Aida in the Verona Arena – A Teaser
When we were first planning our 10 weeks in Italy, the only early fixed agenda item was the desire to see Romeo and Juliette in the Verona Arena. My romantic husband made sure we planned around this!
We had toured the Verona Arena on a previous visit to Verona and were awed at the thought of seeing a show inside this ancient venue. This Roman amphitheatre was built in AD 30 and stands today with only exterior changes from an earthquake in AD 1117 which removed the exterior casing of white and pink limestone. The interior stone shell remains with only the addition of proper seating in the lower levels.
We had bought our tickets to see Romeo and Juliette online in advance to ensure we got good seats (including paying a 30€ handling charge and another 5€ cost to get an electronic ticket that we printed). When booking our tickets, we debated the stone steps, a simple chair or the nicer padded chairs in the lower sections and finally splurged for padded chairs. Figuring that we wouldn’t understand a word of the Italian dialogue, we wanted to have a great comfortable view of the action.
When we went to the Verona Arena ticket office to confirm that we only needed the tickets we had printed at home, we found there were still tickets for that nights’ show of Aida. While Romeo and Juliette would be an iconic, romantic thing to see in the ancient arena, an opera would give us a true acoustic experience. For this show we were not breaking the bank again, so we decided to try the stone stairs.
Being occasional martyrs (and cheap ones at that), we didn’t buy, bring or even rent cushions, although we did get to use one for the last act when the people beside us departed early leaving their cushions behind. The hard stone seats would have been bearable had we been able to lean back as many others seemed to be doing (but we had people right behind us stretching out their legs). Next time we will select steps that let you lean back (last row or first row seemed to be structured differently) and cushions will not be optional.
As the show started, all around the arena the light of candles flickered. This seemed to be a tradition, with little birthday cake candles sold on entry.
Before the show and during intermission, roving attendants called out to sell souvenirs, water, beer and of course wine. Having had wine with dinner before the show, I passed on more alcohol, sure I would make an even funnier spectacle of myself getting up and down the steep, high stone steps. Trips to stand in the long lines for the ladies bathrooms were always an adventure.
The opera went very late – starting at almost 9pm and 4+ hours in total with 4 acts, 3 full intermissions (with one longer one to fix a canopy that wouldn’t rise) and two short breaks to change scenery. While we hung in right to the end because I assured David that there was a spectacular ending, it turned out that Act 2 was the big act to see with horses and a wonderful ballet scene.
This was our first outdoor opera ever so we had no basis for comparison, but the voices were strong and filled with the emotion of the story. Even though the music was all in Italian, it was easy to catch the major drift of the story.
The arena acoustics were great, especially for a place built in AD 30 with NO sound system. Even up in the nosebleed section the sound carried well (if not maybe as wonderful as in the lower seats). The sight lines seemed great from all seats. It was amazing to see the interesting use of minimal scenery to signify changes in location.
Romeo and Juliette in the Verona Arena – Could It Be More Romantic?
We returned for our second night to see Romeo and Juliette. Having paid a lot for “good” seats (over $400 Canadian after all fees), we were a bit disappointed when we finally settled into our seat. We had chosen to be not on the floor, so got a good view but the seats were not angled towards the front, so the spacing was cramped and we needed to sit sorta sideways in our seats. There was a nominal cushion on the seat and seat back although the butt cushion was not much better than we could have rented. Some smart people added cushions. Luckily I had got an aisle seat so I could stretch a bit. The biggest advantage was the seat back but we could have sat in cheaper seats 2 rows back and got seat backs and bought cushions. All things to remember for a return visit!
The Aida sets were all gone replaced by a large scaffold type set that rotated in multiple ways for different settings.
In general the set was minimal except for the strange use of moving scenery or props, like the car with wings that brought the Montague clan to the ball and gratuitously spouted fire at one point. Juliette’s balcony was housed in a shiny metal tower while the friars church had a similar shiny metal bejewelled ball.
Costumes were generally period design with colours that distinguished the feuding families with only the shiny metal skirts for Juliette being a bit odd (one for the ball and a two storey dress as her wedding gown).
The show was all done in song or sing song opera all in French. While I caught a word or two (David a little more), I mostly let the sound wash over me. Having refreshed myself with the plot lines for each of the 5 acts, I could follow along (wish I had done that for Aida). There were two 20 minute intermissions making it midnight before we fought the crowd out. In general the singing voices were ok but Juliette was fantastic with a strong, full range.
Seeing both an opera and then Romeo and Juliette in the Verona Arena was an indulgent splurge and a great way to begin our 10 weeks in Italy. I would probably never pay for good seats again but I would consider seats in the upper stone balcony under the stars – if I got the right seat that let me lean back and got cushions. I might even risk wine under the stars (if David spotted me for my walks up and down the steep stairs). It might not make me an opera lover but it would be a great way to taste test occasionally.
Have you been to the Verona Arena to see a show? Which show? What seats would you recommend?