Arena di Verona inaugurated its 100th anniversary season last night to a packed house of 15k spectators, set to a new La Fura dels Baus production of Verdi's Aida under Omer Meir Wellber's cues for Hui He's Aida and Fabio Sartori's Radames.
As an artist whose lavish productions have jumbled the Arena's massive, open-air stage since 1995, Franco Zeffirelli was understandably absent from the (scarily Z-lister) guest list: his go-to Aida of the last five years (that gilded, 2008 La Scala production that Alagna christened spectacularly with a shake of a fist and a mid-scene walk-off) was snubbed not only for the new Catalan theater troupe's puppetry, but also for the Arena's original 1913 staging that's been dragged out of storage for an August 10 premiere with Daniel Oren and Domingo to nod the historic opening night that included Puccini and a young Kafka with Tullio Serafin on the podium.
Among quotes in today's Corriere, Zeffirelli compares the Arena's dynamics to a soccer stadium and says that the venue's not about a singer's technical aptitude after a Toscanini quote that criticized outdoor opera ("in the outdoors, one should play bocce, not sing").
On La Fura dels Baus' technique Frengo said, "They don't excite me, they make fundamental mistakes."
For La Fura dels Baus' Arena di Verona and Aida premiere, mechanical elephants and camels (and a roving archaeological team) paraded past heaped sand dunes and a towering solar station. A fifteen minute prologue of whipping desert winds was piped over the sound system. Arena di Verona's centennial year will host 58 opera replications of six titles and four galas, including a Domingo-hosted concert to toast his new Operalia winners.