Friday, August 7, 2009

Arena de Verona

Photo and text courtesy: Theresa Francis.

On a warm July evening we join a few thousand others and stroll to the Arena de Verona. We climb the ancient stone steps to our unnumbered seats high above the stage set for Aida. As the seats are not numbered it is necessary to arrive well ahead of the performance. Along with almost everyone else we have a small picnic of cheese and wine. The atmosphere is amazing. Just before the performance begins at 9.15 the people in the plush seats down below start to arrive in their beautiful gowns and evening suits.

If you don't know this opera, it is the story of Aida, an Ethiopian princess enslaved in Egypt where she falls in love with Radames, a young warrior and captain of the guard, who feels the same way for her. When the Ethiopians, led by Aida's father King Amonasro invade Egypt, Radames is chosen to lead the Egyptians into battle.

The Ethiopians are defeated and Radames returns victorious. Among his captives is Aida's father. Out of his love for Aida, he asks the king to release the Ethiopian captives. The king agrees but refuses to release Aida and her father.

Aida's father persuades her to obtain information from Radames about how they can escape. Radames agrees to run away with Aida and tells her the position of the guards they must avoid. Aida and her father flee, but Radames is taken prisoner. He is sentenced to death and will be buried alive in a crypt. Aida returns and hides herself in the crypt to die with him. They accept their terrible fate, bid farewell to life's torment and sorrows and await their death.

Verdi's wonderful music and the voices of the performers fill the arena which is truly remarkable given that there are no microphones in use.

If you have never listened to the music, do try. I defy anyone to hear the 'Triumphal March' at the beginning of Act 2 and not feel their soul fly.