No one in the world, in all of time, has ever played every note Giuseppe Verdi ever composed. In fact, no one in the world has ever performed every note any composer has ever composed — until 2017, when Sarasota Opera completes the 27-year-long process of performing all of Verdi’s works.
The opera will celebrate the composer’s birthday this season, and no one else’s, even though the world of opera celebrates three big anniversaries this year: Benjamin Britten’s centennial birthday, and Richard Wagner’s and Verdi’s bicentennial birthdays.
Maestro Victor DeRenzi could be biased, because he has spent 23 of his 31 years at Sarasota Opera producing Verdi’s work. He sees The Verdi Bicentennial Concert March 24, as another step toward the completion of The Verdi Cycle.
The first year Sarasota Opera performed Verdi was 1989, but DeRenzi didn’t decide to launch the full cycle until the company performed one of Verdi’s practically unknown operas, “Aroldo,” the next year. The opera received a standing ovation after that performance.
“They felt they were at a premiere,” he says. “I thought, ‘If the audience reacted this way to this, then maybe there are more operas that should be done.’”
Within the next couple of years, DeRenzi began his quest to perform every note by Verdi — from the popular to the lesser-known.
Many of Verdi’s pieces were independent from his complete operas, such as an ending to an act that had been cut for time when performed, or an aria written for a specific singer to replace a different aria.
To complete the cycle, these stand-alone pieces require the opera to perform additional concerts separate from Verdi’s full operas. Verdi’s October birthday is the perfect excuse to perform these types of works, DeRenzi suggests.
For instance, during The Bicentennial Concert, the company will perform two pieces Verdi wrote for “King For a Day” but have never been performed. DeRenzi discovered these two pieces on the back of the autographed score, meaning Verdi’s original handwritten score.
“Some of his music only exists in his autograph,” he says.
It’s a treasure hunt to track down these handwritten gems, and DeRenzi compares it to finding a new book by Charles Dickens that has never been published. Until now, DeRenzi has mostly been on a solo hunt, but he hopes to hire a scholar to help track down the remaining works in the next four years so they can be sure to find all the treasured pieces. The closer the company gets to the end of the cycle, the harder it is to locate these pieces.
For instance, Verdi wrote an aria for Sophia Löwe to perform during the production “Joan of Arc,” and scholars believe she was the only person in possession of the music. The soprano eventually became the princess of Liechtenstein, so many scholars have traveled there to find it, but none has been successful. DeRenzi suggests it might not still exist. But, if it does, it’s sure to be performed by the Sarasota Opera.
The opera’s Verdi concerts are some of the only instances in which these songs have ever been heard or performed; although, the bicentennial concert is also intended to celebrate Verdi with some of his popular work, such as the Triumphal scene from “Aida” and some previously performed work. But, as long as Verdi wrote it, DeRenzi is content in directing it.
IF YOU GO
The Verdi Bicentennial Concert: Celebrating the 200th birthday of Verdi
When: 8 p.m. Sunday, March 24
Where: Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave.
Cost: $25 to $100
Info: Call 366-8450 or visit sarasotaopera.org
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