Yeah, so, bit of backstory here. @Naphthalene touched on it, but for those playing at home:
Chapter 10 of Aria The Masterpiece was originally published as chapter 1 of Aria. Everything we’ve read so far was published in Enix’s Monthly Stencil magazine under the name “Aqua”. When Square and Enix merged, there was a bit of fun in Enix’s manga arm, the upshot of which was they all left to form a new company called Mag Garden, and Aqua was moved to Mag Garden’s Comic Blade magazine, now under the name “Aria”. Hence the re-upping of the exposition page.
When I originally read Aria, ADV had started the English translation with Aria volume 1, releasing it in 2004. Aqua wasn’t released in English until 2007, when Tokyopop assumed the licence. So for a very long time, this chapter was, for me, how the series started. As I saw it, this was the story of a girl who’d already become a Single, learning to become a Prima. That the anime’s first episode was the same story, just with the old man replaced by a young girl called Ai (who then became an anime-only recurring character) only served to reinforce that impression. It was a long time before I discovered that Aqua even existed. So the exposition page turned out to be kind of important. Without it, I’d have been completely lost. “They’re in Venice, aren’t they? So why do they keep talking about Mars? And what’s with that calendar?”
I did, however, somewhat get the impression that Alicia was a bit of non-entity - she’s there the whole chapter, but barely appears in-panel unless Akari directly points her out. In hindsight, that was kind of a mistaken impression, but that’s rather how it came across.
(Side note on the subject of the anime, for some reason, they like to take chapters from the manga and tweak them in various ways. As I previously mentioned, this chapter had a young girl instead of an old man. As well as that, Alicia wasn’t sitting in the gondola - instead, Akari was doing solo practice, and Ai weaseled her way aboard using the “I’m a friend, not a customer” story. Instead, Alicia’s role in the story was taken from Aqua chapter 2 - Aria accidentally floats away, and Alicia rescues him. Stylishly.)
I’m just starting to read it now.