I know what you’re going to say to me. “Opera’s not really my thing.” There are many people who would agree and not call opera their “thing.” But if you do happen to come all the way to Italy, the BIRTHPLACE OF OPERA, you will find the following ample reasons to hopefully persuade you to give opera a chance while you’re here.
In Italy, people of all ages attend the opera. As a 20-something (I can milk that phrase for a few more months:), it’s easy to notice that when attending classical music concerts in the United States, the audience consists of mostly blue-hairs. It can be almost discouraging attending concerts, wondering if you’re an old soul and there’s anyone else in your age bracket who would enjoy an opera. Not so in Italy! We saw people of all ages at the opera, enjoying a good show together. When we went to La Boheme at Teatro Filarmonico in Verona, we even saw a little girl with her parents, as you may see lots of little would-be ballerinas attending The Nutcracker.
You can attend an opera in the city it takes place in. A lot of Italian operas reference Italian towns. When you’re in Italy, you can often attend an opera very close to the town that is referenced in that opera. That’s just got the cool factor, if you ask me. You could actually see Gounod’s Romeo et Juliet IN Verona, where the story takes place! Or, you could attend a performance of Rigoletto and then take a day trip to Mantova. The possibilities are endless, but it can be very neat to start seeing references in operas to places you’ve visited or will visit later.
In Italy, singer’s diction is absolutely amazing. Attending the opera in Italy is like attending a Shakespearian play at The Stratford Festival. You. get. every. single. word. As someone who has studied different arias, this is very special, but it also really just “ups” the entire experience for everyone, even if you’re not a singer. The diction lends itself to a better interpretation of the words, so usually with better diction comes better characterization and more passionate singing and telling of the story.
In Italy, you can follow along with Italian subtitles. If you are here studying Italian, you have no excuse not to go to the opera. Many opera theaters now have the Italian subtitles projected on the side of the stage, even when the opera is in Italian. The one exception would be Arena di Verona, the world-famous opera festival happening in an old Roman ampitheater in Verona every summer. If you are attending an opera that’s in the Italian language, you can read along with the singing. That’s perfect if you’re an Italian student. I’ve found that going to an Italian opera here is an uplifting experience as an Italian student because I understand more then I thought I could. If you’re studying Italian, please don’t miss out on this amazing opportunity.
Italians love a great show with pomp and circumstance. Italians have been stereotyped as dramatic by people in many different avenues. One thing’s for sure: Italians love a great show and they also do the show right. They won’t just speak for 3 sentences when introducing guest performers. You hear paragraphs about the guest performer and know his/her life story before s/he steps foot onstage. In the same way, staging, scenery, costumes, and lighting are always top-notch. I have never seen a “half-ass” performance here. Everything is done up in the true Italian way. If you don’t get to see a lot of performances, that can be a really cool way to do something extra special on your Italian vacation, and it will be an experience you will remember forever.
Arena di Verona is one of the most amazing experiences you will ever have. As I mentioned above, Arena di Verona is a foundation that has sponsored a world-renown opera festival for the las 101 years, 2015 being year 102. The experience is very surreal: you are sitting in a Roman amphitheater where people were long ago slaughtered, yet now something amazing, massive and beautiful is happening there. The scenery, staging, costumes, lights, orchestra, singers and entire experience is once-in-a-lifetime. It ranks up there with whatever your bucket-list life experiences are. You sense that you have witnessed greatness just sitting through 10 minutes. You also get a sense for how much teamwork goes in to making something on this grand scale happen; once we went on a wet evening and we tried to count all of the crew members that were there just mopping the stage. It was at lest 40 people! If you have not been to Arena, it needs to go on your list, with one warning: if it rains but one note has been played/sung, you will not get a refund. So, choose wisely: either go on a night where it won’t rain, or buy the cheap seats so you won’t be left eating your expensive ticket and wondering if Turandot guesses his name.
Worried about the price. The cost of an opera ticket is something that most people whine about when I talk about loving the opera. My best advice to you is save your pennies and buy the cheap seats. If you can, save your pennies to get seated in the first row of the first balcony (sometimes called the bel etage), and my personal favorite spot. But if you can’t save your pennies, just buy the cheapest seat and go! I will also say that we have never been to La Fenice, which would be a dream, but is astronomically priced. The cheapest we’ve found for a matinee was €75, so it’s still a little bit out of our price-range. Verona is a great option. If you find yourself there outside of the summer Arena season, check out the Teatro Filarmonico schedule, which has ballets, operas and symphonies.
I hope you’re able to add seeing an opera while you’re in Italy to your bucket-list. You will be changed by the experience!