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Music review: Sarasota Opera Verdi Cycle Grand Finale Concert

Sarasota Opera closes historic Verdi Cycle with an impassioned performance.

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  • | 9:02 a.m. March 21, 2016
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It was a grand night for singing. In fact, it was one for the record books. Sunday night culminated 28 years of Sarasota Opera’s adventures through the Verdian looking glass; 28 years in which Artistic Director Victor DeRenzi became the only conductor in the world to have conducted every note Giuseppe Verdi wrote. And for this monumental endeavor, the Maestro, who has certainly earned that title, received a standing ovation before he even picked up his baton.

The sold-out audience at the Sarasota Opera House was feeling the excitement from the beginning, and the Sarasota Opera Orchestra fed that gusto with a fast-paced and exuberant performance of the “Aida” Overture, the one we normally don’t hear when the actual opera is performed.

Photo by Rod MIllington.
Photo by Rod MIllington.

Excerpts from “I Lombardi,” “Attila,” “Macbeth” and “Rigoletto” followed in the first half of the program, sung by some very excited and exciting stars of this past season, including Michelle Johnson and Marco Nistico, Jennifer Townshend, Heath Huberg, Young Bok Kim, Sean Anderson, Kara Shay Thomson, Kathleen Shelton and studio artists Matthew Vickers and Eric Lindsey.

Some of the singing on the first half of the evening was uneven, and some was spectacular. But this wasn’t a night to criticize. It was a night to rejoice in the sheer wonder of Verdi’s music and the intensity and passion with which it was presented. It was as if every singer and instrumentalist on stage had caught fire and something different, something special – called Giuseppe Verdi – had gotten into their skin and made them alive with emotion and eagerness. There were moments of over-singing, but that was the nature of this celebration, and even Verdi would have applauded the fire that exploded from the stage.

The second half of the concert opened with an electrifying performance of the Anvil Chorus and Song from Act II of “Il Trovatore,” featuring a riveting Tara Curtis as Azucena and an ensemble of gypsies whose sheer power could have split an anvil without a hammer. Kara Shay Thomson seemed much more comfortable as Amelia in “Un ballo in maschera” than she’d been earlier as Lady Macbeth, and her Riccardo, Jonathan Burton, was as stupendous as ever.

Photo by Rod MIllington.
Photo by Rod MIllington.

The Act III duet from “La forza del destino” featured Anderson with Michael Robert Hendrick, and Anderson reappeared as an appropriately malevolent Iago with Huberg and Apprentice Artist Lucas Levy as Roderigo, supported by the chorus in the famous “Brindisi” from “Otello.”

The whole evening, attended by luminaries from around the world, including the great, great, great grandchildren of Giuseppe Verdi, culminated in a blockbuster performance of the “Te Deum,” a massive chorus that’s part of Verdi’s Four Sacred Pieces. This work normally starts with the men singing what sounds like a Gregorian-chant setting. But, here again, we got to hear a rarity: an introduction on the organ that leads into the acapella male chorus. It was very effective, and the resulting, gigantic outburst of “Sanctus,” from the eight-part chorus, was almost overwhelming.

We rarely review applause, but the enthusiasm from the multiple standing ovations was almost as intense as the music that provoked it. It went on for some 20 minutes, interspersed with multiple encores, including the great chorus, “Va pensiero,” and the final fugue from “Falstaff.” Still, the audience wouldn’t let DeRenzi go, so a second round of “Va pensiero” was called for, this time with the entire audience joining in as a paean to the mastermind who started it all, Victor DeRenzi-Verdi.


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