So, You Want to See an Opera in Italy...

Contributor: Rebecca Winke

There may be no better place to see an opera than Italy, with its rich musical history, stable of illustrious composers, and sumptuously grand landmark theaters. And there may be no better people to advise the traveling opera fan than Brian and Maria, Italy travel experts and professional musicians themselves.

CIU owners Maria Gabriella (center) and Brian (right) take a bow with pianist Marco Scolastra (left) after a concert of American music sponsored by Amici della Musica in Foligno, Umbria. (Photo by Chicco Fratta via Smugmug)

The 2014 opera season began with the season premiere at La Scala in Milan on December 7th, and will run through June or early July, break for summer music festivals, and then pick up again from September to early November. Opera houses across Italy have published their season schedules, so travelers visiting in the spring and fall can already begin to make plans.

Opera houses throughout Italy dedicated their seasons to Verdi and Wagner, in honor of the 200th anniversary of their births; the celebration began with last season’s opening night at La Scala with Wagner's Lohengrin and ended with this season’s opening production of Verdi's La Traviata. The Wagner celebration comes to an un-official end in Italy with a late January production of Parsifal at the Teatro Communale di Bologna in honor of the 100th anniversary of the first Italian performance of Wagner's masterwork on January 1, 1914.

Since Verdi and Wagner had their big year in 2013, the house schedules in 2014 highlight many of the other great composers for the lyric stage; Puccini, Rossini, Donizetti and even a little Mozart.

Opera Glasses (Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Read on for an exhaustive—and expert--guide to attending a performance at the three principal opera houses in Italy: Milan, Venice, and Rome (keeping in mind that Torino, Parma, Bologna, Genova, and Naples also have excellent theaters). And even if you aren’t headed to a performance, you may want to consider packing a pair of opera glasses, a surprisingly handy and versatile travel gadget.

Opera houses across Italy have published their 2014 schedule, so music-loving travelers visiting next year can already begin to make plans. Click to tweet.

Milan


La Scala by night(Photo by sinanyuzakli via Flickr)

Teatro Alla Scala: Official Website

Tickets:
Available for each individual opera production beginning 60 days before its opening performance through the online ticket office. Here you can find prices and a sales calendar, as well.

Titles:
Seat back title system in English and Italian.

Dress:
Jackets for men, elegant attire for women. Formal wear for opening nights and gala events.

Notes:
Teatro Alla Scala in Milan is the premier international opera house in Italy. It’s productions, like those of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, are broadcast on television and in movie theaters throughout Italy.

Maria and Brian’s Picks:
Berlioz's Les Troyens (April 8-30) - This epic work of French romanticism is a co-production that premiered at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Rarely performed, this is a once-in-a-lifetime marathon event (it clocks in at 5 1/2 hours) for an opera lover.

Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte (19 June - 18 July) - This new production, conducted by Daniel Barenboim and directed by Claus Guth, is based on the highly-acclaimed 2009 Salzburg Festival production. The performances in June feature star tenor Rolando Villazón.

Rossini's Le Comte d'Ory (July 4-21) - Speaking of star tenors, Juan Diego Flórez is sure to pack them in for the new production of this Rossini comedy.

Venice


La Fenice: Official Website

Tickets:
Available through the official on-line ticket office.

Titles:
Italian and English supertitles are available for most productions.

Dress:
Jackets for men, elegant attire for women. Formal wear for opening nights and gala events.

Notes:
Teatro La Fenice is both one of Venice’s architectural crown jewels and one of its unluckiest monuments. Since opening in 1774, this dazzling theater has burned to the ground and been triumphantly rebuilt three times, giving its name--La Fenice means The Phoenix—a certain gravitas. The last fire was in 1996, and the newly restored elaborate 19th century-style theater was reopened to mixed reviews in 2003.

If you're looking for standard repertory and an unforgettable theater experience, then La Fenice in Venice is the place to be.

Maria and Brian’s Picks:
This Spring, La Fenice is featuring the "holy trinity" of Puccini works; La Boheme (19 April - 30 May), Madama Butterfly (26 April - 1 June), and a new production of Tosca (16-31 May). 

Also of interest for opera fans would be a new production of the the rarely performed Il Campiello (28 February - 11 March) by Wolf-Ferrari. Venetian born, Wolf-Ferrari wrote this lyric comedy based on a play by Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni in 1936. The libretto is in Venetian dialect and chronicles the comedic lives and loves of the inhabitants of a small square (campiello) in Venice. You can't get more Venetian than this.

Other standard repertory productions we recommend are Il Barbiere di Siviglia (20 February - 20 March), La Traviata (29 August - 25 September), Il Trovatore (12-28 September), and Don Giovanni (10-19 October).

If you're looking for standard opera repertory and an unforgettable theater experience, La Fenice in Venice is the place to be. Click to Tweet.

Rome


Teatro Dell'Opera (Photo by Matthew Black via Flickr)

Teatro Dell'Opera di Roma Official Website

Tickets: Can be purchased online through listicket.com or through the box office.

Titles:
Italian supertitles are available for most productions.

Dress:
Jackets for men, elegant attire for women. Formal wear for opening nights and gala events.

Notes:
Rome’s opera house is renowned for its excellent acoustics, despite the cavernous interior with seating for 1,600 people. Though renovations in the 1950s of the theater’s facade and foyer were somewhat unfortunate, the interior has largely maintained its 19th century elegance. This is also the venue where, in 1958, Maria Callas famously walked off after the first act of a gala performance of Bellini's Norma, claiming illness.

Maria and Brian’s Picks:
Italy’s star-studded opera event of the year will be in Rome when Riccardo Muti conducts and his daughter, Chiara Muti, directs Puccini's Manon Lescaut (February 27 - 8 March), which will feature international superstar soprano, Anna Netrebko. 

Other productions we recommend are the La Fenice production of Rossini rarity, Maometto II (28 March - 8 April) and a new staging of Verdi's Rigoletto (21-31 October).

Italy’s opera event of the year will be in Rome when Riccardo Muti conducts and his daughter, Chiara, directs Puccini's Manon Lescaut with superstar soprano, Anna Netrebko. Click to Tweet.

A Bonus Holiday Tip


If you’re looking for a unique Christmas gift and know you'll be in Italy during the spectacular Arena di Verona’s festival season (20 June - 7 September), consider purchasing "open tickets" to the Arena season. You select the number and sector of your seats and receive a voucher giving you time to choose your performance dates (preferably before April 30, 2014 to maximize availability). This season's repertory features performances of Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera and Aida, Puccini's Turandot and Madama Butterfly, Bizet's Carmen, and Gounod's Romeo et Juliette.

Arena di Verona(Photo by Filippo Ciappi via Flickr)


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