Special Event: Dante’s Divine Comedy in the Arena of Verona. When this poster presented itself to me and my wife yesterday evening, I was intrigued. When I read that this opera would be on stage just one night – that very evening – I immediately understood that all of the obligations, charters, bylaws, codes, and maxims of the gentleman adventurer canon demanded that we attend.*
The Romans built the amphitheater in Verona in 30 AD. Despite the Romans’ best efforts to wreck the place with civil wars; nonstop invasions by Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Lombards, and Charlemagne; and a strictly-enforced anti-bridge policy imposed by the Nazis, the arena is still just as much an amphitheatre now as it was two millennia ago. And wow could the Romans build themselves some sweet amphitheatres.
Click the link or you’ll end up in the Fifth Circle of Hell. And you don’t want that. Really, you don’t.
Verona and Dante go together like a scoop of gelato and… another scoop of gelato. When Dante ran into a few political problems in his hometown of Florence – the kind that get you burned at the stake** – he strolled into Verona with the best “let’s be friends” expression he could muster. Apparently it worked. He stayed for quite a spell and wrote most of the Paradiso section of his famous book here (Paradiso is the place filled with sunshine, lollipops, and boring people).
We got our tickets in the plebian section of the arena, which I highly recommend. Not only are they far cheaper, but it’s the only way you can get a seat on the same stone that Roman posteriors occupied two thousand years ago. In addition to the singing, which I assume you expected in an opera, they had a whole passel of dancers, who did a pretty convincing job of writhing around in agony for the Hell portions of the show. The high school class that surrounded us stayed surprisingly quiet throughout the opera, which leads me to believe that the story was at least moderately interesting to those who spoke Italian. Speaking of Italian, Dante apparently invented the language just for his book. He cobbled together a bunch of Tuscan dialects and even gave the language its name. That’s the kind of dedication to wordsmithery that you just don’t get with Dan Brown.
The singing and dancing certainly fell into the thumbs-up range of the scale, but the needle flew right to 11 when it came to the artwork projected onto the backdrop of the stage. Carlo Rambaldi, the guy who built E.T. and the mechanical head of the alien in Alien, came up with some images of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise that I would very much like to steal and call my own.
The downside of the spontaneity of gentlemanly adventuring is that you might not always be fully prepared for every possible situation. While everyone around us began bundling up in thick wool blankets to learn about the wonders of Paradise, we were experiencing the cold of the Ninth Circle of Hell. We decided to opt for the French Exit. Unfortunately, the stairs suffered from a pretty severe overpopulation problem, so our subtle exit turned out much more like the scene from Inglorious Basterds when the fake Italians decide to leave the movie theatre full of Nazis. Fortunately, there was nary a Nazi in sight – and we saw the better part of a great opera to boot – so I call it a win!
* Please note that the gentlemen adventurer canon does not exist. For more on the obligations, charters, bylaws, codes, and maxims of LGA, please consult the whim of the nearest member.
** In June 2008, Florence revoked the death sentence on Dante. So Dante, come on back! And when you do show up, stop by Cipolla Rossa. They make a pasta with pork cheeks worthy of a new chapter in your book.