Hungry for Italian opera? Me too. Conversely, Italian opera makes me hungry. As in ravenous for a full-course meal every time. I don’t know whether it’s something about the brilliant orchestra or talented performers or the musical compositions themselves that evokes my hunger. What I do know is, the little snack bar stocked with peanuts is never enough to satisfy my appetite.
When I studied Italian opera at the University of Rome, part of my midterm included attending an evening showing of “Don Giovanni” at Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, an iconic 19th-century theater. By the time my classmate and future husband, Jamie, and I made it to the end of the first act, a craving for tortellini struck me so hard that not even the lascivious character Don Juan could keep me in my seat until the end. Jamie and I dashed through the cobblestone streets in the dark of night in search of fresh, cheese-filled pasta and a hearty Bolognese sauce. We thoroughly enjoyed Mozart’s music and the libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, but it’s the memory of the hunt in high heels for pasta that stays with me.
A few years back, hunger pangs struck again at the opera, this time halfway through Giuseppe Verdi’s four-part adaption of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” at the world-renowned La Scala in Milan. In my defense, I made it through two very long acts amid the red velvet and golden splendor of the opera house, seated in the balcony high above the stage. Breathing the air up there apparently builds an appetite. Also, if you love risotto, Milan is the best place to experience this lavish dish of Arborio rice with a touch of saffron, especially when a chef tosses in porcini mushrooms as a random act of kindness. How could I have resisted?
Jamie and I just celebrated his father’s 80th birthday with tickets to Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme” at Boston’s Schubert Theatre. Even our children were captivated by the glorious opening aria, until our stomachs growled, echoing loudly in the mezzanine. With the kids in tow, Jamie and I dashed outside to street level, downed a couple hot Italian sausages with peppers from a street vendor right outside, and made it back before Jamie’s parents even noticed we were gone. The final aria of the performance was heartbreaking and beautiful, and poor Jamie suffered heartburn and indigestion. He was fine by the time we arrived at our North End restaurant for the birthday dinner. A slice of tiramisù and a heated discussion over the similarities and differences between “La Boheme,” “Rent” and “Les Miserables” set things right. For me, a pasta fix in the North End is always a good idea whenever one partakes in the Boston theater experience.
There’s an Italian opera for every appetite. Some are more palatable than others, depending on length and plotline. Some are romantic, others witty or tragic, and still others deliver a serious social message. Generally, performances are engaging and memorable, and there are many to choose from, no matter if it’s date night, an afternoon with friends or a semi-annual cultural outing with the kids. Among the most popular operas are Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” and “Othello”; Verdi’s “La Traviata,” “Aida” and “Rigoletto”; and Puccini’s “Tosca” and “Turandot.” Be sure to check out tickets to shows in Boston, or else travel to any Italian city, as performances typically run all year.
I admire the fortitude of most theater-goers who are able to suppress their appetite and thoroughly enjoy a full opera straight to the end. But if you’re like me, be prepared to take an unorthodox yet fulfilling pasta run midway through a thrilling show. Appreciating the beauty of any opera performance is always best done on a full stomach.