Actually I did nod off momentarily as it happened, during the performance of Turandot at the Royal Opera House some 7 years ago. I’m not the greatest opera fan and I found most of it pretty dull to be honest but I was wide awake for the famous aria Nessun Dorma, possibly composer Puccini’s greatest work. It’s one hell of a piece of music; a strong melody with surging phrases which builds to a stunning high-noted climax. It became universally popular during the Italia ’90 World Cup of course when performed by the Three Tenors and it became just about everyone’s favourite bit of opera.
To watch it sung live was truly moving. Now Turandot is back at the Royal Opera House but I won’t be ringing the box office in a desperate search for a pair of tickets because Pavarotti just nailed it for me and his performance is seared into my memory. I couldn’t watch it without making an unfair comparison with the big fellah. The other fact is that it’s not actually my favourite bit of opera. For that I need to go back a few years to when I left BT.
One of my great colleagues organised an amazing do for me at the top of the BT Tower for my 30th anniversary. It was a ‘This is Your Life’ theme and dozens of the people I’d worked with over that time were there. It was all very poignant but it was also the point at which I realised that it was time to move on. We’d made the decision to move to Italy and spend some time in a restored farmhouse with its olive grove and do some consultancy business hopefully from there. It took a little while to agree my leaving arrangements but before long I was having my proper leaving do, this time with just my closest colleagues and business contacts. It was a brilliant bash. I made an embarrassing speech about a former boss which I hope wasn’t recorded and celebrated with lots of wine. Lots. Next morning I woke up to find a huge selection of cool leaving presents but the most intriguing was a pair of best tickets to the Opera at Verona, date at our convenience. Of course we’d have moved to Italy by then.
We had to liaise with the ticket agency about fixing a date. The many visitors we had over our first summer there made it difficult to find a free weekend but eventually we plumped for the final weekend of events at the end of August.
The drive up to Verona took around 3.5 hours but it’s a lovely journey. It was our fist visit to Verona which nestles in a bend on the river Adige in the foothills of the eastern Alps with beautiful Lake Garda to the west. It has a really pretty mediaeval centre to the town with lots of tiny roads. Our hotel was located right in the heart of the old town but I’d forgotten the location map and was struggling to find it. I eventually took a wrong turn and ended up facing the wrong way in this tight little piazza. I was about to try and back out when I noticed this polizia car with some stern-looking cops inside looking closely at me. Ooops. I got out of the car and went over to them, explained I was English and told them I was struggling to find our hotel. They just said hang on, finished their business with this shop owner and told me to follow them. We got a police escort right to the door of the hotel and a request to enjoy our visit to their lovely city. Why can’t all policemen be like that?
The Arena is a 2000 year old Roman ampitheatre set in Piazza Bra. The outer wall has now largely gone but the inner wall and circle are largely preserved intact. It’s one of the largest to survive and probably the best-preserved and it’s quite stunning especially when filled with a brilliant set and packed with an audience. Our seats were the expensive padded ones in front of the stage. They were super but next time I’ll definitely try the original stone seats around the perimeter just to see what it’s like to experience it as the Romans would have done. There all guests are given candles to light at sunset which is a spectacular effect. Getting seated was easy, getting drinks was easy and because of the near perfect acoustics, the operas are performed un-miked. After all the rain earlier in the week, we were treated to a perfect summer’s evening, thankfully.
I’m not a huge fan of opera as I mentioned earlier but if you’re going to experience it, this is definitely the way. Puccini’s Tosca is about a boy, Cavaradossi, a girl, Tosca and a baddie, the evil Sicillian Scarpia and its setting is the Napoleonic wars. I don’t think I’m giving much away to say they all buy it in the end. Tosca had her big singing moment and there was enthusastic but rather polite applause for her I thought. But when Cavaradossi, played by the brilliant Marcello Alvarez, sang his aria ‘E lucevan le stelle’ before his impending execution, the place exploded. The applause didn’t relent until he’d performed a ‘bis’ – literally a repeat singing but out of character ie sung straight without any acting. If anything he sung it even more perfectly. It translates as ‘and the stars were shining’ which just seemed so appropriate. The applause was unlike anything I’d heard before. It was the most stirring live performance I’ve ever witnessed. I just loved it.
If you want to hear what the aria sounds like check it out below, sung by the big fellah:
If anyone’s listening in they can play that at my funeral. I’ll shuffle off happily.