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The Young Verdi in Sarasota (Part II of the Verdi Cycle)

Sarasota Opera
03/17/2016 -  
Giuseppe Verdi: Sinfonie in G Minor, C Major & D Major – Tantum ergo – Momento Domine David (Psalm 131) – Pater noster (Original version) – In convertendo Dominus (Psalm 125) – Io la vidi – Non, t’accostare all’urna – More, Elisa, lo stanco poeta – In solitaria stanza – Nell’orror di notte oscura – Perduta ho la pace – Deh, pietoso, oh Addolorata – Nocturne for three voices “Guarda che bianca luna” – L’esule – Oh potessi ritornar – Piano piece in 6/8 – O virtù che provvidente
Sean Christensen, Matthew Vickers, Raymon, Godfrey Geis, Christopher Trapani, Andrea Baker, Kathleen Shelton, John Overholt, Vincent Grana, Rebecca Witty, Andrew Surrena, Alexander Charles Boyd, Elizabeth Tredent, Kate McNamara, Samuel Hall, Costas Tsourakis, and Mary-Hollis Hundley
Amanda Blaikie (Flute), Aaron Breid, Cory Battey, Kevin Miller, Michael Spassov, Howard Lubin, and John F. Spencer IV (Piano)
Sarasota Opera Chorus, Roger L. Bingaman (Chorus Master), Sarasota Opera Orchestra, Victor DeRenzi (Conductor)

V. DeRenzi (© Giovanni Lunardi)

As mentioned in my review of Verdi’s La battaglia di Legnano (March 16), Sarasota Opera claims to have performed all of Verdi’s music that is currently available. Some works have been lost and some reside in private collections. The beginning of a score belonging to a private collection, however, of which a first-page photo was found in an antique dealer’s catalogue, had its world premiere on Thursday evening during the closing week of the Sarasota Opera Verdi cycle–all 10 measures!–entitled Piano Piece in 6/8. An eight-measure snippet from 1877, which clocked in at 20 seconds, also had its world premiere. And it case you missed it, pianist John F. Spencer IV played it twice. This illustrates the dedication with which the Sarasota Opera and its conductor, Victor DeRenzi, have pursued their quest over the past 28 years.

Verdi claims to have written a “hodgepodge” of works from the ages of 13 to 18 while he was studying in Busseto. These comprised non-operatic, sacred and popular, and vocal and instrumental pieces–including hundreds of marches. Most of these early works did not survive. Thursday’s concert presented pieces from Verdi’s youth, his later years, and some attributed to him. The Sarasota Opera Chorus furnished the solo singers, who were accompanied by the scaled-down Sarasota Opera Orchestra, several young pianists, and a flutist. None of the programmed works was longer than ten minutes and most were less than five.

Four sacred works and one secular duet, framed by two early Sinfonias, comprised the first half of the concert. It opened with a jaunty rendition of the two-movement Sinfonia in G Minor scored in the classical tradition. (All three Sinfonias performed dated from the 1830s.) A Tantum ergo from 1836 followed, sung with verve and almost excessive power by the mighty-talented young tenor, Sean Christensen. Deep string sounds from the orchestra provided a stirring accompaniment. Verdi was rather harsh in his assessment of the work. He wrote on the cover: “I advise the owner of this unfortunate composition to throw it into the fire. These notes have neither the slightest musical worth nor the shadow of religious sentiment.” The four-voiced choir and orchestra performed Momento Domine David – Psalm 131 with ethereal lustre evoking the style of Arvo Pärt! The choir sung a cappella the original 1880 La Scala version of Pater noster with an expressive, even tone, particularly from the bass section. Tenor Matthew Vickers, one of the strongest of the young singers, gave a solid performance in the duet, Io la vidi, in which “The Loner” pours out his heart over a lost love to his friend, Corrado. We were then treated to a vivid rendition of the choral psalm setting In convertendo Dominus – Psalm 125. It contains the hand of Verdi’s early teacher Ferdinando Provesi as well as that of Verdi. Dating from the early 1830s it is scored for five soloists, orchestra, and choir. The first half concluded with the second of the three Sinfonias–the single movement Sinfonia in C Major–the most delightful of the three. Its main theme resembled the rapidly-paced gallop of Rossini’s William Tell Overture.

The men’s choir retired during intermission and the second half featured smaller-scaled works. It began with his first published works–six romanze (1838) for solo voice and piano accompaniment–Non, t’accostare all’urna, More, Elisa, lo stanco poeta, In solitaria stanza, Nell’orror di notte oscura, Perduta ho la pace, and Deh, pietoso, oh Addolorata. These melodic pieces were typical of the contemporary Italian song repertory and infused with Romantic and melancholic sentiment. The latter two were based on texts by Goethe and conclude with such morsels as, respectively, “If only I could kiss him, if only I could satisfy my desire! to kiss him! Then I could die, kissed;” and, “Ah, with your help, may I be saved from dishonour and death. Lower your compassionate glance towards my grief, O Sorrowful Mary!”

An enchanting Nocturne for three voices – Guarda che bianca luna (with piano and flute accompaniment) followed–their whimsical, delicate interpretation an audience favourite. Matthew Vickers returned to sing the darkly-textured L’esule with accomplished phrasing and tonality. Oh potessi ritornar, a song fragment, comprised fifteen and a half words, and like Piano Piece in 6/8 was sung twice. The women’s chorus returned to sing with piano accompaniment the final vocal selection, O virtù che provvidente. This is possibly Verdi’s earliest surviving secular vocal work. Its closing text provided an upbeat closure to the vocal selections: “Everything obtains beneficence that has hope in your aid. On the path of our lives, let your favour smile on us” (Anonymous).

The Sinfonia in D Major was a strange choice to conclude the printed program. It inclined to be dull and monotonous, but some flute solos added a felicitous touch. Fortunately, the orchestra reprised the previously performed Sinfonia in C Major which brought the youthful works performed by the youthful artists to a felicitous close.

Earl Arthur Love



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