The Verona Opera Festival: Following in the Roman Tradition

Stage scenery for the Verona Opera Festival -
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People have sought entertainment at the Arena di Verona since Roman times. Two thousand years ago they travelled from across the Empire to watch gladiators and wild animals fighting to the death, or to marvel at slightly less bloody circus acts and equestrian events. Visitors still pack into the stadium today, but for a quite different type of spectacle: the Verona Opera Festival.

Stage scenery for the Verona Opera Festival -
Props for the opera wait outside the Roman amphitheatre

The Verona Opera Festival, Part of a Long Tradition

It was my second time at the Verona Opera Festival. Ten years ago I saw Aida and Turandot; this time I was here for Tosca and Don Giovanni (possibly my all time favourite opera). The whole town was buzzing with the atmosphere, crowding into the restaurants in the Piazza Bra and swarming around the amphitheatre, waiting for the show to start.

Arena di Verona -
Thousands of people attend the Verona Opera Festival

We took our places in one of the lower tiers of the Arena. Had we been higher up, we’d have been sitting on the original stone seats (you can hire cushions to make them more comfortable). Everyone was given a candle as they entered: the sun was setting and the Arena flickered with thousands of tiny lights.

A candle at the Verona Opera Festival -
Every opera goer is given a candle (don’t forget to take a lighter!)

It felt as if we were part of a long tradition. This is one of the largest Roman amphitheatres in the world, built in AD 30 to accommodate 30,000 people. The Arena continued to host events after the Roman Empire crumbled and even after much of the outer ring was destroyed by an earthquake in 1117. In the Middle Ages there were tournaments and jousting, and (equally popular) public events such as trials and executions. And today crowds are drawn to the rock and pop concerts as well as to the world famous Opera Festival.

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A Magnificent Spectacle

The lights go down, a woman bangs a gong, and the performance is about to begin. All eyes are focused on the stage. This is a magnificent spectacle. Of course the Arena itself is awe-inspiring, but the scenery and the lighting are equally stunning. And the music is pretty good too. Over the hundred or so years of the Festival’s existence it has featured a whole host of big names, including the legendary Maria Callas who made her debut here in 1947. In my opinion the setting works better for some operas than others. Aida is a perennial favourite, its big crowd scenes and choruses filling the stadium. But more intimate operas with fewer characters, or those which do not suit such lavish scenery, are in danger of being dwarfed by their surroundings.

Stage scenery at the Verona Opera Festival -
Stage scenery for Don Giovanni

And you do take your chances with the weather. Last time I went the evenings were cold and I wished I’d packed some warmer clothes. This time it was much hotter… until it started to rain. The first drops appeared just as Tosca was about to begin and the orchestra trooped off (water can damage the instruments). They returned and played a few minutes before leaving again. People appeared as if from nowhere to sell umbrellas and rain capes and it looked for a while as if the performance would be abandoned (and, no, you don’t get your money back if the opera doesn’t run to the end). But we were lucky: the rain stopped and the show went on.

Stage scenery at the Verona Opera Festival
A scene from Tosca

For me it was all part of the experience. I watched the lightning forking across the dark sky above the Arena, a spectacular sight in itself. I thought that it must have been much the same when the Romans were here. Some things haven’t changed much since then.

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15 thoughts on “The Verona Opera Festival: Following in the Roman Tradition”

  1. I saw Tosca there years ago. We did a day trip from a long weekend in Venice. I agree that the spectacle is amazing. No rain for us but very memorable still. I was amazed at how well preserved the amphitheatre was.

  2. What an amazing experience, weather vagaries or not. Isn’t it amazing that people can arrive from no where with things to sell to suit the need. It always puzzles me. I would love to see Aida performed here.

    1. I’m always amazed by the people who pop up on street corners with umbrellas the minute it starts to rain! Aida would be a good opera to see – in my opinion it is one of the ones that works really well in the Arena.

  3. I agree with what you say about the venue being more suited to big audiences and large productions. and agree also that sometimes just being in a historic setting is exciting by itself.

  4. Operas should be seen in arenas like this. The Romans knew how to do it. And you know, too. I am envious of your exoeruence. Four great operas in such magnificent setting!

  5. I’ve only been to Verona on a short stint, but this definitely makes me want to go back for an extensive visit when this spectacle happens, will have to check out the dates on this and thanks for sharing it.

  6. It is so wonderful that instead of being a curious relic, the amphitheatre is being used and enjoyed as it was intended to be so long ago. While I’m not particularly fond of opera, I’d love to take in a performance for the atmosphere. Magical.

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…


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