We Who Are About to Die
“We who are about to die salute you.”
-Roman gladiators to Caesar, AD 52
Imagine yourself in an ancient Roman amphitheater. You are one in a crowd of over twenty thousand citizens and visitors from other regions. The crowd is slowly passing through the cool, dark corridors, until they reach the sunlit marble benches surrounding an oval field of clean, smoothed sand. As the audience settles in their places, electric with anticipation, the arena soldiers, their weapons at their side, give each other a final nod before the event begins. The crowd quiets, a dozen or so people quickly walk onto the massive stage area, and it begins.
This is the typical schedule before an opera performance at the Arena di Verona. The massive stadium, older than Rome’s Colosseum, was originally the home of Verona’s most violent public entertainment, from executions to complex gladiator battles. Today, the Arena still hosts countless executions and battles, but only within the context of operas and other concert performances. Especially during the summer months, operas such as Carmen and Aida combine the drama and action with which the Arena is so familiar, with the magnificence of the human voce and the beauty of the orchestra. Rock concerts and other genres have also inundated the ancient stands with enthralled audiences. What once saw violence and slaughter now sees violins and laughter. Verona has maintained the magnificence of the Arena, not by preserving it as a museum, but by using it for just what it was built for: bringing people together. Luckily, the entertainment industry has changed significantly since ancient Roman times, but millions each year still gather from all around the world to enjoy the awe-inspiring architecture, the enthralling performances, and the cultural magnificence of the Arena di Verona.