Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Verona Arena

The first opera to be performed in Verona Arena was Aida in 1913, staged to commemorate the centenary of Verdi's birth. Since then there have been 517 performances of Aida. The opera has been performed every year but one since 1980, it has been performed in over 40 seasons since 1946 but prior to that there were performances of Aida in just 1913, 1920, 1927 and 1936. In fact, since the 2nd World War the Arena seems to have become something of an Aida industry.

The count of performances since 1913 for the top 10 operas is quite revealing, with Aida leading by far:-
Aida = 517
Carmen = 177
Nabucco = 157
Turandot = 108
La Traviata = 90
Rigoletto = 85
Tosca = 82
Cavelleria Rusticana = 76
Il Trovatore = 74
La Boheme = 72

Apart from Aida leading by a long way, the list reveals other things. It includes most (but not all) of the really popular 19th/early 20th century operas, and the selection is not just restricted to operas which would seem suitable for large scale performance. Some of the opera selection inevitably reflects the venue's Italian location, I'm not sure that a comparable English venture would have so many performances of Nabucco. And the absence of Otello from the top 10 possibly reflects the difficulty of casting the title role in such a large venue.

Whereas before the 2nd War the repertoire was quite varied, it now seems to be approaching ossification. This year's operas were Aida, Rigoletto, Nabucco, Tosca and Carmen. Next year's operas are Aida, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Turandot, Tosca and Carmen.

The last time the Arena stage an opera for the first time was in 1999 when they performed Lehar's La Vedova Allegra (The Merry Widow). Prior to that it was I Lombardi in 1984 and Attila in 1985. An opera like Attila would seem to be ideal for the Arena. Similarly Don Carlo (1969, 1992), Boris Goudonov (1930, 1952, 1976) and Samson et Dalila (1921, 1974) would seem to be ideal for Arena performance. In fact I am quite puzzled at why Samson et Dalila has been performed so little, it would seem to be ideally constructed for Verona Arena; but again this probably represents different attitudes and preferences.

Perhaps, also, economics has something to do with it, with the Arena being dependent on attracting punters; and many punters are those for whom opera going is not a regular activity. The Arena is simply too big to rely on opera fanatics.

But it hasn't always been so. In its first 40 years the arena performed a selection of lesser known operas by Catalani, Ponchielli, Zandonai, Boito, Spontini and Meyerbeer. In fact Callas's famous debut was in La Gioconda in 1947.

But in addition to the less well known Italian repertoire, the Arena also staged Wagner: Parsifal (1924), I Maestri Cantori (1931), La Walkiria (1950), Tannhauser (1936) and Lohengrin (1922, 1933, 1949, 1963).

An opera like Lohengrin would have seemed ideal. But then other thoughts occur. If Tosca lasts from 9pm to midnight, how long would a performance of a Wagner opera take?

It would be nice to see the Arena becoming a little more adventurous occasionally, if only because the performing space would seem to lend itself to a wider variety of opera than is performed at present

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