Back to Arena di Verona

I am back in Verona. It is my third time here, so I think it’s fair to say that by now, Verona is the Italian city I know the best. The old city feels like home: I know the streets, the restaurants, the shops and the supermarket and require no map to find my bearings. What a beautiful city this is, so charming and full of life.

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Every summer, the city hosts the Arena di Verona Opera Festival in the old Roman amphitheatre, the Arena….it’s been doing so for 101 years!

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Verona is also home to the hottest summers in Italy, and today was no exception: 32 degrees at 7 pm! Tonight I went to see Turandot. The specificity of this festival is that, unless you book premium tickets for the armchairs set up in the middle of the Arena for the event, you get to play Roman for the evening and sit on the ancient stone steps. There is also no seating arrangement for the steps, which get filled on a first come, first sat basis. In practice, this means that if you want a good location on the lower steps, you pack a mini-picnic, bring drinks (but not in glass bottles) and come in early. The doors open at 7 and the good seats are taken by 7:30! The performance usually begins at 9! So, by the time the performance starts, you’ve already been simmering under the hot sun for close to 2 hours.

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It was the ‘prima’ for this production of Turandot tonight, and Franco Zeffirelli, who is the director, was also attending. At 91 years of age, he bravely managed to survive the 3 hour performance in the heat and also came up on stage at the end. What a life this man has had! Have you seen the movie “Tea with Mussolini”? It’s a biographical account of his early years. It is also one of my favourite films, and not just because it is set in Tuscany.

Anyway, the opera itself was very good, and the stage production, as it is always the case at Arena, was over the top and impressive.

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Afterwards, Piazza Bra is brimming with people, many of whom get ready for a proper dinner…at midnight. All restaurants are open, even some shops. The cheer only subsides around 2!

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Tomorrow, I plan on enjoying the old sights, walking around, doing nothing. Then, in the evening, back to fighting for the steps and Verdi with Domingo.

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