Italian Language Blog

A night at the opera Posted by on Sep 22, 2009 in Culture

‘O.K., before all you opera fans start getting excited I will openly admit that on the whole I’m not that keen on it. That is, I’m not completely adverse to some of the tunes, especially the famous arias such as Nessun Dorma, but I wouldn’t normally go out of my way to see a performance, in fact to be honest there are certain soprano voices that have the same effect on me that the dragging of fingernails across a blackboard have on other people! However, it just so happened that this summer a friend of ours offered to take us to a performance of Puccini’s Turandot at the famous open air opera house perched on the shore of Lago di Massaciuccoli near Torre del Lago in Tuscany.

I don’t really want to go into much detail about Puccini as I’ve already written an article about him here, suffice it to say that Torre del Lago is the place where Puccini lived and composed his famous operas for many years. Being a nature lover, Puccini always dreamt of having his works performed in the open air against the backdrop of Lago di Massaciuccoli, and in August 1930 his dream became a reality for the first time when a performance took place on a temporary stage in front of the maestro’s house. Later, in 1966 the Puccini Festival became an annual event, changing its location to an upgraded open air theatre on a nearby piece of reclaimed land. More recently the Comune di Viareggio purchased a large area of land on the lake shore near Villa Puccini and created the Parco della Musica, the centerpiece of which is Il Teatro dei Quattromila (The Theatre of 4,000), so named for its seating capacity, although in reality it only seats 3,200 spectators, but hey we Italians are not adverse to a little ‘exaggeration’.

Allora, my impressions of our night at the opera, what indelible memories have I carried away from this unique experience?

Firstly, getting there: in typical Italian style this famous location was sparsely signposted, priority having been given to those kind of multistory signposts which indicate every bar, albergo, factory, municipal police station etc. etc. within a 10 km radius, but never mention the thing that you’re actually looking for. However, informed guesswork finally took us in the right direction, well, when I say informed guesswork what I mean is we just followed the massive crawling traffic jam of cars crammed with what were obviously, judging by their attire, ‘Opera Buffs’.

With the opera about to start, and no car park in sight, we democratically kicked my husband out of the car to go and find the biglietteria and pick up our prepaid tickets. Opening the door of our air conditioned car my husband emerged into the humid heat of a sultry August evening to be swept away into the darkness by the torrent of late opera goers, however he accomplished his mission admirably and we finally found our seats in the impressive modernistic amphitheater just as the show was about to begin.

Memorable impressions: the imposing modernistic amphitheater only seemed to have one toilet for the 3,000 odd spectators, hence most of the first 30 minute interval was spent queuing to fare il bisognino (relieve oneself); lots of ‘Opera Buffs’ attired in their, to our ‘country bumpkin’ eyes, slightly ridiculous abiti da sera (evening dress), which included some outrageous wedding cake style dresses worn by le signore, while the men sported some seriously expensive indumenti firmati (designer clothes).

The highlight of act two was a splendid electrical storm over the nearby Alpi Apuane which threatened to overshadow the spectacle of the opera (not a difficult task in my opinion), and came close to answering the question that we had all asked ourselves: ‘what happens when it pours with rain on 3,000 spectators in an open air theatre?’ Then there was the impromptu cacophony of the local dogs as they added their contribution to the chorus. Actually this quite livened up the performance, as did the occasional wafting of a disco beat from the alternative nightlife of a nearby beach resort.

Oh yes, I nearly forgot, the opera itself, Turandot: three hours with only one major set change, an unintelligible storyline (should have done my homework beforehand), my husband summed it all up with one of his favorite phrases, ‘Suddenly………….nothing happened!’ yet just as total brain death began to seem inevitable along came the magical Nessun Dorma, and somehow it all seemed worthwhile, almost.

But the most exciting part was yet to come, the Gran Finale of the evening, ‘Escape from Torre del Lago’.

Occasionally my husband has good ideas, and as he unfolded his cunning plan we began to realize that this was one of them. Having observed the chaos of the parking arrangements, and the massive queues for the bar and toilets, he wisely suggested that on hearing the final note of the opera we should run for it in a desperate attempt to get to our car and hit the road before the other 3,000 members of the audience realized what was happening. The only snag was that none of us knew Turandot, so how could we be sure when the last note arrived? Yet after one or two false alarms (Puccini liked to draw his endings out), the biggest and loudest note of all finally came and before the first pair of hands had begun to applaud we were off and heading down the stairs, followed by the thundering feet of the best part of three thousand other opera lovers who had all had the same great idea. Oh how I enjoy an evening of culture!


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  1. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Sarena:

    ‘Turandot’ was the first opera I ever saw. It was in Venice and I was told to watch the conductor towards the end of the opera to see if he would indicate where Puccini’s music ends. It seems Puccini died before the opera was completed and Franco Alfano finished the work. I watched but I could not be sure if the conductor made such an indication or not. Was there any such indication at your performance?

    For a wonderful ‘stress-free’ evening at the opera, I suggest taking a tour bus to Verona and watch ‘Aida’ in a Roman coliseum with live elephants and hundreds of people on stage. That is a spectacle! I hope they still do this.

    (The outdoor ‘Aida’ in Rome is also spectaclular.)


  2. Yvonne:

    That was a fun read. I like your husband’s style ..”Suddenly … there was nothing!”

  3. andreas:

    Salve Serena,
    Una storia bellissima. A me mi piace la opera lirica, ma quando si sieda a teatro comodamente.

  4. Egidio:

    Buon di Serena,

    chiaro che per comprendere e godere un opera bisogna prima di tutto studiare e sviluppare una visione dell’opera e dei tempi quando fu sviluppata, poi avere il libretto con se.

    To understand and enjoy the opera you must get into the correct frame of mind and study the opera and the era when created before hand and have the libretto.

    For opera one must develop a taste as is said, but it is not for everyone.

  5. Serena:

    Salve Vince, I knew that Puccini died before finishing ‘Turandot’, and that it was finished by Alfano, but I didn’t know about the conductor, that’s very interesting. I’ve never been to Verona, but I would like to go there one day. Speriamo!



  6. Serena:

    Buondi’ Egidio!

    Da bambina c’erano sempre dischi di opera in casa mia perche’ i miei genitori sono tutti e due appassionati di lirica. Da ragazza sono stata all’opera tre o quattro volte nel piccolo teatro di Lucca e poi piu’ niente per molti anni perche’ vivevo all’estero. E cosi’, pur conoscendo un po’ Puccini, che e’ Lucchese, non mi ricordavo per nulla la Turandot, e ovviamente non avevo il libretto. Piano a piano che l’opera si svolgeva mi tornavano in mente dei vaghi ricordi, come il fatto che il cimento none’ un gara fisica ma un indovinello, ma me lo sono ricordato troppo tardi! Hai ragione tu, ci vuole il libretto!

    A presto!

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