If you are sitting on the steps (reserved or unreserved) for an opera performance in the Arena di Verona, don’t forget to pick up a candle from the large unmarked box in the middle of the gate where you go in. These are small candles like the ones used on birthday cakes, and each one is packed in a cellophane wrapper with a brief printed explanation in Italian, English and German.
According to this little printed folder, there was no electricity in the Arena when the first performance of Aida took place on August 10, 1913, so the spectators brought thousands of candles with them “to illuminate the scenery and read the programs”. (I can’t imagine how they could have illuminated such a huge stage using only candles, but never mind.)
This “great tradition of the candles” was almost forgotten for many years, but was resurrected in the 1980s by an Italian company named Vicenzi, which I believe makes cakes and pastries. Since then they have been providing candles for people sitting on the steps, and shortly before the performance begins we are all asked to light them. Most people poke a little hole in the paper folder, put the candle through the hole and hold it from below, so as not to get hot wax on their fingers.
It really does create a great feeling with all those thousands of candles glowing in the darkness as the lights go down and the orchestra starts to play the overture.
My photos in this post are from 2006. I revised the text in 2018.