Travel: Night at the opera

If you're going to Verona for a little Verdi, you can expect to be part of the drama. By Cecily Woolf

The cognoscenti shun Venice in July for the more manageable charms across the far side of the Veneto, in Verona. The home town of Romeo and Juliet, as bestowed to the world by the mad and marvellous Scaglieri family, is a medieval masterpiece imposed on solid Roman foundations.

Shakespeare's lovers were not the only people to be star-crossed in Verona. We arrived in this hot, crowded city proudly clutching tickets to see Verdi's tragic masterpiece Aida at the Opera Festival in the Roman arena. It was an experience that proved to be more comic than tragic.

The trip began badly. Our coach set off late because the normally tranquil lakeside town of Bardolino, where we were staying, had become a living motor museum of honking vehicles. However, at least the weather forecast was good. Two nights before, a performance had been cancelled because of storms. The coach duly deposited our party at a central bar, where we were to reunite after the opera.

At 6pm we were standing in the searing heat at the Piazza Brao, waiting to enter the arena. In normal cirumstances this is a triumphant Italian plaza, full of strutting Romeos and sitting matrons. But in the pre-operatic tension, scuffles soon broke out as the modern Montagues and Capuletes who, like us, had waited more than an hour to reach the head of the queue, were diverted into different queues at other entrances. When we finally arrived at the arena, it was little consolation to discover that our unreserved seats, for which we had paid pounds 28, (admittedly including a 12-mile coach ride) actually cost pounds 15.

Security guards checked our bags - but not for bombs. They were confiscating glass bottles and tin cans lest, as in the past, the plebs should drop them on to the heads of the people in the reserved stalls below. Actually, the atmosphere was jocular with frequent Mexican waves and cheers whenever a wealthy lady's evening dress caught the crowd's approval.

By 7.30pm the ancient redstone arena was packed with some 14,000 people, seemingly glued to each other in the humid heat. We searched desperately for a seat on the steep steps, while harassed ushers gesticulated helplessly.

There was one space beside a German paterfamilias guarding a large picnic box. He insisted, in perfect English, that there was only one space, but I beckoned frantically to my husband. I could not bear to be parted from him for the next six and a half hours - and besides, he was carrying our picnic.

After some classic assertion techniques on our part, the man grudgingly moved up, allowing us to squeeze in like spent toothpaste tubes.

Since the steps feel fiery from the sun (indeed, they were still warm at 2am) it is wise to bring air-cushions; however, ours were constantly in danger of being punctured by brawny men selling food and drink. "Gelati, pannini," they yelled, forcing their way along each row, each one treading on my skirt as they passed. Unnerved, I dropped the fragmented shell from my hard-boiled egg, which became caught in the golden hairs of my neighbour's knees. Fearing to displease him further by setting his beard alight, we decided not to buy the candles, traditionally lit before the performance begins, in this case at 9.10pm.

Once the performance finally started we were mesmerised. The staging and the music were magical, even though, perched high up in the 2,000- year-old arena, we watched the action through binoculars. Although our hands were sticking together with perspiration, we willingly joined in the frequent applause.

When the opera ended at 2am, we were in a comatose state, hardly prepared for a half-hour trek across Verona to a quiet square where our coach was parked. Apparently, there is an ongoing vendetta between coach drivers and the police, who prevent parking or even re-entering central Verona after the perfomance. As a result, opera goers are often trapped in traffic jams for hours. We were lucky, our coach left Verona by a side road and we were back in Bardolino by 3am.

We were also wiser for the experience. We realised that to enjoy the opera in Verona, two precautions are advisable - a reserved seat in the rear stalls (about pounds 75), and a coach driver who is among the cognoscenti. There again, you could economise and go to Glyndebourne. Or use your cash on a few CDs of Pavarotti, and simply visit Verona before the hordes of tourists get there in July.

FIVE CITY ESSENTIALS: VERONA

Fly to Verona on British Airways, which offers the only scheduled service (0345 222111). BA charges pounds 192 including tax for the round-trip from Gatwick if you travel before 2 May. Or try for a cheap ticket to nearby Venice through agents such as Lupus Travel (0171-306 3000).

Book an opera package, a selection of which are available from numerous operators, such as Martin Randall Travel (0181-742 3355) and Travel for the Arts (0171-483 4466).

Ask the Italian State Tourist Office, 1 Princes Street, London W1R 8AY (0171-408 1254) for details of accommodation.

Avoid Juliet's House on via Cappello, unless the idea of rowdy Australian tourists adopting unusual poses beside the statue of Romeo's lover appeals.

Beware the money-changing machines attached to several banks in Verona. Although they offer the useful prospect of after-hours currency transactions, the rates of exchange would make the average merchant of Venice or Verona blanch. Try cash or credit card instead.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker