Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou? At the arena in Verona, of course

The Arena in Verona’s Piazza Bra
I’d been up for many, many hours – too many to count, I think, after a day of work at CNN, a trans-Atlantic flight and a train ride from Venice.
But when I finally stepped foot in Verona and realized I could watch Romeo and Juliet performed at the Arena di Verona, perhaps the most famous outdoor opera venue, I felt a second wind.
Dinner with Mary Foster Batten

Before heading out, I had dinner with Mary Foster Batten, a fellow visitor from Ireland whom I’d met at the lobby of the Hotel Novo Rossi. 

We shared pizza with prosciutto and funghi and glasses of fine Valpolicella. And fine conversation. And then I was off to the Arena.
I took my seat, high above the stage, under fragments of columns that have stood since AD 30. It’s a remnant of Roman glory, like the Coliseum in Rome. Except the Verona Arena is still vibrant, still a place where thousands go to watch.
I took my seat high above the stage in a Roman
arena that was 2,000 years old.

No more gladiators and fights to the death. But mellifluous music.

As in the voice of Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak in the role of Juliet and American tenor John Osborn as Romeo.  And so it began. Lucky for me that I knew so many lines of Shakespeare’s tragedy. “Oh Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name; Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love. And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
A bust of Shakespeare
in central Verona

There were no translations offered at the Verona Arena, no sub-titling. I might have been lost had it not been for a story so familiar. A couple in front of me bought a libretto. But as the sun faded, darkness befell our seats, the only lights reflecting off the stage and from the stars above.

Juliet’s statue
at the real house of
I was told that the opera’s start depends on the sun’s timetable. On this magnificent July evening, the first notes sounded at 9:15 p.m. It ended at near 1 a.m., by which time I was awake purely on the fumes of excitement.
The next morning, after a breakfast of prosciutto e meloni, I ventured out into Verona, eager to see the house of the real-life Capulets and the famous verandah where Romeo and Juliette’s love for one another was sealed.
At an old castle overlooking the river in Verona
It is, of course, somewhat of a tourist trap. But I looked at Juliet’s statue and gazed upward at the walls of the massive house and began to understand why Shakespeare was inspired to write his tale.
Next stop: Venice


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