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Sunday, April 7, 2019

Verona, at Aida

In the Act II, the Egyptian army lead by Radames, march triumphantly into the grand gate of the city of Thebes on its return following their victory over the Ethiopians.  Musicians playing long trumpets lead the Egyptian troops into the city. Dancers follow, waving palms and banners, and the crowd of Egyptian women sing in chorus:

“Dance, sons of Egypt, circling round,
And sing your mystic praises,
As round the sun in mazes
Dance the bright stars of night.”

More troops enter, bringing with them slaves bearing gifts for the gods, and Radames appears in a golden chariot. At the height of the celebration, he meets the Pharaoh, who steps down from his throne to embrace him.

Aida is one of Verdi's best known and best loved operas. It encompasses all of Verdi's main signatures    human drama; conflict; subtle and effective use of music; and of course a dramatic ending. It is based on a love story that took place in the Egyptian Pharaonic era, found in Papyrus and re-written by French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette.

 Aida, an Arabic female name meaning "visitor" or "returning",  shows how love can be forbidden when she gets stuck between her love for the Egyptian leader Radames and between her love for her father and country, Ethiopia. Through a portrait of brutal war between love and duty, Verdi explores the different aspects of a work in which individuals’ destinies are being shaped. Studying Egypt’s history, music and geography, Verdi composed varied Egyptian melodies harmonically. The composer had developed an extraordinarily clever ear for orchestral effects and theatrical atmosphere.

The opera revolves around its main character, Aida, an Ethiopian princess who is captured and made into a slave in Egypt during the war between the countries. But Aida and the Egyptian military commander Radames find that they have come together and fallen in love.

Radames, is also adored by Amneris, the daughter of the Egyptian king. However, the feeling is not a mutual one, and Amneris even suspects that this is the case. Suspecting Aida, she tricks the Ethiopian princess into declaring her true feelings after falsely claiming that Radames has died in combat.

After Radames returns successful from battle as a hero, the king says that he can have anything he wishes. However, his request for the release of Aida and her father the Ethiopian king  Amonasro , now hostages,  is denied. Instead, the Egyptian king proclaims that Radames will be wed to his daughter  Amneris and will be a successor to the throne.

Aida and Radames plan to run away together so they can be happily married without the pressures of their countries, but are caught together. Separated, Radames believes that Aida has fled to her country, while he is imprisoned as a traitor of the country.

Having reported Radames for his plans to flee with Aida, Amneris now feels remorse at causing his imprisonment.  But this remorse is mixed with her resentment towards Aida and the fact that Radames was willing to give up everything for her. She asks Radames to appear before her and tells him that, if he renounces Aida, she will save him from the judgement of the priests and death sentence. Radames says that his conscience is clear and that he would never renounce his love of Aida. This sends Amneris into a fury and she tells him that no one but she can save him. Still, Radames refuses to submit to her demand and is willing to go to his death.

The final scene gives this opera its overwhelming originality. Radames is in the tomb where he has been buried alive. He thinks about the fact that he will never see Aida again when she suddenly appears. Knowing that he would be sentenced to death in there, she has snuck into the tomb and been waiting for him so they can die together. He is horrified at first but the two of them bid farewell to the world together.

As the two bid farewell to the world, the music is heavenly as well as euphoric, suggesting that the two will meet again in heaven. The music becomes a trio in the final moments when Amneris joins in with her prayers. Her music has a peaceful tone as she prays for Radames, she wishes him “pace” (peace), and repeats the word as the opera ends in a murmur, “pace”…..


Monday, March 11, 2019

Verona, at Il trovatore

Il trovatore (The Troubadour) is an opera in four acts by the famous Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi. Themes of obsession, revenge, war, love and family are conveyed through characters who present dramatic images. It was based on the play El trovador (1836) by Antonio García Gutiérrez, a youth of seventeen. This youth took the play to a theatre, where it was at once put in rehearsal.  Fortunately, the play El trovador obtained a phenomenal success.

The opera was also a triumph from the first night, a success due to Verdi's work over the three years. The premiere took place at the Teatro Apollo in Rome on 19 January 1853. The eagerness of the Roman public to hear it was extraordinary. On the eve of the premiere, the Tiber river had risen in flood and invaded the whole district near the theatre. But in spite of everything - the cold, the mud, and discomfort -  from nine o’clock in the morning the doors of the Apollo were beseiged by a great crowd, who, with their feet in water up to the ankles, squeezed, pushed, and disputed in order to get places for the evening.  It evoked frenzied excitement.  Its success spread fast, not only in Italy but through the whole of Europe. Theatre after theatre produced it, answering the clamour of eager subscribers and patrons. At Naples three houses were giving it at the same time. Seldom was an opera more fortunate.

Now Il trovatore is one of the famous operas frequently performed at the Arena di Verona, which each summer hosts the Verona Opera Festival. Its great acoustics and architecture make the Arena di Verona the ideal stage for large scale operas such as this. There is definitely something magical in listening to the arias soaring up to the sky from the stage with a spectacularly lavish stage set.
The plot of Il Trovatore begins in the acts of a gypsy mother burned for suspected witchcraft, and avenged by her daughter, Azucena, when she throws the child of her executioner into the fire. Possessed by a dark force in that moment, the child she threw into the flame was her own. Azucena sees the event repeating in every waking moment, in the flicker of the fire, and in the shape of shadows. But only she knows the truth. She raises the child as her own child, calling him Manrico. Constantly haunted by her mother’s dying words ‘mi vendica’ (avenge me), Azucena sets in motion a series of events which lead to Manrico’s death.

 The child’s father seeks vengeance for the act and forces his surviving son, the Count di Luna, to devote his life to avenging his brother’s death. The unknowing brothers Manrico and di Luna become rivals for the love of Leonora, the Princess. But Leonora has fallen in love with a mysterious troubadour, which is Manrico, who sings of his love at her window, and so rejects the advances of Count di Luna.

Manrico and di Luna are destined to oppose each other, first as leaders of opposing factions in the war, and now in the pursuit of Leonora’s heart.  Not until the final blow is struck and Manrico dies at di Luna’s order does Azucena reveal that his rival was his brother, and to cry out that her mother has finally been avenged.


Sunday, March 3, 2019

Verona, at the Opera Arena

Whether opera lover, music lover or a simply a tourist in Verona, if you have the opportunity to attend an opera in the Arena of Verona, it is an experience that you should not miss.  There is definitely something magical in listening to Aida’s arias soaring up to the sky from the stage with a spectacularly lavish stage set.

Attending an Opera at the Arena di Verona Opera Festival is an extraordinary experience, watching performances with the rich sets, the ensemble, the orchestra, the lyrics, the dance company, and costumes that have enthralled millions of spectators from all over the world for more than a hundred years.

The Verona opera festival takes place every year from June to August. Almost every day, different opera performances are shown, so that we can enjoy different famous opera every night.  From “Aida” to “Carmen”, “Nabucco”, “Turandot” and “Madame Butterfly” we can see the most famous operas in the world.

The festival is traditionally held in the almost 2000 years old Roman amphitheatre known as Arena di Verona which is located in the heart of the city. After the Colosseum in Rome and the amphitheatre in Capua, the Roman arena in Verona is the third largest Roman amphitheatre. With its gigantic dimensions of 140 metres in length and 110 metres in width it dominates the Piazza Brà from the north.

It was built in 30 A.D. and was purposed for games, which were to entertain the Roman government, like gladiator fighting, bloody combats, chariot races, public executions, or bullfights. Back in Roman times 20,000 spectators jeered and roared with blood lust in this giant arena. There were sweat, fear, noise, blood and anguish.  Now there still are, not much has changed in this arena over the last 2,000 years. Where once gladiators fought to the death, now mighty tenors and sopranos enliven the stage with the appearance of every passion in operas. The tragic operas convey horror, pity, fear, and sorrow. Dying for love is permitted, even praiseworthy, but murder for revenge will get its karmic due.

The Arena Opera Festival we know today started when a grand “Aida” opera was staged to celebrate in 1913 the centenary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi. A phenomenon was born: an annual event presenting four to six large-scale operas over three months. The Arena can accommodate up to 15,000 audience members at each performance, seated either in comfortable chairs in the middle of the Arena, or on the myriad ranks of stone seats that surround the basin.

As you enter the Arena through one of the many gates and climb the steps, you find yourself on the threshold of another world. Opera is a marriage of the arts, a musical drama, full of glorious song, costume, orchestral music and pageantry. It is the medium through which tales and myths are revisited, history retold and imagination stimulated.

So, whether down at the bottom in the stalls or high up on the stone tiers, you can watch the gigantic stage, admire the spectacle, and shout: ”Bravo!”


Sunday, February 24, 2019

Verona, at Juliet’s house

“There is no world without Verona walls, 
But purgatory, torture, hell itself. 
Hence-banished is banish'd from the world,
And world's exile is death."

Those were the words of Romeo about Verona,  in the play Rome and Juliet by Shakespeare. He preferred to die rather than to be exiled and leave Verona. Because within the walls of Verona lived Juliet, the love of his life, for him life without her is like death. That is the theme of the play, about love and death.

Nowadays, the city is still considered as the hometown of Romeo and Juliet, Verona is the stage of the famous tragic play. The most famous spot in the city is the Casa di Giulietta, or Juliet’s House, located on Via Capello. As the story goes, this was the home of the Capulet family, Juliet’s family . It is here Juliet would have lived, and today it is a museum dedicated to her. The interior contains the furniture of a typical fourteenth century aristocratic household, enhanced by a wide range of medieval ceramics.

From the courtyard, we can see the famous balcony in the world—Juliet’s balcony. It is a tiny balcony where Juliet stood while Romeo declared his love. It is also the balcony where Romeo and Juliet planned the events that led to their tragic deaths. In the courtyard, the walls now are covered by love notes, written in many languages by visitors from all around the world. They believe if they write here, it will cast a lucky spell and their love will be eternal.

But, Romeo and Juliet’s life themselves were overshadowed by terrible fate. From the opening prologue it says that they will die, Romeo and Juliet are trapped by fate. Had Romeo not met  Benvolio on the very day of the Capulets’ ball, Romeo would not have met Juliet. Had friar Lawrence's messenger to Romeo not detained, who would have explained the plan by which Juliet was to pretend death, Romeo would have got the message. And had Romeo arrived just a few moments before Juliet wakes-up, Romeo would not have taken his own life.  It is their misfortune that leads to the sorrowful and tragic ending of the play. But, it is Romeo and Juliet's fiery passion of their love which makes their love eternal.  

In the center of the internal court stands a bronze statue of the beautiful and faithful Juliet, by Nereo Costantini.  According to legend, touching Juliet’s right breast will bring good luck in love. However, the affectionate gesture has brought bad luck to the statue. The repeated touching by tourists, newly weds, school boys, couples, has created large holes on the statue’s right breast, wrist and arms, and the holes are widening. Many people desperately inserted love notes and padlock keys through the cracks in the arms and breasts of the statue, in hope for luck in their love affairs.  The original statue then was removed, restored and placed inside Juliet's House in 2014, in order to protect it from damages. Now a replica  has been installed back in the courtyard of Juliet's House.

So Verona, a city on the Adige river in Veneto, continues to be the City of Love, It enshrines a myth that gently comes alive again across the medieval squares, through the alleys and shadowy courtyards.  Here it’s easy to fantasize about stories, figures, characters and events of the play. Romeo and Juliet’s myth is the trail of a dream. Love is the overriding theme of the play. Based on that theme the Verona Tourist Office wrote: ‘Se Ami Qualcuno Portarlo a Verona’ which means ‘If you love someone then take them to Verona’.