The Verona Arena is famous for its world class Verona Opera performances which take place in the Amphitheatre in Piazza Bra in the heart of Verona.
Originally it was actually built outside the city walls by the Romans in AD30 as a Games venue and attracted spectators from far and wide from all around the Roman Empire.
The Arena facade was originally composed of white and pink limestone from Vapolicella but an earthquake in 1117 destroyed almost the entire outer ring, with the fallen materials being used as building materials elsewhere. It originally had 3 levels of arches but only 2 survived. Despite that it is one of the most impressive and substantial structures left from those ancient times. In its prime as a Gladiator Arena it could almost take 30,000 people, though now for the Verona Opera Festival with the substantial staging it takes more like 15,000 people.
In the Roman day’s circus acts, dance shows, the hunting of wild animals, executions of prisoners and possibly persecution of Christians were regularly the entertainment offered. Of course the area di Verona was most famed for its Gladiator Games where slaves trained to be combatants fought to their death. Indeed the word “Arena” means “Sand” which covered the floor to soak up their blood.
Even in the 14th Century it was used for both human and animal fighting as entertainment as seen by the description in Dante’s “Inferno”. In the 16th and 17th century the entertainment evolved to jousting with the first documented joust taking part in 1590 with Noble Knights coming from as far as Sweden to show off their horsemanship skills. Bull fighting continued well into the 17th Century and wild exotic animals such as Rhinos were shown to spectators. Napoleon in his day even used it as a concentration camp for his prisoners in the 19th century.
The earliest historical records of Verona Opera being performed here date back to 24th November 1822 after the Congress of Verona. The participants were the members of the Sacred Alliance after Napoleons’ defeat. Emperors, Tsars, Dukes, Princes, Counts, Dignitaries and Kings met to discuss the Italian Political situation, the Independence war in Greece and the Spanish Revolution and were tasked to restore stability.
Mindful of the contribution of Beethoven’s music in 1814 to the success of the Congress of Vienna Rossini was invited to compose 2 hymns to conclude the Congress; one to be performed at the Verona di Arena and the other at the Philharmonica Theatre. Rossini was hilariously recorded for saying the Sacred Alliance was neither saintly nor even an alliance, but the Verona opera went off without a hitch and he himself composed and conducted the piece “the Sacred Alliance”. It was a true spectacle with 128 musicians from different military Verona bands, 101 singers and dancers as well as floats and supporting actors.
In 1856 Nunziante had the idea to offer 4 concerts including 2 Operas of Donizetti for sale to the local Verona people. The success of this meant that the schedule was extended soon after to include the Barber of Seville (Rossini) and The Elixir of Love (Donizetti).
However it wasn’t until the 10th August 1913 that the Arena di Verona was officially devoted to Verona Opera and Ballet with the first staged Opera performance of Aida to celebrate the 100 years of Verdi’s birth. Since then there has been an annual summer Verona Opera Festival with full staging (except during 1915 – 18 and 1940 – 45 when it was closed due to the two World Wars).
Many famous singers have performed here during this time including Giuseppe Di Stefano, Maria Callas, Tito Gobbi, Renata Tebaldi, Leo Nucci, Anna Netrebko, Luciano
Pavarotti, Brian Jagde and Francesco Meli and Placido Domingo.
In very recent times more modern rock and pop performances have taken place in this famed location. Duran Duran, Whitney Houston, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney, One Direction, Spandau Ballet and Bjork are amongst them.
However it is the Verona Opera that is remains famous for, and why people flock to Verona in the summer during June-early September. The current Verona opera schedule offers 4-6 productions a year including, without fail, Aida as a tribute to that very first official performance in 1913. Regular favourites are Operas such as Nabucco, La Traviata, The Barber of Seville and Turandot.
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