I’ve mentioned earlier about leaving BT. Paul S who worked with me and is just the best guy I know in the company, organised a great do 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. They’d even organised a live video-link up with my first boss B at Cellnet who now lives in Annapolis USA and who is married to my last boss in BT, S, before joining his team. It was all very poignant but it was also when I realised that it was time to show some ambition and move on. I’m nothing if not impetuous. It took a little while to agree my leaving arrangements, thanks largely to S my last boss in BT. She was brilliant. So to the leaving do – Paul S a big influence again. This time it was just my closest colleagues and business contacts but still a great, great do. 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. It seemed a long way from working vacations on the ovens at Mothers Pride bakery in Blackpool.
We had to liaise with the ticket agency about fixing a date. The many visitors we’d had over the summer made it difficult to find a free weekend but eventually we plumped for the final weekend of events at the end of August. We’d initially plumped for a mid-week show but the agency had called me up beforehand to advise that the weather forecast was poor and had suggested we opt for Tosca at the end of the week, when the forecast was better. If it rains once the perfromance has started there are no refunds! I think the agency may have been Liaisons Abroad, but whoever they were they were great. They even got to change our hotel booking without charge and sourced another ticket for us for my daughter R right next to us. Superb service.
The drive up to Verona took around 3.5 hours but it’s a lovely journey and Verona 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 a tough guy inside looking closely at me. Ooops. I got out of the car and went over to him, explained I was English and told him 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 hotel was great, literally one road away from the main shopping road – which pleased C – and perhaps 100 yards from the main piazza and other key points of interest. One of these is the balcony from Romeo and Juliet which is ficticious of course but the little courtyard beneath the balcony is absolutely mobbed, always. One of the interesting features of the place is the graffiti and love messages scrawled on the walls of the entrance way. Millions of them. We had a mooch round to see all the sights and a very slowly served meal before heading back to the hotel to get changed for the evening’s performance.
The Arena is a 200 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 the 3rd largest in Italy and used to be able to hold 30,000. So it’s quite stunning. But when it’s filled with a brilliant set and packed with an audience, the place comes to life. 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 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 is easy, getting drinks is easy and because of the near pefect acoustics, the operas are performed un-miked. After all the rain earlier in the week, we were treated to a perfect summer’s evening.
I’m not a big opera fan 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 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 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 ‘E lucevan le stelle’ even more perfectly. It translates as ‘and the stars were shining’ which just seemed so apposite. The applause was unlike anything I’d heard before. I was quite moved to be honest.
If you want to hear what the aria sounds like just google ‘e lucevan le stelle’ and watch Domingo sing it straight on You Tube. Brilliant, but check out the conductor at the end – he looks as moved as I was. Pehaps a better, though more theatrical performance is from Pavarotti on the same link. He’s a big lad, and he sweats a lot but he can bloody sing.
Anyway that was our experinence of Verona. We did a lot of shopping next day and even that seemed pleasant as it’s a lovely, quite romantic city and a beautiful setting. I even found a modern art museum with some fantastic pieces where I was the only visitor – I kid you not. But you’ve got to do the Opera; trust me it’s one of the things to experience before you shuffle off. We’ve promised our good friends G and M/S and L tickets for the fellas’ 60th birthday presents. If we ever get back to Italy before this summer ends, that is.
Finally a big thank you to all the folks who contributed to the Opera treat for my leaving present. You couldn’t have chosen a more perfect gift. Mille grazie amici.