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Friday, 24 August 2007

Lively Scenes from an Opera Buffa in Verona

Even the most casual reader will have noticed that I am a bit of a buffoon. But you may not know that I also love the opera.

So, let me tell you what happened after the last entry in this sorry tale, which was about a business meeting to Italy on my birthday. And let me remind you that Opera Buffa means comic opera.

Getting there is half the fun, they say; but it’s often much more than that with us. So, my partner set things up in fine style by working through the night, then driving us to Stansted at 6 a.m. (Among my many other shortcomings, readers, I cannot drive a car).

An hour of Italian bravura driving followed, which she told me later she remembers nothing of. Just as well she slept on the plane, because she drove for another hour to a most beautiful restaurant overlooking Lake Garda.

Only when she handed me a box – which you see at the top of this entry – did I realize that this was not a business meeting. It was a birthday present. The box was handmade by my partner with a bit of help from my PA. Inside was a specially printed and written booklet describing each restaurant we were eating at, the hotel we were staying at, and the opera we were to see that evening in the Arena at Verona.

Recitals of great meals are boring, so let us go to Verona, the largest outdoor opera house in Europe, set in an old Roman amphitheatre … where it was raining, for a recital of what happens when you piss off Italian opera lovers.

The rule at Verona is as follows: If, because of rain, the opera does not begin after 150 minutes (yes, two and half hours) you get your money back.

If it starts before that time, but then stops, you don’t get your money back. What happened was this. After about an hour it was announced that the opera might begin – so we shouldn’t go away - but it couldn’t begin if there was the slightest amount of rain, as the instruments would be damaged.

Here is a picture of me waiting to find out.

Being an Italian, my dear partner said that the organizers would play a few notes, then stop and take our money.

Guess what happened? After two hours, with many announcements about consultations with the local meteorological office about the “current meteorological disturbances”, and a few glasses of wine, it was announced that things were going to get better, and the show would definitely begin.

And indeed it did; for about two and a half minutes.

Then it stopped, but an announcement was made that it would restart. Now at this point, the average English audience would say “They’re taking the piss”. The Italians (thousands, by the way) said the same thing but rather more ferociously.

“Vergogna!” many shouted. (This means “Shame.”) Many others shouted “Buffoni” (This is the plural of Drayton). A man with a good sense of humour shouted “Pagliacci” – which opera-loving readers will know means clowns, but is also a famous opera. One man, purple in the face and shaking with rage – shouted, “Carabinieri! Come quickly! Thieves here!”

It occurred to us that a British audience at that point would have said what an absolute disgrace it was and threatened to write to the paper. The Italians, God bless ’em, kept shouting until the authorities gave in and said we could have our money back.

The next day we did have our business meeting – but that was not NEARLY as interesting

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