The 2017 Winter Opera Festival marks Sarasota Opera’s 57th season and Maestro Victor DeRenzi, who serves as its artistic director and principal conductor, promises a unique blend of rarely-performed works with some old favorites.
“This is the first time in 28 years that we have not done an opera by Verdi,” DeRenzi said. “So we wanted to open up the repertoire a little and do some operas we haven’t been able to do for a very long time.”
The festival will rotate Puccini’s Madama Butterfly with Rossini’s The Italian Girl in Algiers, Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites and Montemezzi’s The Love of Three Kings. DeRenzi said the process of choosing these operas was a thoughtful one, mixing styles and language with familiar and not-so-familiar works.
“Let’s start with The Italian Girl,” he said. “It was a very popular opera for a while in the 1800s and then fell out of favor. Now it is performed constantly throughout the world, so it has a very interesting performance history.”
The opera’s protagonist, Lindoro, has attempted several times to escape Mustafà, the Bey of Algiers, in vain. Next, he is faced with a hand-me-down bride instead of his missing beloved, Isabella. But a unique turn of events puts her in position to save her lost fiancé and extricate them from this bind.
“We’ve never done The Italian Girl, so that’s the reason we’re doing it now,” DeRenzi said. “We believe our audience will love it.”
The Love of Three Kings, he added, has a completely different history to it.
“When it was premiered in 1913 or so, it was an extremely popular opera in America, performed constantly until about 1950,” he said. “Then for some reason I can’t explain, it fell out of favor.”
Princess Fiora’s heart belongs to Avito, but she is forced to marry Manfredo, the son of King Archibaldo, the man who conquered her country. As the two lovers meet in secret, they realize they are playing a dangerous game — arousing the suspicions of the king.
“This opera went from being performed all the time to being rarely performed,” DeRenzi said. “The last performance by a professional company in America was in 2003, when we did it here. It was such a success that I decided I wanted to bring it back.”
Dialogues of the Carmelites is the last work that has risen to the ranks of the standard opera canon, he added.
“It was composed in 1957, but it is a very tonal piece,” DeRenzi said. “It is not atonal at all. For the first 30 years of its life it wasn’t performed very much.”
The opera’s heroine, Blanche de la Force, dedicates her life to God’s service by joining a Carmelite order during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. As the revolution threatens to destroy all that’s most sacred to the nuns, Blanche’s journey leads her to the true meaning of faith.
“This opera has now become a standard piece in the international repertoire,” DeRenzi said. “No opera written after 1957 has been performed as much as Dialogues of the Carmelites and we’re proud to produce it this season.”
Madama Butterfly, the festival’s most recognizable opera, is tried and true — having been produced by Sarasota Opera four times before.
“It’s a great work and should be seen,” DeRenzi said. “You can’t see enough of this opera. It’s also a classic that’s very good for getting people interested in going to operas.”
Butterfly awaits the return of U.S. Navy Lieutenant Pinkerton in her little house on a hill overlooking the port of Nagasaki. A little boy is at her side. Three years earlier, at the tender age of fifteen, she had married Pinkerton and now he has come back — to break her heart.
“People who have been to the opera many times — or never — want to see operas like Butterfly,” DeRenzi said. “It’s a resplendent jewel in the crown of opera.”
He added what will make this season’s production of Butterfly different from those that preceded it will be a new stage director, John Basil, and a completely different cast — Joanna Parisi as Cio-Cio-San, Laurel Semerdjian as Suzuki and Antonil Coriano as Pinkerton.
“I’ll completely reset this piece,” DeRenzi said. “I’ve done a lot of operas since the last time I did Butterfly and it’s going to be very different this time.”
Madama Butterfly will play Feb. 11 at 7 p.m., Feb. 16, 22, 25, 28, March 10, 17, 21 and 25 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 19 and March 5 at 1:30 p.m. The Italian Girl in Algiers will run Feb. 18, 21, 23, March 3 and 18 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 26, March 25 at 1:30 p.m. Dialogues of the Carmelites is scheduled for March 4, 7, 15 and 24 at 7:30 p.m. and March 12 and 18 at 1:30 p.m. and The Love of Three Kings will perform March 11, 14, 16 and 22 at 7:30 p.m. and March 19 and 26 at 1:30 p.m.
Sarasota Opera is located at 61 North Pineapple Avenue in Sarasota. Ticket prices range from $19-$135. For more information about the opera’s winter season or to order tickets, call the box office at (941) 328-1300 or log on to sarasotaopera.org.