This afternoon was the first step toward the beginning of the end of an era for the Sarasota Opera. The final two productions to complete the opera’s 28-season run of their ambitious Verdi Cycle (the performance of all the musical works and operas of composer Giuseppe Verdi) were announced along with four other vibrant operas for the company’s 2015/2016 season.
“We’re the only company in the history of opera to have done this sort of thing,” says Victor DeRenzi, maestro and artistic director of the Sarasota Opera. “We are the first to do it with Verdi and the first opera to do this with any composer.”
DeRenzi and the Sarasota Opera’s Verdi journey began in 1989. And every year and season since, the opera has performed at least one Verdi piece. With over a quarter of a century of experience with Verdi, DeRenzi and Sarasota itself have gotten to know the Italian musical master better than almost anyone. “When you learn about and experience somebody’s music for that long, you learn who they are as a person,” says DeRenzi.
The Sarasota Opera’s grand finale season begins on Oct. 30 with audience favorite “La bohème” by Giacomo Puccini. The Sarasota Opera’s popular 2006 production of this operatic staple will seduce new and veteran opera-vores alike as they travel to Paris’ Latin Quarter for a stop at Café Momus. “Standards like ‘La bohème’ are important to us and bring newcomers and veterans alike to the opera house to begin our new season,” says Richard Russell, executive director of the Sarasota Opera.
Following Puccini’s classic is the Sarasota Youth Opera’s production of Hans Krása’s “Brundibár.” This operatic fable was first performed by children at the Theresienstadt concentration camp under Nazi rule during World War II. The youth opera production, which will be performed twice on Nov. 14, will also produce a collaboration with the Florida Holocaust Museum on Nov. 7 and 8 for “Forbidden Music – Works Banned by the Nazis” which will showcase the myriad of European Jewish culture and music that was banned by the Third Reich during the second world war.
Kicking off the 2016 winter opera festival on Jan. 30 is Verdi’s tragic, Egyptian love spectacle “Aida.” Since this is the opera’s final year of the acclaimed Verdi Cycle, DeRenzi and company are going out with full force. “Aida” will have the largest chorus ever in the history of the institution with 52 cast members onstage during the show.
Joining Verdi on the Sarasota Opera stage will be two composers that he studied and admired throughout his life: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. Opening Feb. 6, Mozart’s “così fan tutte” is Sarasota Opera’s most performed piece. This comedy pits two young and mischievous soldiers against their fiancées as they prank them and test their fidelity. Beethoven’s sole opera “Fidelio” will open Feb. 13 and tells the story of the faithful Leonore as she battles to save her husband Florestan from annihilation in political prison.
And closing the season and the decades long cycle is Verdi’s “The Battle of Legnano. Opening on Feb. 27, the opera presents the story of two friends vying for the affection of the same woman as they must leave for a war. This opera in particular fueled the flame of Italian unification during the mid-19th century and helped the cause of Italian nationalism.
And for the last week of the season, the Sarasota Opera will hold a Verdi Festival with performances of “Aida” and “The Battle of Legnano,” panel discussions, two concerts featuring one of Verdi’s first works “Oberto” and final pieces “Te Deum,” as well expansive Verdi exhibit featuring costumes, designs sketches and artifacts from production performed previously in the cycle.
According to DeRenzi and Russell they will hold a Verdi summit with opera scholars. In addition, to mark the momentous and historic operatic occasion, DeRenzi and Russell say that representatives from the Italian government and Verdi’s own great-granddaughter will attend the finale week. The Sarasota Opera, to immortalize this singular artistic achievement, plan to put work on paper with a commemorative coffee table book detailing the history of the opera’s Verdi cycle to be completed at the end of the season.
“This is a remarkable achievement,” says Russell. “2017 will have to be a moment of Verdi silence to appreciate all we’ve accomplished.”