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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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Wish you a great Tuesday!