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!
Want a Guide?
- Verona Opera & Wine Tour
- This tour combines two treats that, for many lovers of either, just go together beautifully. It's not one for traveling on the cheap, but you get to do it in style - four nights in a four-star hotel minutes from the amphitheatre as well as trips to three wine estates, with lunches included, plus of course great tickets to the opera. US$2,260 per person.
- Verona Opera Festival Tour
- This company offers a week-long trip taking in three-night stays in both Venice and Verona, with tickets to an opera on one night as well as train tickets and tours and excursions to places like Lake Garda along the way. Comes in basic (US$1,700 per person) and first class (US$2,000) versions, with a 10% discount for those traveling in threes.
- Verona Opera Festival Ticket & Hotel Tour
- This tour offers a much more affordable option, with the package limited to hotel stay plus a ticket to the opera. Based on two people staying three nights in a four-star hotel plus tickets to Aida, it's US$500 per person.
Places to Eat
- Bottega del Vino
- This Italian restaurant is definitely one for wine lovers - it's got a cellar with 80,000 bottles, the city's largest collection. A few streets away from the opera, it's the perfect place to sit and graze before the show. Entrees around US$37, with wines by the glass starting at just US$3.
- Brek Ristorante
- This self-service restaurant is a great place for a quick but tasty lunch in the centre of the Old Town Piazza Bra, with a great view of the Arena from the outdoor seating for good measure. Mains up to US$12.
- La Ginestra
- This top-quality restaurant offers an affordable quality buffet lunch (US$31) and elegant dinner in refined surroundings. Attached to the four-star Hotel Leopardi, it has a long history of culinary excellence.
Recommended Places to Stay
- Hotel Torcolo
- This boutique hotel, with just 19 rooms, is probably the cheapest one you'll find within such short walking distance to the Arena. During the festival, double rooms are US$220, including buffet breakfast served out on the square.
- Accademia Hotel
- If you are doing it in style, then this is the hotel for you. Neatly nestled among the Old Town, the Arena and Romeo and Juliet's balcony, this four-star hotel with classic décor makes for a royally good break. Doubles are US$382 per night during opera season.
- B&B In The Sun
- Good hostels can be thin on the ground in Verona, so why not try something totally different and stay in a B&B located on the picturesque hills overlooking the city? It is a 30-minute drive from the opera, but room rates are considerably lower - among a number of room types, a four-person room is only US$170 per night.
Additional Places to Stay Nearby
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