There are some performances that are important events. There are others that are important evenings of music-making. Victor DeRenzi’s recent celebration of 30 years with the Sarasota Opera was a lot of both.
The stage was filled by the Sarasota Opera Orchestra, risen from the pit and fully visible, as well as admirably audible. Behind them was a chorus of about 40 singers taken from the various ranks of this season’s Sarasota Opera roster. And, at various times downstage, were this year’s excellent soloists.
It was a gala evening with an inventory of composers from Beethoven, Bellini and Boito, to Verdi and Wagner, and there were highlights that will stay with us for some time to come.
Opening with the ballet music from Verdi’s “Otello” made perfect musical sense, because “Otello” was one of this season’s greatest hits, and hearing the superb orchestra joined (briefly) by members of the grand chorus was thrilling. So was Maria D’Amato’s rich performance of “Casta diva” from Bellini’s “Norma,” especially because the soprano had just come from singing Desdemona in the house that same afternoon!
The final scene from Beethoven’s “Fidelio,” featuring Kara Shay Thomson, Sarah Asmar, Mathew Edwardsen, Adam Ulrich, Jeffrey Beruan and Stephen Fish, showed a leaner, keener, almost Mozartean side of DeRenzi. Here, soloists, chorus and orchestra are equals, swooping, diving and tumbling together like acrobats without a net, yet never diminishing Beethoven’s musical intent.
The prelude and “Liebestod” from Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” blew us away, from the exquisite cello solo in the prelude, to Thomson’s gorgeous delivery of the “Liebestod.” With every note under control, she gave us a spine-shivering, brilliantly sung account of one of music’s finest moments.
Danielle Walker and Joshua Kohl seemed risen on wings of song in the glorious Act II duet from Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut.” But, for me, the absolute height of a splendid program came in the finale, when bass Young-Bok Kim, the chorus, members of the company’s Youth Opera, full orchestra and off-stage brass catapulted us through the roof with the prologue from Boito’s “Mefistofele.” This is the kind of music making that converts atheists to believers and non-opera goers to music nuts.
It was a mighty tribute and accolade to the well-deserved tenure of DeRenzi. In fact, as an encore, DeRenzi repeated the last part of the prologue, perhaps looking toward another 30 years.
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