Friday, August 24, 2012

A Night at the Opera

Attending a performance under the stars in the ancient Roman theater in Orange, France was a bucket list item for me. I was well aware, and he reminded me often, that the experience hadn’t made the top of his list, but Joe agreed to be my date, good sport that he is.

The ThéâtreAntique d'Orange, considered, without a doubt, to be among the finest remains of the Roman Empire in Europe, is a semi-circular stone auditorium, which seats 9,000. Built in the 1st century, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to the internationally known summer opera festival, the Chorégies d’Orange. It is about an hour’s drive north of Aix situated in the Rhone valley and therefore subject to the whipping winds of the Mistral. The theater’s audience faces north and the original blind stage wall with its back to the notorious wind remains intact, thereby bestowing performances with protection from the elements and outstanding acoustics. Festivals of all variety of performing arts have been held at the Théâtre Antique since the middle of the 1800s but in 1969, the Chorégies became dedicated to opera alone, leaving theatrical works to migrate to Avignon.

Our long-awaited evening began well. It was a typically sweltering evening in Provence and even the shadows of a sinking sun brought little relief. So it was with great gusto that we gulped down liberal goblets of the refreshing house aperitif at the outdoor cafe at which we dined: grapefruit juice and rose wine over ice. Perfect for a hot, dry pre-opera evening.

We took our seats in the well-preserved theater, amazed that we were sitting on the same quarried stones graced by Roman derrieres some 2,000 years ago. The sun had set, the performance soon started, the orchestra was brilliant and the setting was spectacular. All was going perfectly when the unfortunate episode with the leading man took over and the evening ended in disappointment.

I have history with live opera, bad history in fact, and with the performance in Orange, my misadventures persisted:

1.  December 2011: Attempted to get tickets in Milan for Don Giovanni at La Scala. It was opening night and they laughed at us.

2.  May 2012: Got tickets for La Bohème at La Fenice in Venice. There was an earthquake that morning and the theater sustained damage so the performance was cancelled.

3.  July 2012: Attended Turandot at the ancient Roman amphitheater in Orange. It was a beautiful performance but the lead tenor’s voice gave in to a virus in the third act and he was unable to sing the show's signature aria, and my forever favorite, Nessum Dorma.

I think I give up. No, I know I give up. I was able to cross the item from my list – live opera under the stars in Orange: check. But from now on, I'm planning to stick with listening to Andrea Bocelli on my iPod.

Pictures of our adventures:

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