A few days ago, we went to Rossini’s opera ‘The Barber of Seville’. It was staged outdoors in the Terme di Caracalla, the second largest Roman bath complex in Rome. Built by the Emperor Caracalla in the 3rd cent it could serve 6,000 people freely coming and going. Now it is just ruins and is used by the Rome Opera Company to stage operas during the summer.
The Romans took their baths very seriously and they were important centres for socializing and even doing business. The Terme di Caracalla in addition to steam rooms, baths etc had two libraries, a gymnasium and shops. It is spectacularly large and must have been stunning in its time with ornate mosaic floors and magnificent sculptures. Sadly, everything has been removed or destroyed, leaving only the bare bones. The marble was used to build churches and other structures and what was left of the sculptures and mosaics is now in museums. One feels a sense of grandeur walking towards the area where the opera is staged as you pass gigantic walls and arches and you can imagine what it must have been like in its time.
There is a short walk to get to the stage covered with a red carpet and I enjoyed seeing what people were wearing which ranged from evening dress to jeans. The stage setting for the opera was a surprise as the ancient Roman bricks were covered over to resemble plaster and a modern setting.
In the finale, showers of little gold stars came fluttering down onto the stage. It was quite a spectacle. We were with some friends and some of them did not like the modern setting at all and preferred the classical setting of Seville in the 1800s.
It was lovely to walk out of the complex after the performance with the ruins lit up, against a backdrop of Roman pines under a starry sky. As we were walking through the ruins, one of our friends remarked that the word ‘spa’ actually stands for ‘Salus per Aqua’ which means health and well-being through water. I have to say that even without the water, I had a feeling of well-being after the experience of seeing an opera in these surroundings.