Keir's birthday treat was to see opera outdoors in the Roman arena of Verona, and of course this became my treat, too. Long ago, I had got tickets for Verdi's Aida last Thursday, Mozart's Don Giovanni Friday and Bizet's Carmen on Saturday. The whole experience was a total revelation: I had no idea that opera could be staged so compellingly. No effort or expense was spared, and at times the huge stage hosted several hundred performers, professional dancers as well as singers, horses and other animals, and amazing lighting effects. The arena is an oval, about 140 m (460 feet) on its long axis, by about 110 m (360 feet) wide.
Not knowing the venue, I had begun with more affordable tickets for Aida, at centre back of the arena, moving us closer the following two nights. There is no sound amplification, and the better of the singers needed none, but we both thought the orchestral sound in Aida muted, not surprising outdoors and from a distance of about 120 m. Still, the ballet was truly superb, and the way the torch bearers filled the whole height of the arena was magical:
Don Giovanni was designed by Franco Zeffirelli and both sets and costumes were amazing. Our seats were superb for this production, and the Don was brilliantly sung by bass-baritone D'Arcangelo. His appearance and acting was great for the role of rake and playboy, although his surname is ironic for the bragging rapist and bully. He is centre stage in this shot of the dinner to which he invites the avenging Commendatore, and the next shot shows his descent into hellfire where he gets his just deserts.
Carmen was also designed by Zeffirelli, and here words fail me. The other two productions had featured live horses on stage, but when one of the soldiers cantered across the crowded stage to break up the fight between Carmen and her fellow worker in the cigarette factory, my heart was in my mouth: at only six rows from the stage, we wondered if we were even safe! The flamenco dancing was extraordinary. Here is Escamillo, Carmen's latest lover, a toreador showing off: