Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Opera Review: Aida at the Verona Arena

By dumb luck or Divine providence, we happened to come to Verona on the opening night of Aida as part of the 90th annual opera festival. The festival is held at the Roman arena n the heart of town. It was an opportunity to use the Arena for its designed purpose--to see an amazing spectacle with thousands upon thousands of other enthusiasts.

Buying the ticket was tricky for me. I couldn't find a box office while wandering around the Arena. Back at our hotel, the concierge was able to call up and get one of the few remaining tickets available in the general seating area. Which was good, because the best seats require proper attire, which we hadn't brought with us on this trip. I was up with the plebes in the high seats.

The stairs up to section F

The view from section F

So yeah, my seat was sort of behind the stage. I could see quite easily into the orchestra pit and had a preview of every character coming on stage from the back. Some came in from the wings, which were in front of us. Still, it was easy to see and hear. The crowd was excited and enthusiastic.

The audience (also, this was about 9:10 p.m.!)

I had been warned by my wife that the seating is the original Roman stone seats, so cushions are recommended. Patrons can rent a cushion from the Arena for four euros. I wound up buying a cushion from one of the vendors just outside for three euros.


When the opera started, an announcement asked all the patrons who were given candles to light them according to the ongoing tradition at the Arena. It was a beautiful moment, uncaptured by my camera. Later I took a picture of the crowd.

During an intermission

The opera started at 9:15. With four acts and three intermissions, it lasted until 1:30. Luckily my cushion served me well. As did the plot description I picked up from the hotel. I was able to read what happened in each act before seeing it, which is helpful when the opera is not in your native tongue.

The story follows two young lovers in ancient Egypt. A young warrior named Radames hopes to be named commander of the Egyptian forces for the imminent war with Ethiopia. He also is in love with Ethiopian slave girl Aida, who is really the captured daughter of the Ethiopian king though the Egyptians are unaware of this fact (though that's why the Ethiopians are attacking). Radames does wind up in command of the forces and catches the eye of Pharoah's daughter Amneris. So we have the love triangle.

Complications come after Radames's victory. The Ethiopian king happens to be among the war captives, though again the Egyptians are clueless. The king gets Aida to discover Egypt's next battle plans from her lover. He takes the information and runs back to Ethiopia. Radames's betrayal is discovered and he does not defend himself since he feels guilty for having given up the information. His punishment is to be buried alive. Aida, true to her love, sneaks into the vault where Radames is sealed up, so they die together while Pharoah's daughter weeps for her lost love.

The staging was quite spectacular. In addition to the 50-foot high obelisks and other gigantic pieces of the set, the cast must have been around 200 people. There were also four live horses and dozens of children participating. The various ceremonies when, for example, Radames is chosen, are quite elaborately choreographed. His triumphal return from battle is also spectacular, featuring a five-minute ballet piece by an amazing dancer.

The performance was very enjoyable even if some of the patrons had less endurance than others.

Is this guy more or less rude than the people who left after Act 2 finished?

I am glad that I had the chance to experience Guiseppe Verdi's masterpiece in such a breathtaking setting.

1 comment:

  1. I saw Aida in the Baths of Caracula in Rome. I was in the 4th row thanks to a benefactor. Officially, the opera calls for elephants, but horses are commonly substituted as elephants are less available. Maryellen