Sunday, December 18, 2011

Oh, Verona!

“Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou...?” Somewhere in Verona, according to the Bard, who set his famous play in this northern Italian city. These days, there is a balcony you can visit, designated as “Juliet’s Balcony”, which of course it isn’t, since Shakespeare made the whole thing up. But leaving that little matter aside, wandering the streets of Old Verona is a blissful experience. Narrow alleyways, pretty facades, lovely views around each corner, handsome bridges across the Adige River, wonderful piazzas: it is no wonder that the city has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Facades in the Piazza Delle Erbe
A beautiful piazza.

In Verona I discovered the Piazza Della Erbe: a gorgeous space surrounded by facades covered in fresco-like art, balconies dripping with greenery, cafes, street umbrellas, fruit stalls, and great people-watching. Piazza Della Erbe has been promoted to a small and select group of beautiful European squares/places/piazzas/plazas in which I’d be happy to spend whole days withe one cappuccino - or a bottle of prosecco.

Locator: Verona

Verona's Roman Arena
But wait - there’s more - Verona is also the site of one of the best preserved, and largest, surviving Roman ampitheatres. Julius Caesar liked to spend his days off in Verona, it seems. The ampitheatre has all of its circumference wall intact, and is big enough to seat 20 - 30,000 people. Every summer, spectacular outdoor opera productions are sell-outs. The night we visited, to hear Verdi’s “La Traviata”, the full moon rose beyond the “stage” (really a temporary construction covering some of the rising ampitheatre seats). The acoustic, while suffering the usual drawbacks of being outdoors, was nothing short of astonishing: in such a big arena, neither the singers nor the orchestra were artificially amplified, yet we received good sound. The soprano singing Violetta deserved the standing ovation she got: not only did she have to fill this huge arena with her voice, but she also had to be hoisted up on large bits of scenery. To play to such a massive space, the scenery has to be huge and bold. Kudos should also go to the tenor singing Alfredo, who managed to carry on marvellously despite one bit of scenery (made of cloth) being blown quite away by the evening breeze during one of his big numbers.

The arena was full. The audience dressed up. Those sitting on the Roman era stone benches had cushions. The moon looked down, as it may well have done on Roman gladiatorial sports and theatrical spectaculars. Oh, Verona!

Full moon over 'La Traviata'
Side streets of Verona.

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