To mark the centenary of the composer's birth, a much-admired staging of Verdi's Aida in Verona took place in 1913 on the occasion of the first Arena Opera Festival at the city’s well-maintained Roman amphitheatre. Since then, the beloved four-act tragic opera has been performed frequently at the same venue, which is located at Piazza Brà, from where a sightseeing little train tour also runs. Although the ancient site is used every summer for the city's varied operatic festival, only one production has featured almost continually, hence the name Aida 1913. Set in Egypt's Old Kingdom period, there are few finer places to enjoy such a notable opera than in the centre of Verona's historic quarter, especially when combined with a little train tour of the city's most notable spots.
It was Isma'il Pasha, the man who effectively ruled Egypt and Sudan for much of the 1860s and 70s, who commissioned Verdi to write an opera set in his country. The journalist and poet Antonio Ghislanzoni provided Verdi with the libretto, one that many consider to be his best work. Certainly, when the show opened in Cairo on Christmas Eve 1871, it achieved widespread acclaim. Within a few years, the opera was being staged in venues ranging from Buenos Aires to London and from Berlin to New York City.
Today's production of Aida at the Verona Arena is a re-enactment of the first one that was staged at this venue in 1913. The story is the same now as it was then, of course. An Ethiopian princess has been enslaved and is kept at the Egyptian court. The princess, Aida, finds that she has fallen in love with a young Egyptian captain named Radamès. Unfortunately for the couple, the daughter of the pharaoh also has feelings for Radamès and things become even more uncomfortable for Aida when war breaks out between her home country and Egypt.
Aida's confused state between loyalty to her people and Radamès is perhaps best expressed in 'O patria mia', the beautiful aria she sings in Act 3 which is set on the banks of the Nile, near the Temple of Isis. 'La fatal pietra' is another tender duet which is sung by Radamès and Aida in Act 4. Most music fans will also be familiar with the ever-popular 'Triumphal March' which is sung by the cast in celebration of one of Radamès' battlefield victories.
As well as the opera, this delightful experience includes a little train ride, or trenino, through the beautiful Veronese streets. The train tour takes about 25 minutes with a guide commentary in various languages. It starts and ends at Piazza Brà, handy for accessing the Arena itself. The trenino runs about every half an hour and you can access it on the same day as the opera or the day before or after, as preferred. The little train tour highlights include Castelvecchio, the medieval castle built by the Della Scala family, the Roman-era Gavi Arch, the 15th-century Basilica di Santa Anastasia and the Church of San Fermo, among others.