eternal love on their deathbed, walled-in alive by the jealous daughter.

Night performance of Aida in the Arena di Verona
Under the torches | Verona | 2019

But the story sets only the stage for a bombastic production in the ancient theater, including horses on stage and torch bearers lining the rim and stairs of the Arena. Verdi’s music is incredible beautiful. The 3.5h performance really takes you back to ancient Egypt. An experience The Significant Other and I thoroughly enjoyed (it was our fourth visit to the Arena).

Spectators in front of the Arena di Verona
After Show Talk | Verona | 2019

Photography-wise, I did carry only my little TG-4 into the arena, concerned, that they would not allow my mirrorless system cameras (“professional cameras” are prohibited – although I saw a couple people with bridge cams). With the TG-4 I shot this post’s title image of the fancy red dress in a beautiful shop in Verona’s Old Town (where The Significant Other successfully picked up a few accessories for a wedding we will attend in August). It could have been worn by Maria Callas, who, in my opinion, was the most lyrical soprano ever (I should probably not mention that the typical soprano of today is three times Maria’s size, and I’m not talking height).

But the photographs in the Arena as well as the last one were all taken with my iPhone Xs (which I used a lot during this vacation, but this is a story for another post). But it got the job done to capture impressions from Aida under the stars.

If you want to pick up your camera and are still looking for some fresh inspirations what to shoot, visit my free Learning Center .

Wish you a great Tuesday!


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24 thoughts on “Aida under the Stars

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  1. Ah love love love this. I have only had the pleasure to see the outside of this beautiful arena and I loved Verona. We spent the night there, parked our car and took a train I to Venice. It was such a beautiful setting and I hope to sit on those stairs one day listening and watching the performance of a lifetime. It had to be simply breathtaking. Hugs

  2. It’s good to hear about your evening, Marcus, and to see the photos, too. It sounds like a really magical experience. One thing that impresses me is how dark the sly looks in the last photo – it seems there are hardly any street lights, or not much ambient light, which itself would be a great experience amidst all that culture. Usually any place that has people, has lots of light.

    1. Thanks, Lynn, appreciate your kind words. There still where a lot of street lights, that’s the reason the sky is so dark. Turning down the blacks in post-processing helps as well 🙂

  3. That looks like such an amazing experience, Marcus!! I’m so glad that you were able to capture and share it! 🙂

  4. Such a wonderful post Marcus. I’ve enjoyed reading the history and the photography. I look forward to seeing more of your trip to Italy.

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