Holidays for opera lovers

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The popularity of opera has risen in leaps and bounds in recent years and graduated from being regarded as an elitist interest of the rich cognoscenti to being far more accessible to all-comers.

The aria Nessun Dorma from Turandot became familiar to millions who had probably never heard it before it was performed by the Three Tenors – Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras – as the theme for the Italia 1990 World Cup.

It is probably that tune, more than any other piece of operatic music, that has awakened the public’s ears and interest to opera as an enjoyable art form. Thank you, Puccini, for bringing opera to the masses.

If opera is your love it is possible to combine it with your holiday at several beautiful European destinations.

The Verona Opera Festival extends from 22 June to 1 September this year.

Maria Callas made her international debut here, Domingo and Pavarotti are regulars and the likes of Puccini, Kafka and Gorky graced the stands for its inauguration.

With such a list of names to its credit, it is hardly surprising that the lyrical season at this Roman amphitheatre draws crowds of 500,000 at a time, as the walls which once held duels and gladiatorial battles echo with the more harmonious strains of Italian opera.

While the top seats are a little pricey, you’re unlikely to have another opportunity to see such classic operas played out in a more spectacular setting.

Several tour companies offer Italian holidays with a trip to the opera in Verona as a highlight.

Verona is one of the richest and most prosperous cities in the north of Italy. When you get to Verona you can see evidence of this everywhere: streets are clean, people wear elegant – and expensive – clothes, restaurants and shops are chic and hotels are very comfortable.

History is everywhere. This is the city of lovers, the place where Shakespeare set his tragedy Romeo and Juliet. Tourists flock to the “real” home of Juliet’s family, the Capuleti, dating from the 13th century.

Still in Italy, the waters of Lake Maggiore straddle the Italian/Swiss border as Mediterranean nature and climate blend with spectacular Alpine scenery.

Stresa is the main town on the west shore and offers plenty to do, with colourful cafés and boutiques. Free concerts take place in the Villa Francesca. Picturesque Baveno is conveniently placed for visiting other areas and has a relaxing atmosphere with pleasant lakeside cafes along the promenade, with music and dancing in the evenings.

The whole of the Lake Maggiore area is rich in beautiful buildings, colourful gardens and is enhanced by the three delightful islands of Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori.

There are several festivals here during the summer, including jazz in Ascona, cinema in Locarno, jazz and classical music in Stresa.

Salzburg, in Austria, is one of the most beautiful cities in central Europe. Known as the Rome of the North, it too is noted for its strong musical heritage.

It combines an intriguing and magical blend of history, culture and architectural style, and has countless attractions situated in the old town, all within easy walking distance.

Visit Mozart’s Birth House Museum, the mighty Hohen Salzburg fortress, St Peter’s Church, the great Cathedral, the Catacombs, Natural History and Toy Museums and the famous Getreidegasse – Street of a Thousand Signs – a treasure trove of fashionable boutiques and coffee houses.

On the outskirts of the city is a fascinating open-air Farmhouse Museum and the Hellbrunn Palace is definitely worth a visit.

In the evening, sample one of the array of restaurants and enjoy one of the regular musical events, including Mozart concerts held in the city palaces, opera performances by the world famous Marionette Theatre and Sound of Music or Mozart dinner shows.