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On any trip, Sam and I try to learn about the culture of a destination rather than simply checking off a list of must-see attractions. After all, one of the major benefits of travel is that it opens your mind to other cultural perspectives.
During our three days in Rome, we decided to embrace Italian culture in two ways: by eating our weight in gelato and attending the opera. Both were great experiences that we embraced enthusiastically.
Several weeks before our trip, we searched online to see what events would be happening in Italy during our time there, and saw that Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas would be playing at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma.
Though I love live theater (especially attending Broadway shows in NYC), I’d never been to an opera, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I admit the idea of an opera conjured up mental images of hefty prima donnas shattering windowpanes with their screeching voices. But I decided to attend with an open mind.
We purchased our tickets online in advance, and we were pleased to see that ticket prices were more affordable than we expected. Though orchestra seats were pricey, tickets for balcony seats only cost around €30 per person.
We arrived early and saw many people already milling around outside the theater. I hadn’t been sure what to wear, but quickly saw that Italians take the opera seriously.
While most people weren’t wearing evening gowns and tuxedos, everyone appeared neatly dressed. I wore a causal dress and sandals, and Sam wore a dress shirt and chinos. We both felt properly attired.
The theater itself was the main reason I wanted to attend, as it is absolutely gorgeous. Originally opened in 1880, entering the building felt like stepping back in time to a more glamorous era.
We obviously didn’t do too much research before attending the show, because I was fully prepared to listen to two hours of Italian. But as soon as it started, I realized Dido and Aeneas is written and performed in English!
Regardless, there was a screen with English subtitles, so we would have been able to follow along even if the show had been performed in Italian. Don’t let concern about the language barrier scare you away!
Though I am far from an opera buff, the performance seemed to be fairly high quality. At one point a large tank of water was on stage and the performers conducted choreography underwater. The effect was cool, even if I didn’t entirely understand the purpose it served in the plot. Then again, I’m not sure I entirely understood the plot. In retrospect, reading a summary of the storyline beforehand would have enhanced the experience.
Our only complaint was that the opera house was not well air-conditioned and we roasted in the balcony. We spent most of the performance vigorously fanning ourselves with our programs.
I also regret not taking opera glasses. Not because I struggled to see, but because, really, how often do you have an excuse to use them?
We left the theater feeling cultured and ready for a third scoop of Nutella gelato. Because culture comes in many forms.
Have you ever attended an Italian opera? What was your experience?
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