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Experiencing opera in one of the great historic opera houses of Europe is an unforgettable event. Many of these buildings have hosted operatic productions for several hundred years, while others -- like Roman amphitheatres -- have entertained audiences for literally millennia.

After a three-year renovation, Il Teatro alla Scala, or as it is more affectionately known, -- La Scala (www.teatroallascala.org) in Milan, reopened at the end of last year. It is arguably the world's greatest and most renowned opera house. The often controversial project was undertaken to improve the acoustics of the historic theatre and to allow it to stage more ambitious productions. Most striking is a modern elliptical extension rising from the rear of the building housing dressing rooms. The entire stage area has been rebuilt and now has twice the area of its predecessor. La Scala can now theoretically run three different opera productions simultaneously. What better excuse for Opera buffs and novices alike to visit Milan and take in a cultural extravaganza in one of its historical homes?

Although it's more than half way through this year's opera season at La Scala, there's still plenty of time to catch three of the year's highlights -- Rossini's The Barber of Seville (Il Barbiere di Siviglia) which will be performed in the Scala theatre on September 10, 12, 14, 18, 20, 24, 25, 28 and October 13, 14, 15, 16, 2005, Tchaikovsky's Cerevicki on September 26, 27, 29 and October 1, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 11, 2005 and Claude Debussy's only opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, on November 2, 4, 6, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15 and 17, 2005. Tickets are available online from the theatre's website (www.teatroallascala.org/public/LaScala/EN/stagioni/stagione2/opera-e-balletto) starting on July 19, July 25 and September 2 respectively for each production. Be quick though as tickets tend to sell out.

For a truly unique operatic experience, it's not too late to see a summer season opera at one of the most imposing and historic locations in the world -- the ancient Baths of Caracalla in Rome. Performances of Verdi's epic Aida take place in the open air arena on July 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, August 2, 3, and 4, 2005.Tickets are available for purchase online through Context Rome (www.contextrome.com) for prices ranging from $38 to $89.

In the heart of the city of Verona rises the impressive 1st century Roman amphitheater known as the Arena of Verona. Attending an opera in the round here will make you understand why Romeo and Juliet fell in love in this beautiful historic city. August is a busy month in the fair streets of Verona, with performances of Giuseppe Verdi's Nabucco and Aida and Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme and Turandot as part of the 83rd Lyric Festival of Verona. Tickets for these performances are available through the Arena's official website (www.arena.it). Prices range from a super low $17 (sitting on stone steps, just like the poor Romans did 2000 years ago -- so bring a cushion) to $169 (first section of the stalls).

Italophiles and opera lovers will be happy to discover that TourCrafters (tel. 800/482-5995; www.tourcrafters.com) offers a number of "Opera in Italy" packages at discount prices during various opera seasons throughout the year in Rome, Florence, Naples and Venice. Get in early for the 2006 season or if you'd like to travel this fall, the season at the Rome Opera House extends into September with Mozart's Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro) being performed nightly from September 23 to 29, 2005. Their Rome opera package is priced from $649 per person and includes round-trip transatlantic airfare from New York to Rome, four-nights accommodation at either the three-star Hotel Quattro Fontane or Hotel Paris in Rome, arrival transfer from the airport to your hotel, an Opera ticket (€ 50 value), Italian buffet breakfast daily, hotel service charges and taxes. Airport taxes are additional. The package is available from other U.S. cities for additional cost.

Operatic Tours (tel. 877/4OPERA1; www.operatictours.com) runs opera-themed tours to Prague in the Czech Republic from March to December, or they can customize a tour to suit your individual schedule. Their upcoming 2005 tours include August 19 to 28 to see Don Giovanni, La Traviata, Rigoletto, Lucia di Lammermoor, Un Ballo in Maschera and Il Trovatore and September 30 to October 9, 2005 for Jenufa, The Bartered Bride, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Rigolletto, Le Nozze di Figaro and Rusalka. The $2,750 price (or $3,050 for the September / October tour) includes transfer to/from the airport or train station, seven-nights first-class hotel accommodation, all opera tickets -- either in a private box or first balcony (tickets to an optional ballet are also provided), all entrance fees and tours, English-speaking guides, transportation within the city and to various events and the use of a local cell phone (one per couple). Prices exclude travel expenses to/from Prague and are per person, based upon double occupancy.

HAT Tours (tel. 727/360-8459; www.europeanoperatours.com) also specializes in spectacular opera tours for the true opera aficionado. Their "Sounds of Central Europe II" package still has six places left and departs on September 8, 2005. This 12-day tour visits Prague, Bratislava, Budapest and Vienna. In Prague see Verdi's Rigoletto and Puccini's Tosca, in Bratislava Verdi's Nabucco, in Budapest Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and Zoltan's The Spinnary and finally in Vienna, Rossini's The Barber of Seville. The land-only cost is $4,150 per person based on double occupancy. This includes ten-nights deluxe accommodation, all transportation, orchestra level tickets to all performances, sightseeing per itinerary, English speaking expert guides, breakfast daily and five dinners with wine. International airfare to Prague and from Vienna is additional.

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