Opera. There are some people who can’t get enough of it. There are others who think the art form is snooty and elitist.
But Groucho Max was an opera buff, and snobbery just wasn’t his style. As his character in “Night at the Opera” once said, “And now, on with the opera. Let joy be unconfined. Let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons and necking in the parlor.” Does that sound elitist to you? No. Me, either. And consider this: Sarasota is one of less than 200 communities in the United States to have a resident company with its own dedicated opera house.
So what are you waiting for? Never been and want to try? Sarasota Opera’s Winter Opera Festival is here. Here’s a quick glance.
Music by Georges Bizet; libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy
“Carmen” is everybody’s favorite opera (and a great one to start with if you’re new to opera) about a fickle gal and a jealous bullfighter’s unfortunate love for her. As this opera’s iconic song, “Habanera,” points out, “Love is a rebellious bird no one can tame.” No bull. (Feb. 17-March 22)
‘Lucia di Lammermoor’
Music by Gaetano Donizetti; libretto by Salvatore Cammarano
A bride in Scotland takes the low road when she’s promised to a nobleman and not the man she loves. Murder, madness and music ensue, aye. (Feb. 24-March 23)
Music by Giuseppe Verdi; libretto by Salvatore Cammarano
Luisa and Rodolfo are unlucky in love and tragedy is their fate. What did you expect in an opera? A happy ending? (March 9-24)
Music by Joseph Haydn; libretto by Marco Coltellini
Sandrina’s in love with a poor peasant, not the rich farmer her father wants her to wed. In Haydn’s comic opera, love conquers all, for a change. (March 15-23)
Sarasota Opera’s general director shares insights on the company’s current season and opera’s enduring appeal.
Sarasota Opera has presented “Carmen” five times before. Will its 2024 production have a new take?
Yes, in many ways. Victor DeRenzi will be conducting this production of “Carmen,” and he always takes a fresh approach. He’ll be doing a few things differently with the musical text. We’ll also have an all-new cast, and the singers will bring something of themselves to their roles. With any new ensemble of artists, there’s always a new chemistry.
Why did Sarasota Opera decide to present Haydn’s “Deceit Outwitted?”
Because we want our audience to experience works they might not have seen. Although Haydn is a major composer, his operatic work isn’t well known. “L’infedeltà delusa” languished in a castle library until after World War II. It wasn’t until the 1950s and ’60s that it was performed, and the last professional performance was in 1979. So, many people will be seeing it for the first time on our stage.
What’s your underlying criteria for putting a season together?
We always seek out relatively popular works. We also look for operas we haven’t done too frequently and that our audience might not have seen. At the same time, we don’t want these selections to cover the same ground. It’s like putting together a big puzzle, because we run the four winter operas simultaneously.
Let’s say somebody can’t stand opera — although they’ve never actually seen one. How would you change their mind?
I firmly believe that you can’t say you don’t like something before trying it at least once. Of course, this art form is a lot to take in for a newbie. Opera can be overwhelming to the senses initially. It’s really the first multimedia experience because it encompasses music, drama, sets, costumes, and sometimes dancing — as in the case of “Carmen.”
That reminds me of something the late June LeBell observed as The Observer’s music critic. She said the word “opera” derives from “to work” in Italian. So, when you go to an opera, you literally get “the works.”
That’s a great way to put it! I miss June. She was a great lady — and she’s absolutely right.
I assume that you and Maestro DeRenzi have a wish list of operas for the Sarasota Opera stage?
Yes, and it’s a long one. There are so many great operatic works that we’d be thrilled to do — or bring back. We’d love to do Verdi’s “Otello” again — and several other Verdi works, as well. Sarasota Opera hasn’t done Puccini’s “The Girl of the Golden West” in a long time, and we’d definitely like to reprise that. But, again, we have to make our choices work in our big puzzle of a season.
What’s the biggest opera myth that you’d like to debunk?
The myth that opera is elitist. Although the very first operas were written for noble families, it became a form of popular entertainment in Italy and Germany by the 19th century. Everybody went out to the opera back then. And everyone should in our century.
Su Byron has worked in the regional arts and cultural world for the past 25 years as a writer, an editor, and a public relations and marketing specialist. For 12 of those years, she was the co-publisher of the Sarasota Arts Review, a monthly arts and entertainment newspaper. Su is a freelance writer whose regular columns and articles appear in a host of regional and national publications.