Max Reinhardt is reported to have said that “there are no festivals north of Verona.” Since in terms of open-air performances, the home city of Romeo’s Juliet gave birth to a new form of opera experience in the early 20th century.
From late June till late August - occasionally also until early September - the Verona Arena, in the capital of the province of the same name in northeastern Italy, serves as the meeting place for all-weather opera enthusiasts from throughout the world, where they can look forward to plenty of Verdi, quite a bit of Puccini, and sometimes also Rossini, Bizet, Gounod, Mozart, and symphonies by Beethoven.
The edifice was constructed around the year 30 A.D., probably under Emperor Tiberius. The idea to use the structure as a theater dates back to the Renaissance, but it was not realized until the 20th century. On August 19, 1913, to commemorate the national composer’s 100th birthday, Verdi’s Aida was performed in the Arena for the first time, and the Festival di Verona was born.
The passion of the men who initiated this first performance - Ottone Rovato (concert impresario) and Giovanni Zenatello (singer) - along with its artistic and commercial success, helped turn the one-time anniversary celebration into a regular festival that has staunchly resisted the caprices of both finances and weather.
The monumental oval-shaped amphitheater measures around 453 feet long and 361 feet wide.
With a height of over 79 feet, there are 45 tiered galleries that can seat around 22,000 people. A sold-out production means that around 14,000 tickets have been sold.
The stage measures approximately 16,150 square feet, 164 feet separate the first row of the audience from the edge of the stage.
In 1969, 28-year-old Plácido Domingo made his debut in Turandot and has been an international star ever since.
2010 for the first time in the Arena’s history, a single director - Franco Zeffirelli - stages all five of the season’s operas: Aida, Il Trovatore, Madame Butterfly, Turandot (with Plácido Domingo as conductor), and Carmen.
At the age of 92, director Gianfranco de Bossio is still successfully involved in productions at the Arena.
In spite of the open construction, the amphitheater’s acoustics are, by today’s standards, still convincing for musical theater performances.
For the anniversary year in 2013, the Catalan artist group La Fura dels Baus was commissioned with the production of Aida, though traditional productions are usually favored.
Did you know?
The Verona amphitheater was built around 50 years before the Roman Colloseum.
The theater originally had a pink limestone facade.
Since its founding, the Festival has only been interrupted briefly twice, during the two World Wars.
Only a few selected artists are permitted to perform solo concerts in the Arena during the festival season.
For several years, the Arena has been experiencing considerable financial turmoil.
In order to bring in money, the Arena is also rented out for other events, such as pop concerts and fashion shows.
Paolo Conte, Zucchero, British pop band Duran Duran, and American singer Adele have all performed here.
Charles Aznavour was, at the age of 92, the oldest artist to make his debut at the Arena.