Wednesday, July 5, 2017: The grandparents on Cole’s graduation trip to Italy had only one “must see (and hear)” item: an opera at the Roman amphitheater in Verona.
We had our doubts about it, too.
We feared that a 17-year-old who plays Brad Paisley and the Zac Brown Band songs on his guitar might find four hours of Verdi’s “Aida” grounds for divorce.
Still, we were determined. We packed along a libretto of the opera and a quick-read summary of the story (captured princess has to decide whom to betray, lover, father, country, etc. and everyone dies tragically in the end, the usual opera stuff). We hoped they would give Cole a clue about what was being sung in Italian without subtitles. We explained, warned and talked how it is with acquired tastes. We hoped we had him convinced, or at least prepared.
We pulled into Verona on the hottest day of our trip – in the 80s when we found the car park near our Airbnb, an apartment near the Roman arena. Our accommodations, up four flights of narrow stairs, were doing a highly efficient job of retaining the afternoon heat.
At some point during our stay, some of the party went off to visit Juliet’s balcony, as in “Romeo, Romeo, where art thou?” That Juliet. It was almost right across the street from us, tourists flowing in and out of the entrance and me wondering if they knew Shakespeare’s play was a work of fiction. There’s no proof this was THE balcony (how could it be?), but the house was once owned by the Cappelletti family, close enough in name to Willie’s Capulets, the enemies of the Montagues.
I did bite my thumb at the whole affair and remained upstairs sweating in my underwear until it was time to get dressed for the opera.
In 1913, “Aida” was the first opera performed in the amphitheater, which has been around since the First Century A.D.
We had great seats straight across from the stage and the part of the arena used as a desert backdrop. This production started with a strange twist, having 20th Century archeologists setting up to dig and find the final resting place of Aida and the one she didn’t betray (if you don’t call being buried alive a betrayal). Then it launches into the ancient story of Egypt and Ethiopia.
My only disappointment: cardboard elephants. Probably best for the real things that they didn’t have to be dragged on stage as they have been in many productions of this opera, but I figured if there was ever a chance of seeing a full Aida boogie, this might be it. Not so. Animal lovers win again.
A mere four hours later and Aida and friend were safely tucked away and the temperature hadn’t dropped a bit. Crowds were still milling in the streets and around 1 a.m. we found an outdoor table at a plaza near our sweat box.
“That wasn’t half as bad as you guys said it would be,” Cole said over sandwiches and gelato.
I’m calling that a success.