Arena Di Verona (Verona Arena) is the best preserved of the Roman amphitheatres. Built in the first century A.D., it has survived wars, earthquakes, and the ravages of time and man, and would have become a pile of rubble had it not been for the good citizenry of “fair Verona” (Romeo and Juliet).
Today it houses the largest open-air opera festival in the world. Each year for the last 95 years, a selection of productions have been presented over 50 summer evenings, seen by over 500,000 patrons. The very first production, back in 1913, was Aida, so magnificently suited to the locale. That production became legendary, and is being revived this summer for the 86° Festival 2008.
I have seen Aida numerous times, including a production at the famous Baths of Caracalla in Rome complete with elephants. I thought that was the best I would ever witness. Well, I was wrong. Aida is the grandest of all grand operas and fits into the Verona Arena like hand in glove. This production, originally produced by Zenatello and Fagiuli, has occasionally reappeared in the repertory in all its glory, updated with modern staging and technical support.
In this year's version, Gianfranco De Bosio lovingly recreates the 1913 production. De Bosio is now 80, and responsible for past resurrections as well. He describes the production as "modular," with sets consisting of invisibly paired columns that reassemble into the seven scenes the libretto requires. The cast is huge, maybe as many as 200 when you count all the dancers, singers, chorus, and the guards stationed high up in the arena. The production and the costumes are sumptuous and the sound unbeatable. The chorus work is the best I have heard anywhere.
The Aida I heard for the opening was Michaela Carosi, a world-famous interpreter of Verdi who was was chosen by Zeffirelli to play the role for the Verdi Centenary. Carosi's strong voice is perfectly suited to the role, and she is also a consummate actress.