Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Sarasota Opera Visits Verdi - Last Leg

The final leg of Sarasota Opera’s Verdi Pilgrimage, took the group to the beautiful city of Venice.

Teatro La Fenice
Venice figured large in Verdi’s career. Several of his greatest operas were premiered in the city including Ernani, Attila, Rigoletto, La traviata,  and Simon Boccanegra. It was in the city he also met one of his closest collaborators and friends, librettist Francesco Maria Piave. In another act of the composer’s charity, Verdi supported Piave and his family after the poet was struck down by a stroke and left paralyzed in 1867, until his death in 1876.

The Sarasota group traveled from Parma to Venice by bus and then transferred by water taxi to the Bauer’s Hotel, near the Piazza San Marco. The afternoon was taken up with touring the Ca’ Rezzonico, a palazzo which once included Robert Browning and Cole Porter as its tenants and is now one of the finest museums of art in Venice.
Members of the group at dinner at Cipriani overlooking St. Mark's Basilica
Following the tour we adjourned to the island of Giudecca and the famous Cipriani Hotel where we had a private dinner overlooking the Grand Canal.

Despite the rain, the following morning a few hardy souls toured the Basilica of St. Marks, the Rialto Market, and the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, a building for which Tintoretto provided all of the artwork, including some of his greatest masterpieces.

The group in front of the Teatro La Fenice
A performance at the Teatro La Fenice was on tap for the evening. The famous theater, site of the Verdi premieres (including the opening night fiasco of La traviata) in Venice, is named after the “Phoenix.” The beautiful, but ill-starred venue has had to repeatedly “rise from the ashes” as fires have destroyed the theater three times, in 1792, 1836, and most recently in 1996. It is one of the most historically important theaters in the country and one of the most ornate.

The artistic director of the Teatro La Fenice, Fortunato Ortombina, gave some insight into the theater and the production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly that we were about to see. Coincidentally, Mo. DeRenzi recognized Mr. Ortombina from his earlier work with the Institute of Verdi Studies in Parma.
Maestro DeRenzi, Teatro La Fenice Artistic Director Fortunato Ortombina, and Executive Director Richard Russell
inside Teatro La Fenice
The performance of Puccini’s masterwork provoked much conversation among the group over dinner at the Taverna La Fenice, after the opera. Through a partnership with the Art Biennale, the set design was by visual artist Mariko Mori, whose futuristic aesthetic is reflected in the giant Möbius that dominates the spare stage and which inspired a modernistic interpretation of the opera. Notwithstanding the varying opinions of the production, everyone was glad to have experienced opera in this historic theater.
The interior of Venice's Teatro La Fenice with Mariko Mori's set for Act I of Madama Butterfly on stage
The following day, the last of the trip, took the group to Lake Orta and the beautiful Villa Crespi. Everyone assembled in the 2-Michelin starred restaurant for a delectable dinner and a chance to reminisce about the exceptional experiences of the past 9 days. Even Mo. DeRenzi, who had been to many of places we visited before, had never been to parts of the Casa Verdi in Milan and Villa Verdi at Santa’Agata that are not usually open to the public, as well as the opportunity to meet one of the composer’s descendants. Everyone was sorry to see the trip end and spirits were hardly dampened when the maître’d of the restaurant felt the need to cut off our attempt to pay homage to Verdi by singing “Va pensiero sull’ali dorate” from Nabucco one last time.

It was an experience that no one will soon forget and a fitting start to the season that will bring the Grand Finale to Sarasota Opera’s 28-season long “Verdi Cycle.”

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