Brexit, the Opera

30/06/2016 15:17 | Updated 30 June 2016

Under stormy skies, in an ancient arena, built when Europe was ruled by Rome and when fears of a modern EU empire were centuries away from newspaper front pages, a tale of conflict, conquest and torn loyalties is being played out.

It's 48 hours since Britain exited stage right, in an act of high political drama. The scale of the impact as vast as the scenery towering above the cast singing about the cruel outcome of battle and the loss of country.

Watching the performance of Aida by Giuseppe Verdi on one of the finest European stages: Verona's Arena, is a full house drawn from across the continent and around the globe.

For many British people in the audience the result of the EU referendum re-writes our relationship with Europe, not just politically but culturally too. The next time they travel to Italy to listen to Aida singing "To die, So pure, so lovely" will they have had to pay for a visa to get a ticket for the opera or buy private health insurance before soaking up Europe's rich culture?

For Brian and Aileen Paterson from Dundee, culture binds Europeans together. Britain may have voted to leave but a deeper cultural connection remains: "You only have to come to an event like this to see the breadth of culture that's here" says Brian who adds that "You wouldn't get all these people together for this event without a common interest".

But will Europeans feel that, post Brexit, Britain is now somehow further away? I ask. "It's inevitable I think" Brian replies, his wife adding that "This is quite sad really because we each offer different, wine, lots of culture for many years and by distancing ourselves they lose what we have and we lose what they have".

Lightning flashes in the night sky are adding nature's special effects to the spectacular performance in the Arena. It's as if the storm in the distance is reflecting the political turbulence across Europe sparked by Britain's decision to turn its back on Europe.

Sitting one seat away is Tasja Keetman, an opera expert, who raises the fear of a cultural backlash by European opera lovers. "How will people react? Will the people from the continent be angry and boycott going to Covent Garden or London?"

She thinks Britain will now seem further away, not just politically but culturally too: "By exiting the European Union, of course they separated themselves...I really hope it's not going to change and that the initial disappointment with Britain leaving will subside and we can respect the decision"

Sitting in some of the best seats in house is Andy Watts and his wife, living in London they also have a home in France, he knows they will be affected adversely by Brexit. As Aida enters its final act, he tells me he's hoping for a happier ending after the political demise of the UK in the EU.

"You look at London, half a million French people living there, it's the 6th biggest French 'city'. There will be some sort of deal done. They're not going to expel half a million French people from London and they're not going to expel two million people from Europe back to the UK" But he knows there will be change. "It will make it slightly more difficult for us..look at healthcare, the E111, we're all dependent on it when we travel around Europe. We'll need to have private health insurance...if you choose not to be part of that culture, that society, of course there will be consequences"

Andy says he would have voted in had he been able to organise a postal vote in time.
"I firmly believe that Britain will be better off within the European society, there's no doubt about it. We're a small island and this is small island mentality, a vote with a two percent margin, based on right-wing propaganda...frustrating"

As Aida reaches it's final heart-wrenching scene, the doomed lovers collapse into each other's arms. Many in the audience weeping; as many who voted for the losing side in the referendum were two nights ago. Now Britain enters its own opening act of re-negotiation, the first scene involves a new cast, spurned partners and a chorus of laments for a dramatic loss.