The Sarasota Opera’s regular season may have ended, but the company was alive with the sounds of music last week when it presented a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy in a “risorgimento” (revival or awakening) concert. And, in his travels through the complete works of Verdi, Victor DeRenzi gave us an aural insight into the alternate versions of well-known operas that, in the evening opened with the Overture to “I vespri siciliani,” played by the wonderful musicians of the Sarasota Opera Orchestra, who were led by DeRenzi. Four excerpts from “I Lombardi,” one of the Verdi operas in this season’s repertoire, were followed by standout performances from tenors Rafael Davila, Steven Uliana and Bernard Holcomb, mezzo Sarah Larsen, bass-baritone Carlos Monzon and tenors Abla Lynn Hamza and Bethany Kiral.
The rarely heard “Mass for Rossini” came next and was positively startling in its fascinating early workings of the later and much more famous “Requiem.” Maria D’Amato (whom we heard as Mimi earlier in the season) sublimely sang the soprano solos with an equally exalted chorus intoning the “Libera me” and “Dies Irae” with a drama rarely heard in concert.
Vocal excerpts from “Attila,” “Il Trovatore,” “I vespri siciliani” and “Macbeth,” sung with power and energy by Davila, D’Amato and Kevin Short, were in the second half, along with the Overture (rather than the usual “Prelude”) to “Aida,” “Suona la tromba,” (a vibrant chorus specially composed by Verdi to show his espousal of the Unification), a section from Montemezzi’s “L’amore dei tre re,” (the only work on the program not by Verdi) and, finally, “Va, pensiero,” the chorus from “Nabucco” that makes us all proud to be Italian, if only by proxy.
Verdi wrote in a letter during his first trip to Florence, Italy, “How really beautiful this Italy of ours is.” The Sarasota Opera concert would have made the maestro say, “How really beautiful this Sarasota of ours is,” because the real stars of the evening were the musicians: instrumentalists (on stage and seen), the chorus (singing spectacularly) and DeRenzi, who masterminded this masterful evening.