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Listen to a Melodious Masterpiece in Verona, the Home of Opera

Published by Bill Lehane, Writer

Country: Italy

The Experience

To take in the glorious splendour of a classic opera, there's no better venue than an original open-air amphitheatre in the heart of Italy. Built in the second century, Verona's Arena di Verona is the third largest Roman amphitheatre in the world. It was originally the home of a very different form of entertainment: gladiatorial battles, jousts and other tournaments. While partially damaged in an earthquake in the 12th Century, the venue remains fundamentally intact almost two thousand years since its creation. The Verona Arena has been home to opera and other dramatic performances since the 18th Century, and stands among the most well preserved venues of its size and vintage in the world.

Located right in the centre of the city's old town, the Arena di Verona boasts an authentic atmosphere of collective cultural enjoyment that few venues can rival. Each year since 1913, the Verona Opera Festival has delighted opera lovers and newcomers alike with classics like Nabucco, Madame Butterfly, Aida, and many others all summer long. The Festival alone attracts as many as half a million visitors each year, and the Verona Arena operas (which seat some 20,000 people) boast a carnival atmosphere quite unlike your average opera experience. Be sure to pick up a candle on your way in, as spectators light these when all the lights in the venue are extinguished just as the performance begins—creating an enchanting atmosphere that sets the tone for a magical summer evening.

Each performance features an enormous cast, and quite often there are as many as 100 actors, with another 50 playing in the orchestra. The costumes, poetry and pageantry that are packed into each opera are a sight not to be missed. The set designs are equally spectacular, with live animals and life-sized props being an integral part of many of the works.

If you're planning to take an unreserved seat, try to arrive a little early to get the best view, as the opera generally begins around 9 p.m. If you show up just before the performance, chances are you'll be sitting on the very top row (aka: nosebleeds). One of the most charming aspects of seeing an opera in Verona is its organic sound. Its inbuilt acoustics are so good that no microphones are used in any of the performances. So if you're seated way at the back, don't worry. The singers' beautiful arias and enchanting choruses ring out around the venue and out into the summer air.

If the performance is particularly popular with the audience, you may also be treated to a “bis,” or encore of the opera's most famous solo or chorus. And no matter which opera you go to, by the end of the majestic show, you'll have enjoyed one of the world's true, great cultural experiences.

When to Go to Verona Arena Opera

Half a dozen major airlines fly to Rome from North America, but you can't fly directly to Verona itself. You can get a cheap flight from the Italian capital to Verona International Airport; or better still, a picturesque three-hour train ride from central Italy to the north for around US$100.

The Verona Opera Festival starts in mid-June each year and runs until the end of August, and 2010 sees the Festival celebrate its 88th year. The more expensive seats can be booked online, but if you're going to opt for the unreserved seating then you will have to buy tickets upon arrival, which may be for a few nights later, depending on availability.

Odds n' Ends

For the best seats on the floor before the stage, tickets to the opera don't come cheap (the gold stall is US$270 per person). But the experience is surprisingly affordable if you're willing to take a stone seat at the uppermost rear of the Verona amphitheatre. For those under 26 or over 65, these unreserved seats are only US$25 per person on weekday evenings.

Cushions are available for hire for those people sitting on the stone seats, but a sweater or jacket provides about the same level of comfort at no extra charge. Also note that while a range of beverages is available on sale during the show, you won't find bottled water. You can get a refund in the unlikely event of a rained-out performance. However, if it starts to rain during the show, the performance may end before the opera is concluded.

To see the inside of the Verona Arena during the day, most areas of the amphitheatre are accessible to the public. Tickets are only US$4.50 per person, and if you show up on the first Sunday of the month, admission is free!

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