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Cover Story Feature Maestro Victor DeRenzi Sarasota Opera


Maestro Victor DeRenzi

Sarasota Opera

Celebrating 30 Seasons

By Ed Bertha

Maestro DeRenzi’s photos by Giovanni Lunardi

“At age 12 I started attending opera performances. I started going to the opera because of a teacher who encouraged some of his students to do so. We figured it would be easier to go, than listen to him tell us to go. That’s how I was introduced to opera.”

maestro-victor-derenzi-sarasota-opera-coverIt was a very small opera company with a piano and small chorus. A passion began building. Victor would help build sets, sing in the chorus and many times just listen to opera. “I fell in love with opera early on,” he shares. At age 20, now Maestro DeRenzi, he formally began conducting. Much younger, in age and looks, than the performers he worked with, the Maestro grew a beard to age – a beard that is with him to this day.

Now entering his 30th season with Sarasota Opera, Maestro DeRenzi still shows the passion of his younger years. Regarding the 2012 season he emphatically states, “This is one of the best seasons we’ve ever had in terms of repertoire. I love Otello; it’s my favorite opera and part of our Verdi Cycle. We’re performing Carmen which we haven’t done since 1999, and it has been 10 years since we produced Lucia di Lammermoor. To perform this many popular operas, but also introduce new operas to the community, like Vanessa, is exciting. Then, as a finale, we have my 30th anniversary gala.” It is evident the fire still burns as brightly as ever.

Preparing for the opera season is a big endeavor for Maestro DeRenzi. “We’re thinking five years ahead in terms of repertoire. It starts with what operas we want to perform and how the calendar fits together. At that point you need to look at what performers you will hire for the various roles, as well as the directors, conductors and the design staff. Lastly, there’s scheduling all the rehearsals and putting the opera together.”


Now 250 performers descend on Sarasota, many of whom have never met each other. Starting as a general community, the Maestro must end up with a musical community. “All of the performers need to come together. They all need to make the same aesthetic choices so we’re all performing on one specific style production.” he adds. Inside the opera house a chess match of preparation begins with four operas rehearsing. Add a cast of understudies and the Maestro now has 8 operas rehearsing simultaneously. Rehearsing in different parts of the theater at any moment there could be 6 or more activities taking place. It makes for a busy, complicated schedule.

lucia-costumeInspecting a costume for Lucia

After opera season ends, Maestro DeRenzi retreats to his hometown of New York City. Asked if it is his time to unwind, he replies, “No. It gives me a chance to get started on my next opera season. When I get home, I kind of put this season in a box and start studying. I have a lot of time to study, which I love. I love researching, then turning research into a performance. I wouldn’t like to conduct without having the time to do the research and study.” From the Maestro’s viewpoint, opera is not just a bunch of random musical notes. Rather notes that are connected to text, and the text leads to the character and passion on stage. “The best opera tells us about life. It shows us what we are as people. Opera tells us about our community and the human condition. That is how the arts are different from entertainment.”

back-stageIt gets crowded back stage

Leading up to a show, Maestro DeRenzi has no performance anxiety or superstitious routines. “I feel part of my job as a conductor is to keep people calm and not to develop my own idiosyncrasies about it.” Once he is conducting it’s about the music. “It’s a very interesting balance because you need to be in the moment but you have to be slightly ahead of the moment as a conductor. If something goes wrong you have to be ready to fix it. There are times when something is about to go wrong and I know before it happens by sensing it, or by noticing an instrumentalist doesn’t have their instrument ready or a singer is supposed to be in a certain place on stage and isn’t. At that point they need help, and that’s part of my role as a conductor. If there is a mistake, nobody in the audience should know who made the mistake.”

tailoring-costumesTailoring costumes for the 2012 season

From a technical point of view, opera singers need to produce volume; they never sing with a microphone. The performer’s voice needs to carry to the back of the theater over an orchestra. The singing is done in a way that is musical. It’s not just about singing notes, but shaping a phrase. Many times the performer is singing in a foreign language, adding additional complexity. The singers are on stage, under lights, in a costume, following a conductor, and doing what the stage director has told them to do during rehearsals.

Performing opera is hard on the singers. “We never do 2 performances in a row. Sometimes we will schedule with 1 day in between, but that’s not the norm. Take Otello for example. We have 2 or 3 days in between performances because the roles are difficult, especially for the tenor. It’s one of the great dramatic tenor roles, and it requires many different kinds of singing.” If you force the issue a singer can sing 3 days in a row, but pays a penalty. “I don’t think it’s fair to the audience because you aren’t going to give 100 percent if you sing 3 days in a row. I’m a person that believes that you should give 125 percent. When you sing without breaks you don’t have that option.”

open-setA set waiting for performers

Asking Maestro DeRenzi what is the biggest factor limiting his performances he replies, “The biggest factor for almost everything is money. We have to balance how much we can raise, both in ticket sales and donations, with what the operas cost to produce. Very often we go through 5 or 6 permutations of repertoires or calendars to obtain that balance. It’s not easy.”

In closing he shares, “For me the thing that makes opera great is the combination of words and music. I love symphonic music. I love chamber music, especially string and piano quartets. With opera I love that you can take the drama and words, and the music infuses them with life.

Come experience Maestro Victor DeRenzi’s 30th Season with Sarasota Opera.

Sarasota Opera 2012 Winter Festival Season

Music by Georges Bizet
Sung in French with English supertitles
11 Performances: February 11, 14, 19m, 22, 24, March 4m, 8, 11, 16, 20, 24

Conductor: Victor DeRenzi
Stage Director: Martha Collins
Carmen: Fredrika Brillembourg*
Don José: Antonio Nagore
Micaela: Danielle Walker
Escamillo: Carlos Monzón
*Sarasota Opera Debut

The 2012 Winter Opera Festival opens on February 11, 2012 with the opéra-comique version of Bizet’s fiery Carmen with the original spoken dialogue. Opera’s most famous femme fatale, Carmen tells the electrifying story of the free-spirited gypsy and how she uses the love of an entranced soldier for her own gain resulting in jealousy and murder. Known for her “velvety timbre” and “magnificent presence, both as a singer and as an actress”, Mezzo-Soprano Fredrika Brillembourg will make her Sarasota Opera debut in the title role. Not seen in Sarasota since 1995, tenor Antonio Nagore will return to the Sarasota Opera stage as the obsessive, love stricken Don José. Danielle Walker, last heard as Don Elvira in last Season’s Don Giovanni, sings Micaëla, and Carlos Monzón portrays the toreador Escamillo.

lucia-wedding-sceneSarasota Opera’s 2002 production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermore. Photo by Deb Hessner/Sarasota Opera.

lLucia di Lammermoor
Music by Gaetano Donizetti
Sung in Italian with English supertitles
9 Performances: February 18, 21, 23, 26m, March 2, 7, 9m, 17m, 23

Conductor: Anthony Barrese
Stage Director: Brian Robertson
Lucia: Kathleen Kim
Enrico: Lee Poulis
Edgardo: Joshua Kohl
Raimondo: Young-Bok Kim

Deceit leads to murder which leads to madness in Donizetti’s musically and dramatically exhilarating masterpiece Lucia di Lammermoor. International opera star, Soprano Kathleen Kim, returns to Sarasota Opera to make her role debut as Lucia. Ms. Kim was an Apprentice Artist at Sarasota Opera in 2002 and returned as a Studio Artist in 2005. During the 2010-2011 Season, Ms. Kim appeared as Madame Mao in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Nixon in China and reprised her acclaimed portrayal of Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos also at the Metropolitan Opera. In addition, Ms. Kim’s 2010-2011 Season included appearances as The Queen of the Night from Die Zauberflöte at the Bavarian State Opera, Oscar in Un Ballo in Maschera at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Poppea in Agrippina at the Boston Lyric Opera. Ms. Kim will be joined on stage by Lee Poulis, last season’s villainous Don Giovanni, as Lucia’s spiteful brother, Enrico. In addition, Joshua Kohl returns, seen last season as Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, as Edgardo and Young-Bok Kim, who was Colline in last season’s La bohème, returns as Raimondo, Lucia’s tutor. Stage Director, Brian Robertson, who directed the 2005 Sarasota Opera production of Stiffelio, returns to direct and Sarasota Opera favorite Maestro Anthony Barrese will conduct.

verdis-attilaSarasota Opera’s 2007 production of Verdi’s Attila. Photo by Deb Hessner/Sarasota Opera.

Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Sung in Italian with English supertitles
Sarasota Opera Premiere
7 Performances: March 3, 6, 11m, 14, 17, 22, 25m

Conductor: Victor DeRenzi
Stage Director: Stephanie Sundine
Otello: Rafael Dávila
Desdemona: Maria D’Amato
Iago: Sean Anderson
For the first time on the Sarasota Opera stage, Maestro Victor DeRenzi, celebrating his 30th season as Artistic Director, will lead the cast and orchestra in Verdi’s masterpiece Otello which will mark Sarasota Opera’s final five years of the Verdi Cycle ending in 2016. Verdi’s tour-deforce is the tale of passionate love undermind by the vindictive scheming of Iago, Otello’s ensign, throwing Otello into a murderous rage against his innocent wife, Desdemona. Rafael Dávila will return to bring his robust and beautiful full lyric tenor voice to the stage in his portrayal of the title role, and Maria D’Amato, last season’s heartbreaking Mimi in La bohème, will portray the deceived yet endlessly faithful Desdemona.

madama-butterflySarasota Opera’s 2011 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Photo by Rod Millington/Sarasota Opera.

Music by Samuel Barber
Sung in English with English supertitles
Sarasota Opera Premiere
6 Performances: March 10, 13, 15, 18m, 21, 24

Conductor: David Neely
Stage Director: Michael Unger
Vanessa: Kara Shay Thomson
Erika: Audrey Babcock*
Anatol: Scott Piper*
* Sarasota Opera Debut
**Free pre-performance introductions 45 minutes before curtain in Felding Hall.

Rounding out the 2012 Winter Season will be Samuel Barber’s Vanessa as a continuation of the new American Classics series. An opera of lyrical and intense beauty, Vanessa weaves a story of lies, secrets and evasion between an aging aunt, dreaming of love’s return, and her niece Erika, who waits for love to come. Kara Shay Thomson, who brought down the house in 2009 as Floria Tosca, returns to sing the title role. Making their Sarasota Opera debut, rising star, mezzo5 soprano Audrey Babcock, will assume the role as her niece Erika and tenor Scott Piper will sing the role of Anatol, the love interest of both women. The creative team responsible for the success of last year’s production of The Crucible will return to build Vanessa from the ground up right here in Sarasota including Scenic Designer Michael Schweikardt, Costume Designer Howard Tsvi Kaplan, Lighting Designer Ken Yunker and Wigs and Make-Up Designer Georgianna Eberhard. David Neely returns to conduct and Michael Unger returns to direct.

Sarasota Opera

Entering its 53rd season, the Sarasota Opera once again selects an outstanding international cast of artists for the 2012 Winter Festival Season. A cornerstone of the community, both economically and culturally, the opera annually draws upwards of 20,000 tourists to Sarasota County and accomodates an audience of over 60,000 patrons. When the Sarasota Opera House was originally built as the Edwards Theater in 1926, no one imagined it would one day be the only opera-specific venue on the Gulf coast of Florida. In 1983 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places

Since 1983 the company has been under the artistic leadership of Victor DeRenzi. Through his works the opera garnered international attention with its Masterwork Revivals Series, presenting neglected works of artistic merit, as well as the Verdi Cycle producing the complete works of Giuseppe Verdi. Recognizing the importance of training, Maestro DeRenzi founded the Apprentice Artist and Studio Artist programs.

Serving as the opera’s executive director for the past twelve years is Susan T. Danis. Under her tutelage the opera’s budget grew from $3.2 million to more than $8.5 million, and the opera’s historic theater saw a dramatic $20 million renovation. She is instrumental in developing the ongoing commissioning of new works for the Opera’s Youth Opera program and the opera has raised over $47 million (including legacy gifts) during its Building on the Vision capital campaign.

susan-danis-victor-derenziSusan Danis and Maestro Victor DeRenzi. Photo by Cliff Roles.

Beyond opera house performances, the Sarasota Opera provides additional opportunities to enhance lives through a commitment to education.

Youth Opera

Sarasota Youth Opera was founded more than 25 years ago with the belief that music, specifically opera, exists for every child. The opera’s choral and performance-based program builds musical foundations in young singers ages 8 and up under the guidance of Sarasota Opera’s music staff. Over 3,000 young people have participated in the Youth Opera since its inception.

All singers are accepted into the program and placed into one of three chorus levels nurturing each individual singer’s skills. All choruses experience unique performing opportunities locally, across the state, and even internationally. The choruses rehearse weekly from September to May. New singers are invited to enroll twice a year; September and January.

Community Outreach Concerts

Sarasota Opera artists perform Outreach Concerts making opera performances more accessible to the community. Outreach Concerts support local civic, social, and service clubs, as well as area business functions and special occasions. Working on the belief that opera can benefit everyone, the Sarasota Opera seeks to develop relationships with individuals from diverse cultural, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds.

Invitation to Opera

The opera strongly believes in its power as an educational tool that educators and families can use to explore imaginations, enrich lives, and open new avenues of thought for children. The Invitation to Opera program provides students the opportunity to experience a live opera performance at the Sarasota Opera, all at no cost to students. These dress rehearsals take place during the school day and last no longer than three hours. Each student receives a study guide containing information on the opera’s plot, composer biography, character breakdown, and opera tidbits.

Sarasota Opera
61 North Pineapple Avenue
Sarasota, FL 34236
(941) 366-8450
General Information:
Box Office and Ticket Information:

Copyright © 2012 REAL Magazine
Links to this article are encouraged

Photography used under license from Giovanni Lunardi Photography
Photography Copyright © 2012 Giovanni Lunardi Photography


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