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Liverpool's 13th annual Merseybeatle Festival pays homage to the Fab Four


Q: I will be traveling to London this summer, and as a Beatles fan I am interested in poking through Beatles memorabilia, especially fanzines of the early '60s. Could you tell me where I might find some?

A: A treasure trove of Beatlemania is to be found at Vinyl Experience, a record shop in central London. And if you are in England in August and want to travel up to Liverpool, you can catch the 13th annual celebration of the Beatles called the Merseybeatle Festival.

At Vinyl Experience, three display cabinets on the second floor contain such items as bubble gum cards, Beatles fan club cards, Beatles socks and the original yellow submarine toy produced as a tie-in with the animated classic "Yellow Submarine."

You will also find Ringo Starr sunglasses from the '70s and Beatles napkins, posters, books, records, photos, magazines and newspapers from the '60s. A souvenir magazine published in 1980 when John Lennon was shot and killed in New York is also on display, as well as an original $2 ticket to the 1964 premiere of "A Hard Day's Night" (for sale at $540, calculated at $1.66 to the pound).

In addition, the store sells watches, at $45 each, that are reproductions of ones made to promote the John Lennon documentary called "Imagine." The store also stocks pop-music papers from the '60s for about $15 each.

Vinyl Experience is located at 18 Hanway St., London W1P 9DD, telephone (44 171) 636 1281. The ground floor houses a general record collection.

The annual Merseybeatle Festival, this year from Aug. 24-29, has been described as a pilgrimage and a celebration in one. Some 80 sound-alike bands from around the world will perform, including the Bootleg Beatles, Lenny Pane from Sweden and Sergeant Pepper from Brazil.

There will also be an auction of Beatles memorabilia, a Magical Mystery Tour around Liverpool sites associated with the Beatles, an all-night party and the free Mathew Street Festival on the final night in and around the Cavern Quarter, a section named after the Cavern Club, where the Beatles began.

Last year 42,000 people heard 72 bands play everything from soul to folk and jazz, on 19 different stages. This year there will be 110 bands at the festival. Admission to the various events, which are held around the clock, ranges from $4 to $19.

Packages offering hotel accommodations and admission to events are being offered by Cavern City Tours, 10 Mathew St., Liverpool L2 6RE, England; (44 151) 236 9091, fax (44 151) 236 8081. Prices range from $136 a person for two nights to $288 a person for four nights.

Q: Please tell me what happened to the Caracalla Theater in Rome. I have been twice to open-air opera amid the ruins of the Caracalla baths. Last year, to my amazement, there was no theater there at all. Was I imagining it?

A: Rest assured that you did indeed see and hear the Rome Opera at Caracalla. Until 1993 the opera's summer season was always held at the third-century baths.

However, in that year local art experts determined that the large sets, the musical vibrations and the audiences were causing too much damage to the baths, and the event was canceled. Last year the opera was replaced by a season of symphonic concerts at the Parco dei Daini.

This year's season was in doubt until recently, when Mayor Francesco Rutelli of Rome, angered by a series of wildcat strikes at the opera, was a step away from canceling the season. However, with the strikes over at least until September, for this year only the season will be presented in the amphitheater of the Piazza di Siena, within the Villa Borghese.

Next year the opera will move to a permanent home in the Villa Pepoli, directly behind the Caracalla baths.

The schedule this year includes Puccini's "Tosca," Verdi's "Rigoletto" and a ballet about the life of Federico Fellini by Tullio Kezich with music by Nicola Piovani.

Tickets cost $12.25, $27.60 and $43, calculated at 1,579 lire to the dollar, and are on sale from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Monday at the Teatro dell'Opera box office, 8 Piazza Beniamino Gigli; 4817003. Tickets will also be available at the box office in Piazza di Siena.

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