“You may have the universe if I may have Italy,” wrote the composer and operatic genius Giuseppe Verdi of his beloved homeland. The country, where opera was first invented some 400 years ago, has been synonymous with the art form ever since. In the heydays of the 19th century, Verdi and his counterpart Giacomo Puccini were celebrated the world over for their romantic and often tragic tales of love and loss, with some of the most famous Italian operas including Aida, Madama Butterfly, and La Traviata.
These classic works, along with other famous operas such as Rossini’s The Barber of Seville continue to be performed at great opera houses across the globe, yet nothing beats the experience of watching Italian opera in Italy. There are opera houses all across the country, and a number of summer festivals where you can enjoy a classic opera under the stars. Here’s our pick of the best places to enjoy Italian opera in all its glory on your next trip.
La Scala, Milan
Perhaps the most famous opera house in the world, Teatro alla Scala in Milan has been welcoming audiences since 1778. Composers including Rossini and Verdi saw their first successes with premiers at La Scala, and its reputation as the true “home” of Italian opera has lasted for over 200 years.
Opera season traditionally begins here on December 7, which is St Ambrose day (the patron saint of Milan). This year’s opening night performance will be Andrea Chénier by Giordano, conducted by Riccardo Chailly. Chopin’s ballet La Dame aux Camellias is also on the programme this year along with Die Fledermaus by Strauss and a modern ballet set to the music of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Tickets and information can be found on the La Scala website, and if you do get the chance to attend, make sure you dress to impress—a night at the opera is considered a chance to show off your best outfit. Milan is also Italy’s fashion capital, after all.
La Fenice, Venice
La Fenice theater, or the Phoenix, in Venice, has a history as long as rich as La Scala, with twists and turns that would not be out of place in a Verdi opera. Named for a fire that destroyed the city’s original opera house, La Fenice has itself been destroyed by fire twice since it opened in 1792. The most recent fire in 1996, completely destroyed the building, which was rebuilt and reopened for the third time in 2003. The first opera to be performed at the newly opened venue was Verdi’s La Traviata, and visitors to Italy will be able to see this classic opera performed at La Fenice once again this year, with performances until late January 2018.
Also on the program this season is Rossini’s classic comic work The Barber of Seville, as well as two great works by Puccini; La Boheme, and Madama Butterfly, running on various dates until the end of April 2018. If you can, buy tickets in one of the 170 private boxes that line the sides of the theater for an experience that will take you back in time to the glory days of the late 19th century.
Arena di Verona
For a summer spectacle on a grand scale, it’s hard to beat the magnificent Roman Arena in Verona city. Built in the 1st century AD and still in excellent condition, the Roman amphitheater is one of the best-preserved structures of its kind. Watching the opera here with 15,000 other people, each lighting a candle to illuminate the arena, is a truly momentous experience.
The summer 2018 season will see five classic operas take to the stage. First up, in June 2018 is Bizet’s Carmen, a love story set in the southern Spanish town of Seville, followed by Aida—Verdi’s tale of an Egyptian princess held captive—one of the Arena di Verona’s most popular shows. These are followed by Puccini’s Turandot, which features the classic aria Nessun Dorma, then Nabucco, the story of the king of Babylon, also by Verdi, and finally Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. Check the website for dates as performances of each opera are dotted throughout the summer, and if you choose to opt for a seat on the stone steps of the arena, make sure you pick up a cushion to sit on your way into the area—performances can last for up to four hours and you want to be as comfortable as possible!
Puccini Festival, Tuscany
If you’re planning to visit Tuscany this summer, then you need to factor in a visit to the Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago. Held every July and August since 1930, the festival puts a selection of Puccini’s best-loved works each year, with outdoor performances at Teatro dei Quattromila along the banks of Lake Massaciuccoli. Puccini lived in Torre del Lago for 30 years and some of his most famous works were written here. The town has a very dear love for its adopted son, in fact, its official name was changed to Torre del Lago Puccini after the composer’s death to commemorate him.
This year, performances will include Turandot, Tosca, Madama Butterfly and Manon Lescaut—the festival website has all the information you need on performances and tickets. If you’re in town for the day, stop in at the Puccini museum housed in the composer’s own villa, for a taste of the composer’s life before you take in the show.