What's better than getting cultured with a round of opera in Europe? Doing it en plein air. Whether you prefer soaking up some sun during the day or catching the sunset in the cool evening, summertime brings a boon of theater and music festivals all over the region. Here, four open-air celebrations worth battling the crowds and heat.
Opera Festival at Arena di Verona
Italy, June 20 to September 6
Perhaps no opera event holds as much acclaim as the 101-year-old Opera Festival at Arena di Verona. Though neither gladiator combats nor public executions are still held at the Colosseum look-alike from the first century AD today, it remains one of the grandest and most storied performance spaces in the world. Its 22,000 seats are spread over 44 levels, some assigned and some unreserved. This year, six operas will take to the stage over the course of two and a half months – “Carmen,” “Aida,” “Turnadot,” “Madame Butterfly,” “Romeo and Juliet,” and “A Masked Ball” – alongside three special single-run operas.
Austria, July 23 to August 25
In Austria, the Salzburg Festival might be the bigger name, but for something a little different, head over to the Bregenz Festival at the western tip of the country. Of all the venues for the summer-long program, the “floating stage” by Lake Constance is the biggest attraction. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a custom-built set that sits on the waters, in front of 7,000 open-air seats on shore. This summer, Mozart’s "The Magic Flute" will unfold on a revolving dome-shaped stage, with walkable suspension bridges draped between larger-than-life dragons. Other festivities include Vienna Symphony Orchestra performances, musical poetry readings, and various talks and behind-the-scenes tours.
Budapest Summer Festival
Hungary, June 13 to August 31
From comedy to drama, from musical theater to orchestra concerts, everything during the 80-day long Budapest Summer Festival celebrates the arts in nature. A majority of the performances are held at the 3,000-seat open-air theater on Margaret Island, the only permanent outdoor stage in the country, and a landscaped performance space in the popular 18th century Városmajor park on land. On the weekends, jazz concerts and Renaissance-themed shows are also held around Margaret Island’s Water Tower, which glows with floodlights in the evenings, and the monastery ruins also found on the island.
Montreux Jazz Festival
Switzerland, July 4-19
You haven’t been to a jazz festival until you’ve been to Montreux. This celebration consistently garners mentions in European event lists, and for good reason – what experience could possibly top 16 days of jazz with majestic Alps mountains and glistening Lake Geneva waters as the backdrop? Since its inception nearly 50 years ago, the festival has grown to become the biggest of it’s kind in the world. Just about 200,000 music lovers flocked to town annually to meet the likes of Wynton Marsalis, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Sting – just to name a few. While the headlining performances are housed indoors, many shows also come to life in the streets, on trains, and even on boats cruising the lake. At Park Vernex alone, open-air jams run for nearly 12 hours every day of the festival starting in the early afternoon.