Thursday, 16 August 2012

A Night at the Opera in Verona

The mention of the town of Verona conjures up a range of Shakespearian images based around one of ‘The Bards’ most famous productions, ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Certainly it’s pretty hard not to miss the connection when you visit this pretty northern Italian town with its continued tourist geared references. Of course, there remains continued speculation as to whether William Shakespeare actually visited the town all those years ago, but he used it as the setting for his tragic play and that seems to be enough.

There is of course the famed Juliet balcony in the centre of town that, from what we can gather, has absolutely nothing to do with anything Shakespearian but rather it seems to be an idyllic stone balcony that roughly matches the public’s image of what might be the perfect setting for the lovers’ famed soliloquy. Much hype is placed around this particular location with the heavily graffitied walls at the entrance, suggesting that floods of couples have previously made their way here in order to pledge their enduring love. Even the lovelorn seem to have been catered for, with a post box provided in which they can post messages to ‘Juliet’, seeking advice of the heart. Much like a letter to Santa Claus, I’m not quite sure where these letters actually go or who answers them, but there appeared to be plenty of people regularly pinning their hopes on the consolatory words she provides.

Of course, Verona has much more to offer, not the least being it’s wonderful medieval architecture that in many cases has been cleaned and restored (very little graffiti here). During our stay we spent many hours simply walking around the backstreets, taking photographs and imagining what life must have been like when these buildings were originally built. In the end, Jules acclaimed it as one of the most picturesque Italian cities we had visited, which is particularly high praise indeed as she has quite an extensive list of favourites. With many ‘osterias’ and ‘trattorias’ to be found in the narrow streets, there was also plenty of opportunities for us to sample local food and wine, as well as the popular ‘Spritz’ (prosecco and Aperol with a slice of orange), which seemed to be the aperitif of choice amongst the locals.

The particular weekend we were in Verona, we were lucky enough to experience one of its most popular attractions, the summer opera season. This is held open air in the ancient Roman coliseum in the centre of town. The crumbling structure is impressive enough, but as a setting for some of the world’s greatest opera productions, it is enough to bring droves of opera buffs from far and wide to experience the event in its truly unique setting. Jules was organized as usual and managed to secure our tickets for the Egyptian spectacle of ‘Aida’, directed and conducted by the legendary Placido Domingo. This would be our first experience of live opera and it would be difficult to imagine a more fitting location for our baptism. As expected, the production was truly remarkable visual spectacular, although to be honest, we weren’t too sure what was actually happening most of the time. What we did begin to realise after a while that the production was very, very long (almost 4 hours) and our powers of endurance was certainly going to be tested. Sitting high in the arena, on the same tiered stone steps that toga wearing citizens had once watched gladiators in action centuries ago, it began to eventually take its toll and well after midnight we hobbled out of the arena like a couple of old cowboys, satisfied by what we had experienced, but somewhat worse for wear. While we headed straight back to our room for a well earned rest on our delightfully soft bed, seasoned opera buffs (clearly in the more expensive padded seats) were heading out for their evening (or very early morning) meal and to no doubt recount the wonderful performance they had witnessed well into the early hours of a new day.

Verona would be our final town on this trip to Italy and it had certainly delivered on all fronts. The sights, the language, the food, the vino, the people … all bellisimo! As a taxi driver once reminded us, it isn’t all perfect, but overall it’s pretty good! Our stay had again reminded us what a wonderfully diverse country Italy is and why it continues to have such appeal for those of us from different cultures. No doubt this trip has continued to fuel Jules’ desire to become an officially adopted Italian and we'll take away plenty of great memories, let alone countless photos to continually remind us of our extraordinary experiences of ‘la dolce vita in bella Italia’!

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