When I left Paris I checked the weather for Italy and was thoroughly disappointed to see the forecasted thunderstorms and rain. However, other than on the evening of my arrival, the weather has been fabulously hot and sunny…
That is, until last night, when I had the unique opportunity of experiencing a thunderstorm from an ancient Roman Arena… The Arena di Verona!
But let’s start at the beginning.
I had chosen to attend the Opera Festival in Verona during this week for the chief reason of securing another opportunity to see Placido Domingo live, possibly the last time. He is a great tenor, he’s talented, smart, incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to music (he conducts orchestras, too, the hardest thing to do), appears to be a charming man in interviews.. but he is also in his 70s and at an age when most tenors would have retired…some, like poor Pavarotti, permanently! I simply could not pass the opportunity of this live encounter!
I got to the arena in good time to line up for the gates to open. I had dressed up for the occasion: I might have had to sit on marble steps, but I put on an opera house worthy dress, complete with silk shawl! I had bought Prosecco! Took in a breath, feeling the joy of the moment! This was a night to remember for me…and not just for me! The Arena di Verona soon became truly packed with people….22000 souls ready to be charmed and thrilled by the Great Man! We all got free candeletti at the entrance, those little white candles that, as per Arena di Verona tradition, get lit at the beginning of each performance. A fire hazard, to be sure, but the image of an ancient Roman amphitheatre lit up by thousands of candle lights is thrilling and romantic and creates such a wonderful atmosphere.
I was particularly curious to see how Domingo’s voice would fare in such massive a theatre, given that, naturally, at his age he is no longer at his best. My mum, the opera expert of the family, warned me against possible disappointment. The performance started and I got to realise Domingo is a very shrewd musician: rather than singing the performance solo he had laid out a program of carefully chosen duets; instead of attempting tenor showpieces he had chosen a carefully deliberated repertoire of mostly baritone pieces. In La Traviata he was no longer Alfredo but the father! Appropriate and clever! Smart man! Smart choice. And his voice, given his very strategic choices, was no disappointment, emanating throughout the enormous venue the familiar beautiful and rich sound he had first brought to the Arena 49 years ago!
The first half of the programme went flawlessly and beautifully. And then…. Little specs of blue in the sky forewarned of a possible storm. Intermission was met with increasingly strong winds. Finally, a full blown storm descended upon us and Verona became the sight of furiously pouring rain and some scenic, if also frightening, thunders!!!
The audience then split in two: the pessimists, heading out fast; and the optimists, taking refuge in the catacombs, hoping for a brief storm and a return to Act two.
The pessimists were right. At 12:30, I left behind a mere handful of people, and headed back to the hotel.
Domingo’s appearance at the Arena was fated to be a short one. A sign from God, perhaps, that he, too, might soon look upon the stage as a place belonging to his glorious musical past.