Italian life and culture: Opera

Monteverdi, Cavalli, Piccinni, Paisiello, Verdi… with so many Italian opera heavyweights, and as an opera fan myself, I knew I would have to see one at least one during my stay in Rome, but thought nothing of it for a while. However, by chance, I was eating lunch and noticed a flyer advertising a small Werner Herzog film retrospective, and took it (of course, I’m a big Herzog fan as well). The server noticed and said to me, “if you like Herzog, and opera, he will be here: he is directing an opera.” And so then I knew I had to make plans sharpish. Trucking down to the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma I found that he was directing a staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s I Due Foscari, and would have bought tickets then except they were closed. I was so excited at the chance to see one of my film heroes direct a performance of one of my favorite  art forms.

Of course, by the time I was able to get down to buy tickets, they were sold out. So I made arrangements to go to Samson et Dalila by Camille Saint-Saëns instead. I had seen it before on video, but this would be my first live opera. Despite not getting to see Herzog’s I Due Foscari, I was excited: Saint-Saëns is a composer I admire greatly, and Samson et Dalila is nothing if not dramatic.

The drama of the night actually started when my date and I left a little too late to get to the theater with a comfortable margin of time. There is a bus by our apartment that takes us very near the theater, so we stood at that stop in what we quickly decided was a futile attempt. Panicked, we rushed up to the tram that goes from our neighborhood to Largo Argentina. There is construction related to a new tram line, so much is cordoned off and bottlenecks abound, forcing us to Bogart our way upstream to the bus stop. The bus came and went without us, as we noticed how many people it was carrying and decided that after doing our best salmon impressions we didn’t want to also pretend to be sardines. We did what was previously unthinkable. We hailed a cab.

It was the most terrifying experience I’ve ever had in a car. We got across Rome in two minutes.Upon entry, we made our way up to the nosebleeds, and took our seats. We envied those sitting further forward than we, and noted that there were some empty seats in the front row. As soon as the lights dimmed, before any coherent thought could go through our minds such as “we should go sit in them things up there”, a horde of Romans leaped over the backs of seats to occupy those spaces. We shrugged our shoulders, resigned to our fate in the back.The show itself was really neat; the costumes were really contemporary (the Philistines’ costumes had an especially cool cyberpunk theme involving spring stilts, hockey masks, and QR codes) and they made great use of a projector. Despite being epic in length (three hours, give or take), it went by quickly. The main, mezzo-soprano aria “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix” was done well and moving when Samson joined in for the duet portion, and the bacchanale in the final act was surprisingly physical and involved. It was definitely a wonderful live performance to have as my first live opera, and a great memory from Rome.

Past Vs. Present: La Via Appia Antica

If you ever make your way to the western borders of Rome along the Aurelian wall you may stumble across Porta San Sebastiano. While the port is a spectacle to behold, it’s what sits at the ports entrance that is truly amazing. San Sebastiano marks the beginning of one of ancient Rome’s southern roads, la Via Appia Antica. Today the road can still be viewed and traveled the way it would have been when it was first constructed around 312 B.C. It is because of this that Appia Antica is one of the best places in Rome to visit if you wish to gain a clear understanding of the scale and engineering put into creating these incredible roads.

During ancient times roads were absolutely critical to an empire’s survival. Having well-made roads meant that not only items could be traded, but soldiers could be easily moved from place to place if the need for battle arose. Luckily for the Romans they were masters of road construction, so much so that even modern vehicles still travel on the very stones laid thousands of years ago. With the numerous farms, forts, castles, and temples dot the landscape along this beautiful path, taking a trip down Appia Antica is like traveling backwards in time. Today ancient Roman mile markers can still be seen marking the distance of a thousand paces from the center of Rome, and many catacombs used as places of early Christian worship can be accessed from the Appia Antica.

La Via Appia Antica

If you travel to the west of the quiet Appia Antica, you will find yourself on the noisy edge of Appia Nuova. While these two roads may share the same name, the differences between them could not be more obvious. Unlike Appia Antica the modern Appia Nuova is constantly filled with vehicles traveling into and out of Rome, and very few pedestrians travel along its edge. One can’t help but wonder if there is a way to combine the efficiency of Appia Nuova and the beauty of Appia Antica to create a road that meets the needs of modern transportation while still being enjoyable to experience.