Thursday, March 24, 2016

Saratoga Opera’s Young Verdi concert finds nuggets among Verdi’s early works

Digging into the compositions of Verdi’s youth, Sarasota Opera presented a concert of works that Verdi wrote before he completed his first opera, “Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio” in 1839. Consisting of three sinfonias for orchestra, pieces for chorus and orchestra, solos with piano, and some fragmentary works, the Young Verdi program helped Sarasota Opera to fulfill its claim to be the only company in the world to have played all of Verdi’s works (that includes his 27 operas and 6 alternative variations). Although the works on the program showed that Verdi had not found his voice, the music did reveal some Verdi-like tendencies, such as the way that he made some lines sound heavier. All of the pieces were conducted by Sarasota Opera's Artistic Director Victor DeRenzi and featured the young artists of the company as soloists or as part of the chorus.

The choral works were sacred pieces that the chorus sang with vigor, but none left much of an impression. Even the “in convertendo Dominus” (Psalm 125), which featured five excellent soloists from the company’s bevy of young artists, relied on a declamatory style that didn’t match up well with much of the text.

The piano and voice selections dwelt primarily on unrequited love and its laments. All were delivered with ardent fervor by young artists of the company. Soprano Elizabeth Trendent, in particular, excelled in her delivery of “Perduta ho la pace” (“My peace of mind is lost”) and “Deh, pietoso, oh Addolarata” (“O Sorrowful Mary”).

The loveliest gem of the evening was a nocturne for three voices, piano, and flute entitled “Guarda che bianca luna” (“Look, what a bright moon”). It had a sweet lyrical side that was wrapped in a simple melody, revealing a sense of what Verdi would do later whenever he created memorable intimate music.

The first of two fragmentary pieces on the program, simply titled “Piano piece in 6/8,” took listeners on a pleasant journey in the space of eight measures. The other one, “O virtu che provvidente” (“O virtue that wisely”), written for piano and female chorus, offered a lilting melody before stopping suddenly. The piece was taken from an auction catalogue that had displayed only the first page. Apparently the rest of the piece is owned by a private collector who did not intend to reveal the rest of the goods.

All three sinfonias were one-movement works that were influenced by Rossini and perhaps Mozart. Played with verve by the orchestra, they might have been more interesting if the woodwinds could have softened up a bit during the quieter passages so that the strings could have come through better. After enthusiastic applause at the conclusion of the concert, DeRenzi told the audience that he and the orchestra preferred the Sinfonia in C major so they played it as an encore.

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