DeRenzi and Sarasota Opera track every note Verdi wrote.
The Sarasota Opera presented its 2015 Verdi Concert Sunday night at the Opera House and, in pursuit of performing the composer’s complete cycle of works, unearthed quite a number of gems, along with a few that even Verdi felt were better left unsung. Still, it’s fascinating to hear it all and Sarasota Opera will have taken 27 years to give us the opportunity to hear every single note the composer wrote.
One of the challenges of putting together this kind of concert is keeping the performances stirring while revealing music that may or may not be as interesting as the blockbuster works of the composer. “Oberto,” a rarity in itself, has some transposed sections and changes that were made specifically for a baritone of Verdi’s time and we heard those segments in this concert — perhaps for the last and only time. We also heard Verdi’s changes for the minuet in the finale of “Falstaff,” a wondrous work in any form. And the abbreviated septet in the third act finale of “Otello,” which is not as brilliant as the one we normally hear.
Parisians like dance and, when Verdi’s operas were brought to Paris, the composer added ballet music to satisfy the local tastes. “Jerusalem,” an opera not often staged in any event, had considerable “Airs des ballets” added that are not generally heard, but they interestingly opened the Verdi Concert in performances that ranged from slightly ragged in the violins to breathtakingly beautiful in the lower strings. There was a skillfully played flute solo in one section, and a well-performed oboe solo that was slightly reminiscent of “Caro Nome” from “Rigoletto.”
Space doesn’t allow us to mention every singer who participated in the concert but among the stand-out performances was one by Kara Shay Thomson, who’d sung Tosca in the afternoon. Certainly well warmed up from that role, the soprano took the stage in the evening to perform an exquisite aria as Abigaille in “Nabucco.”
Another dazzling performance came from Michelle Johnson as Amelia in “Un ballo in maschera,” Leonora in “Oberto,” and yet another Leonora in “La forza del destino.” Johnson is elegant of voice and stature, and she absolutely commands the stage with her presence no matter what character she sings.
But it was DeRenzi who captivated us through the entire evening. We don’t often have a chance to see him because he’s in the pit with his orchestra. This time, on stage, he showed what a brilliant collaborative artist he is, always fully supporting the singers while allowing the orchestra to shine, as well. He knows his Verdi and he knows how to sculpt his phrases.
Everyone was in fine voice for this special evening but special kudos must be made to the rousing chorus, especially in the sensitive performance of “Va pensiero,” in its unaccompanied version, as an encore.