If ONLY it was light breaking across the skies of Verona today, and not billowing clouds, cracking thunder and tumultuous, fat rain!
The day started out pleasantly enough. There are two major sites that have tourists flooding into Verona. Juliet’s (alleged) balcony, and the Roman Arena. When I visited 22 years ago, and had the chance to peak inside the arena a few hours before a Sting concert, I swore I’d come back to see a performance there. Built in, wait for this Aussie peeps, AD30 the Verona Arena is internationally renowned for its annual Opera season, now in its 100th year. While not a fan of Opera in the slightest, I wasn’t going to let the opportunity to see a show there during this trip slip me by. I bought tickets in the cheaper back stalls months ago, and this was one night of our trip I was looking forward to the most. But let me get back to Juliet for a sec.
The world is mad for a love story. Sure the story’s better when the lead characters don’t cark it in the end, but in the case of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, the tragedy of it all seems to make it more appealing. So when Verona found out that turisti would pay good money to see a famous “Romeo, Romeo where fore-art thou Romeo” balcony, they slapped one up, and watched the fools arrive. That’s the Dani theory anyway. Here’s the text-book one. Some say that Shakespeare based his play on two real wealthy families of Verona at the time, and that this home belonged to the dell Capello (Juliet’s “Capulet”) clan. The fancy pants windows and even the balcony weren’t actually added until the 1930’s, but that minor fact seems to be overlooked by the throngs that come to take photos, and to leave dedications of chewing gum, love locks and graffiti for Juliet. She gets thousands of letters from all over the world from broken hearts asking for relationship advice, all of which get answered by “The Juliet Club”, a group of dedicated ladies who help keep Verona’s love-heart-product-industry afloat. We HAD to be a part of it, and having an extra tall husband helps when you want to legally graffiti an already ink-covered wall!
There is also a statue of Juliet beneath the balcony. It’s said to be good luck to rub her breast, and when I did just that 22 years ago, it was the only shiny part of the statue. Clearly tourists have become a little more vigorous in their rubbing, and the poor love is shiny all over now, with the metal near worn through in parts!
We also did an obligatory church-stop (they’re all so beautiful), and found ourselves at “San Fermo”. So may of the churches consist of an older “lower” church (in this case 11th century), and a newer, bigger upper church (here, 14th century). I adore the low vaulted ceilings of the lower churches, covered in early Christian frescoes. The artwork is no where near as complex or intricate as in the Renaissance era, but it’s more about telling a story using basic imagery, not about seeing who could paint the most fancy pants Madonna! Of COURSE the Renaissance masters were brilliant, but the simplicity of the earlier work seems more heartfelt and authentic to me.
After a quick pasta dinner, we were ready to get our opera on. We were all dressed up, with the girls looking beautiful in masks we bought in Venice. If you’re not going to dress up for the Opera, when are you!? We were pretty surprised to see most of the cheap-seat crowd hadn’t bothered in the slightest. It was all sensible shoes and shorts. Groan. The stone of the Arena was still warm from the day’s sunshine, and as the crowd shuffled in, the stage was cleaned, the sets were assembled, and the musicians entered, we got excited. A lovely older French couple beside us passed us mini candles to light before the show, a tradition dating back to 1913 when patrons used the candles to read their programs. The crowd went wild when the legendary singer Placido Domingo took his place as the show’s conductor. The music started. Egyptian soldiers marched along the outer rings of the arena. The string section swelled. Tears in my eyes welled. Two actors made their way to the stage. They sang two lines each…
And then the rain came.
And din’t stop.
With the entire arena out in the open, and with some of the instruments worth tens of thousands of dollars, the orchestra were packed up and out in a flash. The audience sat and waited for the rain to stop. Traditionally , the show can re-start again within 2.5 hours. But the rain turned into heavier rain, and then into a storm, with thunder and lightning crashing across the arena. The archways and entrances became clogged with drenched patrons waiting for an announcement that the show would re-commence. But it never came. And policy states that if the show has started, no refunds are to be given. You can imagine how 1000’s of wet, angry international opera fans were feeling that night!
We made a bit of an adventure of it all though, and while we were very disappointed, we DID get to see Placido (albeit for 5 minutes), and see the stage all set up. Maybe next time.