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Rome is where the music is

From opera to jazz to rock, Rome is home to some of the greatest festivals, with performances by the finest musicians of the world.

art and culture Updated: Jun 27, 2007 18:06 IST

A soprano's High C resonating in an ancient Roman amphitheatre, a jazzy trumpet improvisation winding through the alleys of a medieval town or a loud electric guitar solo rocking the foundations of the Eternal City. Italy during the summer doesn't just offer visitors good music; it also gives them a spectacular setting in which to enjoy it.

From June to September, countless open-air concerts and cultural events liven up the warm and lazy evenings across the peninsula. All are worthwhile, but several should definitely not be missed.

One of these is the annual Opera Festival in Verona.

Italy is of course the birthplace of opera - the name meaning "work" in Italian - so what better place to enjoy an Aida or a Barber of Seville than in the home of Romeo and Juliet?

What's more, the generally packed performances take place inside the city's ancient amphitheatre, one of the most beautiful architectural feats of the Roman empire.

The scenario is so magnificent that even opera haters will be conquered. The acoustics inside the arena are perfect, meaning no electronic amplification is needed.

Even better, because opera in Italy is still considered a popular form of entertainment, you won't necessarily be stuck in a crowd of conceited aristocrats or pedantic intellectuals.

While the best seats can set you back nearly 200 euros ($270), one still gets an excellent sight of the stage from the "gradinata" (unreserved stone steps) seats, which cost just 12 euros.

Vendors sell beer and sandwiches and guests are encouraged to make their approval of the performance known by joining the rest of the crowd in stomping their feet and shouting "bravo" and "brava" at the tenors and sopranos.

This year's annual festival begins June 22 with Giuseppe Verdi's Nabucco and ends September 1 with another Verdi favourite, Aida.

Those who are into jazz should head to central Italy, where the annual Umbria Jazz festival takes place.

The event has been held in the city of Perugia - otherwise known for its medieval sites and mouth watering chocolate - since 1973. Today it is considered one of the finest in the world.

Concerts take place around Perugia's town squares, gardens and theatres, from noon to dawn. Many of them are free.

Italy fell in love with jazz thanks to US soldiers who landed on its shores at the end of World War II. This love was soon repaid, particularly during the Dolce Vita era when the likes of Chet Baker became regulars in Rome's nightclubs. Baker even served an 18-month prison sentence on drug-related charges in Italy back in 1960.

Since then, some of jazz's finest artists have continued to perform in Italy, and this year's Umbria Jazz festival is no exception.

Among those billed to attend the July 6-15 event are Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett.

Rock and pop fans will find their treat in nearby Rome, where Italy's biggest telecommunications company has been sponsoring yearly free concerts in the shadow of the Coliseum since 2003.

The first superstar to perform next to the 2,000-year-old amphitheatre was Paul McCartney. That concert was attended by a jaw-dropping 500,000 people and was elected one of the 10 best global events of the year.

The former Beatles band member was so stunned that he later described playing in front of half a million people cramming Rome's ancient forum as "one of the most intoxicating experiences on a stage ever."

McCartney's performance was followed by equally successful gigs from Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel (2004), Elton John (2005) and Billy Joel and Bryan Adams (2006).

This year's mega concert will take place July 14 in the nearby Circus Maximus and will see on stage the legendary English progressive rock band Genesis.

Rumour has it that the breathtaking setting might convince former lead singer Peter Gabriel to join Phil Collins and company on stage.