Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sarasota Opera Visits Verdi

At the end of March 2016, Sarasota Opera will complete its Verdi Cycle, a 28-season effort to perform all of the works of Italy’s greatest composer Giuseppe Verdi. This will be a landmark season for the company, with national and international attention focused on Sarasota Opera.
To kick-off the celebratory season, Artistic Director Victor DeRenzi and Executive Director Richard Russell are accompanying a group of 27 Sarasota Opera patrons to Italy as “Sarasota Visits Verdi.”  The 9-night tour includes a sample of audience members who live in Sarasota full-time, are snow-birds and some who come from as far as California and London to join this pilgrimage to visit places where the composer lived and worked.
The trip kicked off on Tuesday night (5/19) with a welcome dinner at the Grand Hotel et de Milan.  This 5-star hotel was the composer’s residence in Milan during the last 30 years of his life and it was in a suite on the first floor that he passed away at the age of 87 on January 27, 1901.
Members of Sarasota Opera's pilgrimage to the sites of Giuseppe Verdi join in the
Grand Hotel et de Milan for a welcome dinner
From the Royal Box at Milan's famed Teatro alla Scala,
a member of the staff  explaines the workings of  Italy's most
venerated Opera House 
The next morning everyone made the short walk to Milan’s famous “Teatro alla Scala,” probably the most venerated opera house in the world. Nevertheless, even this theater, which opened in 1778, and was the site of the premieres of Verdi’s Oberto, Un giorno di regno, Nabucco, I lombardi alla prima crociata, Otello, and Falstaff has not performed all of the composer’s operas, as Sarasota Opera will have by next year.

La Scala has an interesting museum attached to the opera house which charts its history and has a room devoted exclusively to Verdi. The visit also included a guided tour of the auditorium and backstage from one of the theater’s music staff.  The plush historical interior of the theater is in stark contrast to the updated technology visited backstage (result of a 3-year renovation from 2001-2004).
Entrance to the Casa di Riposo in Milan
Following the theater visit, a bus took the group to the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti (Rest Home for Musicians) which is more commonly known as the Casa Verdi. In a letter to a friend the composer wrote: “Among my works, the one I like best is the Home that I have had built in Milan for accommodating old singers not favored by fortune, or who, when they were young, did not possess the virtue of saving. The poor, dear companions of my lifetime! Believe me, my friend, that Home is truly my most beautiful work (la mia opera più bella.”)
Sarasota Opera Artistic Director Victor DeRenzi contemplates a bust of Giuseppe Verdi in the sitting room of the Casa Verdi, the retirement home for poor musicians the composer built in Milan  
It was a novel idea to build and equip a rest home for the disadvantaged when Verdi proposed this idea in in the last years of his life.  It was not the first example of this type of philanthropy. A few years earlier he had built a hospital for the residents of Villanova, a town near his country estate at Sant’Agata. He acquired land on the outskirts of Milan in 1889 for the retirement home and oversaw the design and construction of the building, attending to every detail. He endowed it  with the royalties from his operas (which expired in  1962; it is now funded by a private foundation and the state.)
Under a portrait of the composer Giuseppe Verdi, members of Sarasota Opera's Verdi trip 
hear about his life at the Casa Verdi  
The Sarasotans were  met by the Director of Communications for the Casa Verdi, who highlighted Verdi’s place not only as a great composer of opera, but as a national hero whose music inspired Italians in their quest for unification in the mid 1800s. The house is full of artifacts from Verdi’s collection (including a small piano that he was given as a boy and kept all of his life) and it is in a crypt off the courtyard of the house that is his final resting place, along with his second wife Giuseppina Strepponi.
The crypt at the Casa Verdi where the composer and his wife are buried.
The evening will take the Sarasota contingent back to La Scala for a performance of Turandot by Verdi’s heir, Giacomo Puccini.

Stay tuned for more updates as Sarasota Opera continues its travels through Italy and the life of Giuseppe Verdi. 

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