Rick Zullo’s take on life as Italian opera

It is a common notion among foreigners that Italians enjoy life more than the rest of us.  But that isn’t exactly accurate, nor is the point.  I think it would be closer to the truth to say that Italians appreciate life more than the rest us.  The good, the bad, and everything in between; they really immerse themselves in it fully.  Which reminds me of a night last summer when I finally saw my first opera here in Rome.  It was worth the wait, because the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma put on a fantastic performance of Bellini’s “Norma,” among the extraterrestrial dreamscape of the Terme di Caracalla.

Anyway, that particular night happened to be the premier and the seats were mostly full.  By my rough estimate I’d say that nearly half of the spectators were tourists.  One might think that your average tourist wouldn’t “get” the opera, as obviously it is sung entirely in Italian without subtitles or translations.  But under the stars on a perfect Roman evening, surrounded by the crumbling remains of the ancient civilization, there isn’t much that one needs to “get.”  The music was gorgeous, the setting surreal, and the weather was perfect.  Buy a glass a Prosecco at the bar then shut off your brain and turn on your senses.  A vacation within a vacation for any weary traveler.

The truth is, life itself is an opera here in Rome.  Everyone is an actor and we are their spectators.  Listen to someone talking about their head cold and you’d swear that they’ve been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  The smallest insult can result in a promise of vendetta that’s carried on for decades.  And don’t even joke to a man about being cornuto (cuckold) because then he’s obliged to kill you (and the law may even be on his side in that case).  Italians like to exercise the full range of emotions on a daily basis; they like to see what the “audience” responds to, always expecting (or at least hoping for) a standing ovation.

So if you don’t make to the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma for a performance, don’t worry too much.  Just hang around any given piazza around town and watch all the little operas play out in daily life.  They’re just as well-acted, only without the orchestra.  But if you’re anxious to see a slightly more professional version, here are some of the most famous venues around Italy.