Verona is famous for its music and especially its opera, which takes place in the former Roman amphitheater, L’Arena, next to the Piazza Bra in the center of this beautiful city. A venue more renowned for gladiatorial combat and games (ludi), it has been transformed into one of the wonders of the world, with over 50 performances every season running from June to September. The 2012 season includes Don Giovanni, Aida, Carmen, Romeo and Juliette, Turandot and Tosca. 

L’Arena in Verona, Italy

L’Arena in Verona, Italy

Here are some tips that will help you in preparation for the performance you might attend.

Read about more things to do in Italy

Arriving to the opera performance

The sheer vastness of the setting in the huge circular amphitheater packed with 14,000 spectators, all sitting in the open air, creates the most mesmeric of atmospheres. It’s not just the opera itself but the ambiance outside in the piazza and surrounding streets prior to the performance that makes this an unforgettable experience.

Crowds form a line outside the entrances for the unreserved seats, jostling to get the best positions; those who can afford the reserved seats indulge in the expensive restaurants around the piazza while there is a constant throb of excitement as the rich and glitterati arrive in their limousines. Actors dressed as Roman soldiers, Egyptian Pharaohs and Mummies stroll amongst the on-lookers trying to exact a few euros to have their pictures taken.

Warm-up before the show

As 9:00pm starts to approach, everyone moves towards the entrances. Entering the amphitheater is like going to a football match, except that there is no pitch below. Instead, there are rows and rows of seats facing the stage, only for the rich at nearly 200 euros a person. The whole arena is shrouded in light and there is a constant cacophony of noise. Searchlights move amongst the crowd, small candles are lit everywhere and the orchestra in the pits below the stage go through their warm-up routines.

As the magic hour approaches, a figure walks onto the stage with a gong. He is dressed in a top hat and tails and bangs it three times to indicate that the performance starts in three minutes. Everyone quietens down, switches off their phones, turns the anti-flash on to their cameras and waits expectantly for the performance to begin. I had chosen La Traviata, Giuseppi Verdi’s masterpiece.

L'Arena in Verona, Italy. Photo courtesy of walnuthillarts via Flickr.

L’Arena in Verona, Italy. Photo courtesy of walnuthillarts via Flickr.

The beginning of the show

The lights dim, silence descends and the conductor struts across the stage and bows to the audience and everyone claps loudly. Then, the music starts, shadowy figures move into the background and the stage is suddenly covered in light. A huge picture frame fills the stage with men in dinner suits and lavishly attired ladies enjoy a party thrown by the famed courtesan, Violetta ValeryThe suspense is enormous as the sopranoVioletta, emerges and starts to sing. Act I gathers momentum and builds to a crescendo and Violetta lies prostrate. The whole audience cheers, claps and shouts ‘Bravo’ as she bows graciously and exits.

The first of two intervals arrives, people stand and stretch their legs, some disappear quickly in search of the toilets and ushers direct people to the exits.  The opera continues for two further acts with one more interval before midnight arrives and the finale finally comes. Huge roars resound around the amphitheater, Bravo‘ echoes off the marble staircases and everyone stands and applauds. We leave in droves, some for the bars and restaurants in the piazza and others like myself dashing to the hotel on the outskirts. This was a memorable experience and one that I will never forget.

L'Arena Stage in Verona, Italy. Photo Courtesy of Jon Shave via Flickr.

L’Arena Stage in Verona, Italy. Photo Courtesy of Jon Shave via Flickr.

The duration of the performance

If you are thinking of going to the Opera, there are certain things you need to remember. Firstly, if you leave your seat in the middle of the performance to go to the toilet, you will not be allowed back until the next interval. Given that there are only two breaks in the three-hour performance, this can be an expensive way of spending your time. It’s a good idea, therefore, not to over-indulge before the performance. If you do need to go at the interval, remember the toilets are limited and hundreds of spectators descending on them at once can cause a huge logjam.

Secondly, the performance goes on from nine to midnight and the temperature can drop substantially, so ensure you have something warm to wear. Thirdly, indulge in the cushions. Three hours is a long tie to sit on a hard seat and 3 euros will spare you agony. Choose your seat wisely. If you can, avoid the cheap seats at 25 euros and buy the 73 euro reserved seats on the steps. It is a long haul and some comfort helps.

L'Arena in Verona, Italy. Photo courtesy of AroundTuscany via Flickr.

L’Arena in Verona, Italy. Photo courtesy of AroundTuscany via Flickr.

What you can expect

Finally, be prepared for anything. This is an open-air opera after all, and the amphitheater is exposed to elements. in the atmosphere. In my performance, in the middle of Act II, a sudden gust of wind lifted the huge tapestry draping the stage, knocked the table over and almost decapitated the lead tenor with the umbrella stand. Of course everyone laughed, including the lead tenor, but a few minutes later the whole tapestry collapsed in a heap on the stage. To the credit of the performers, they made light of it and carried on as soon as the set had been restored.

It can rain in the performance and often this is torrential. It’s good to keep an eye on the weather reports and be prepared if necessary. You should also bear in mind that there is a predominance of rich, old people in the audience and the incidence of heart attacks, I am told, is quite high. Again, we were treated to the sight of an old man teetering, then falling over and being whisked away by a team of red clad medics.  It was like something out of a Marx brother’s film, but had much more poignancy.

So, treat yourself to a lifetime’s experience. Remember the golden rules and it will be something that will stay with you forever.

© Graham Walker 2012

Originally published by Viator

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