Arena Opera Festival
The most important artistic and cultural event in Verona is undoubtedly the Opera Festival at the Arena di Verona. Every Summer, inside the magnificently preserved Roman amphitheater, five to six operas are staged, chosen among the great classics of the Italian and international tradition.
The festival was born in 1913. According to the legend, the tenor Giovanni Zenatello was inside the Arena with some friends who asked him to improvise an opera aria just for fun. At the end of the song everyone was surprised by the amazing acoustics of the two thousand year old amphitheater and Zenatello had the idea of organizing an entire opera inside it. Over the centuries the Arena had in fact already been used for a wide variety of purposes, from public performances and tournaments of knights in the Middle Ages, to the first theatrical performances from the sixteenth century, up to the "Caccia", a sort of bullfighting very popular in the eighteenth century. The opera, however, was a much more demanding undertaking, which in a place like the Arena could have found a new spectacular dimension. And so it was.
The space inside the immense structure, without backdrop and
curtains, presented the problem of the realization of the stage
sets. The organizers realized that perhaps an architect,
accustomed to dealing with space and three-dimensionality, would
have been more suitable for this purpose. The project was
entrusted to Ettore Fagiuoli, the great Veronese
architect who, more than any other, had been able to interpret the
spirit of the first decades of the 20th century by modelling the
appearance of Verona in those years. He conceived the brilliant
intuition to exploit the very structure of the Arena, making it
part of the set. Since then, the size and spectacularity
of the stage sets of the Arena di Verona have become
characteristics highly appreciated by the public. The huge
sculptures and decorations can be admired also in the evenings
when there are no performances, left on display in Piazza Bra (the
square where the Arena is), next to the old stones of the Roman
The opera that was chosen for the first performance in 1913 was the most spectacular, the Aida, which since then has become a regular appointment of every Arena Summer.
Over time, the opera festival at the Arena di Verona has become an important annual event for all opera lovers, coming to the city of Verona from all over the world. The festival has been repeated, almost uninterruptedly, for more than a hundred years. Over the years, some of the most famous opera singers have walked the scene of the Arena. Maria Callas made her debut there in the late 40s with Norma, Pavarotti sang in the 70s and recently, José Carreras was a guest of the Arena both as an unusual conductor and as a singer in special gala evenings, as well as director Franco Zeffirelli, who has been for many years the art director of many of the operas performed inside the Arena.
The Arena, with its 16,000 seats, is the largest open-air opera house in the world. If you do not have excessive demands you can normally find tickets available even at the last minute, unless it is special gala evenings or with particularly famous conductors or performers. Tickets can be purchased at the retail outlet behind the amphitheater or directly online on the official website of the event.
For all those, individual guests or organized groups, visiting Verona to admire the opera at the Arena, the tourist guides of Verona propose their own itineraries to discover the beautiful historic center of the city, its churches or in the province, on Lake Garda, in Valpolicella or Soave. Verona tours can be booked on any day of the week and at any time.