Flashback: Lake Garda and Opera in Verona

September 2nd

When the California Redwood Chorale came to visit Italy in April, we stayed at Lake Garda and participated in a chorale festival in Verona. Whilst in Verona, we went inside the Roman Amphitheater and watched the workers preparing for the summer opera season. I hoped that George and I might be able to go see an opera under the stars during our time in Italy. We managed to get there for closing night, and it was an experience I will never forget.

We stayed one night at a B&B at Lake Garda that boasted stunning views out over the lake. Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy. One guide book says that it is the most visited lake in Italy and one of the most touristed areas in all of Italy. I found this surprising since most people I know who visit Italy have never heard of Lake Garda. Though it does have a pretty developed touristy feel to it, I find the little lakeside villages to be charming. Most have lovely promenades out around the lake. The upper part of the lake has some spectacular mountains around it.

In the evening, we drove in to Verona for dinner and the opera. The town was packed and buzzing with the excitement of closing night of the opera season. After long adventures in finding a place to park, we made our way into town, snapped a couple photos in front of the arena and set off to find dinner.

We couldn’t find a restaurant with any seats available, so we ate at a little snack bar with a very colorful owner. He was very cleverly providing patrons with a bottle of wine in a plastic bottle that they could take into the arena. As we ate, we watched one beautiful, young couple after another order a bottle of wine. The owner would then take a 1 liter bottle of water, dump the water down the sink, open a bottle of wine and pour it into the empty plastic bottle. Somehow it looked so much less romantic in its plastic container. He entertained the rest of us with witty banter in a smattering of languages.

We then made our way over to the arena with about 10,000 other people. We were up in the upper section with the rest of the jean-clad riff-raff. We watched the swanky people down in the expensive seats make their way in, all sequins and stilletos. We bought a libretto and read up a little on the story while waiting for the spectacle to begin.

The set before the performance began.

The opera didn’t begin until 9:00. After all the announcements were made, the lights came down and Egyptian clad soldiers carrying torches started pouring out of the area up behind the stage. They marched up to the very top, lighting up the arena with fire. Then the orchestra began and the singers appeared and the first notes of Aida sailed into the night sky just as a full moon rose over the arena. (I did try to take a picture of the full moon over the arena, but it came out looking like a streetlamp.)

This was our second full-scale opera production, and by far the most beautiful. (The first was at the Opera House in Vienna, several years back.) The costumes and stage sets for Aida were amazing. There was a ballerina and a dance troupe. A dozen harps and the biggest trumpets I’ve ever seen made appearances on stage (and were expertly played.) In the fourth act there were prancing horses that came to the front of the stage and took a bow. No live elephants, though. I hear sometimes there are real elephants in Aida.

This gives a nice sense of the costumes and the set. I think you can even see a horse and his rider in the back.

And then there were the voices… exquisite voices. The young woman who played Aida was a stellar soprano that sang with great passion and mind-blowing control. I was completely amazed at the loveliness of her high notes when she sang very quietly. All the principals were fantastic. I hadn’t expected them to break character at the end of each scene and take bows, though. We didn’t know if they always do that, or if it was a closing night thing. There was one guy on the opposite side of the arena from us that had an amazing knack for finding the split second at the end of each scene between when the music ended and the applause began and was able to project all the way across the stadium an enthusiastic, “Bravissima!” or “Stupendo.” I also learned that the only thing that can drown out the voice of a soprano singing forte is a piccolo. Wow, that thing is powerful.

We didn’t get very good photos because it was nighttime, but I hope that the few we did get will help me remember the magic of the evening.

Arena at night

Not a great photo, but it gives the feel. See all those little dots of light up on the top of the arena? Those are Egyptian soldiers holding torches. You can kind of see the orchestra toward the bottom left.

If ever you find yourself in Verona on a summer evening, be sure to get tickets for the opera. It is an experience not to be missed.

Note to CRC people: As it turns out, the stage set we saw back in April wasn’t for Aida after all. It must have been for some equally fabulous production, though.

Stage set being worked on in the Verona arena back in April.

Word of the day: Opera

Tonight we went to the opera. Actually, it is a scaled down version of the opera, with fantastic singing, but performed in a church with minimal staging and cast. St. Mark’s Anglican Church produces a whole season of opera, the proceeds of which go to support an orphanage in India.

Tonight we saw La Traviata, and a few weeks ago we saw Carmen. Before each act, a person comes out and gives a brief synopsis of the action in the scene (in English) so you know the story. The accompaniment is all on piano, and the two piano players for the shows we’ve seen have been phenomenal. Although the operas have been edited for length, they are full opera performances.

I loved Carmen, partly because it is action packed, it has some songs I recognize, and the singer playing Carmen was an excellent actress. She also had a great voice, but her acting really made it come alive. La Traviata was less action packed, especially in the first half, I didn’t recognize any of the songs, and the actress was less compelling. However, she had an amazing, soaring voice and the vocal gymnastics were stunning.

Although the church doesn’t look like much from the outside, it is beautiful on the inside.

The opera season runs February through July. This is one of the many cultural activities that students have access to at reduced rates, though this is an inexpensive way for everyone to see opera. Tickets are €15 – €20.

At some point, I’d like to go see an opera at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentina here in Florence, or at the amphitheater in Verona. Perhaps this summer…