Tuesday, June 18, 2013

It's still standing (yeah, yeah, yeah)

When the idea was first mentioned, I thought "Cool, never done that before."

But it didn't really sink it.

I don't think it can until you're THERE, sitting in on stone that's outlasted the Rolling Stones, outlasted centuries. Climbing steps that have seen the feet of one millennium, and almost a second.

The Arena di Verona was built in 30 AD. 30 AD. 30 AD.

Arena di Verona, 2013

And I was there on Saturday.

And I didn't just go in and wander around; I've done that with the Roman Colosseum. I've seen Roman ruins in Rome (naturally) and France and Great Britain, but more often than not these are pieces and parts of structures that had much grander pasts. When you visit those sites, you get a hint of Roman ingenuity, but I don't think our minds extrapolate from those pieces and parts and do the proper math to calculate how big and how impressive these sites were in their former glory. Viewing a wall that's been partially obscured by centuries of dirt and urban planning makes it difficult to appreciate the scale of Roman construction. However, the Arena di Verona isn't a piece or a part. It isn't a shell of its former self or a ruin. This is a functioning amphitheater that seats 15,000 people.*

I saw my first opera in a building that is one thousand eighty three years old. 1983.

That's just . . . just . . .

I actually don't know. I can't find a word that describes how deeply that struck me.

We started in Verona by doing a city tour. (I think I'll save my thoughts on the rest of Verona for another post.) I then had a lovely dinner with friends in order to celebrate Giovanni's** birthday. Dinner was the typical lovely, unrushed Italian affair which meant we had to hustle, post-dinner, to get to our seats on time.

A close up, Arena di Verona

Up to this point, I was still thinking "Cool, I've never done this before."

We scrambled up the mostly really tall stairs, and I started thinking about the rise and run of the steps***. (If we're a bigger people than we were in ancient times, I'm not sure how the ancient Veronese made it up those stairs with any sense of dignity. But I digress.) We rented seat cushions, because our seats weren't chairs, but were the original stone structure of the arena. Our seats were doing to be, um, firm, so the pillows would help. We climbed up into one of the higher sections and finally settled down.

It took me a few minutes to find an ideal comfortable sitting position. The stone was REALLY warm from absorbing the heat of the day, so the pillows not only provided comfort, they provided protection. As I was wriggling around to get situated and feeling the heat of the stone on my legs, I started to process the fact that that hard, hot, uneven seat had first been used by citizens of the Roman Empire.

These are not Roman citizens. They didn't need handrails.



Dang. That's old. (And puts the upcoming 41st birthday into context. I may not be aging nearly as well as the Arena. I don't see myself being useful past my first century.)

Huh. That's also just astounding.

And also, surely, 15 other things I'm not accurately expressing.

We saw Nabucco which, they tell me, is a libretto based on the biblical tale of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, and his family's conquest of the Hebrew nation. (Italians translated his name into Nabucodonosor and wisely shortened THAT mouthful to Nabucco.) It's four hours long, so I had plenty of time to contemplate and absorb and marvel.

You know what else is astounding? The opera cast isn't mic'ed. THEY DON'T WEAR MICROPHONES.

In an arena that holds 15,000 people separated from the singers by a full orchestra, the acoustics are so good that the opera singers are "unplugged".

These people aren't using microphones.



The company that staged Nabucco has been performing operas in the Arena since 1913. Prior to that, the Veronese revived the Arena for performances during the Renaissance and, later, in the 1800s because of the fabulous acoustics.

I'm so thankful that I had a chance to take it all in.

Grazie mille to Centro Studi Italiano and Millikin University's Center for Entrepreneurship for making the current arrangements, grazie mille to the Veronese for pouring their hearts and money and efforts into keeping the Arena a valid, living part of Verona's story, and grazie mille for the Romans who built big and build to last. It's still standing.


*Most of the factual information I've included came from our guide and was later confirmed via Google and Wikipedia. The information about Nabucco was provided by Centro Studi Italiani.

**Giovanni is a Millikin University alum and the managing director of Centro Studi. He is, in effect, our host when we're in Italy. A most excellent host.

***Thank you, Rex, for getting that phrase stuck in my head, and, yes, I was thinking of you, too.


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