An Opera Lesson and More

By Kay Kipling February 3, 2011

La Boheme a popular choice

Does Sarasota Opera artistic director Victor DeRenzi agree with the prevailing notion that La Boheme is the perfect opera for a beginner to attend?

“When I’m asked that question, I usually check first with the box office and see which production has lots of tickets left, and I say that one is the perfect one for beginners,” DeRenzi joked at a “Meet The Artists” program on Tuesday.

Getting serious, DeRenzi said La Boheme is appealing to beginners and savvy opera fanatics for the same reason: “It is about being young and in love, and being poor and having hope for something better,” he said. “Even if you didn’t grow up poor, you probably imagine that you did, because it makes a more romantic story.”

DeRenzi was joined on stage by Harold Meers and Maria D’Amato, the principals in the Sarasota Opera production of La Boheme that opens Saturday. DeRenzi asked the singers if they felt any added pressure in performing in such a popular and well-known piece.

Before answering, Meers, who makes his Sarasota Opera debut as Rodolfo, asked how many audience members had recordings of La Boheme at home. Most of the 100 people in attendance raised their hands.

“Sure, there is pressure, because, as you can see, so many people who come to the theater already have the music in their ears,” Meers said. “If what they hear on stage doesn’t meet the expectations in their ears, they’ll be disappointed, and you don’t want that. But you can’t get caught up in that, in worrying what Pavarotti or someone else did.”

D’Amato, who, in her fourth year with Sarasota Opera is cast as the doomed Mimi, agreed. “You can’t worry about matching what other people have done,” she said. “You just have to do your best, and hope that people will love you, too.”

A fun fact I learned at the session: At 17 minutes, Act 2 of La Boheme is the shortest in all of opera, but also the most complicated. It is set in the bustling Latin Quarter of Paris on Christmas Eve, where the streets are full of vendors selling oranges, dates, chestnuts and fine hats. Adults gossip with friends, while children clamor to see the wares of a toy seller. Waiters scurry to serve patrons at a café, and even a brass band adds to the merriment.

Director Stephanie Sundine said probably 25 hours of rehearsal have been devoted to those 17 minutes. And DeRenzi wanted audience members to know that when they hear the chorus start singing before the curtain rises on Act 2, that’s intentional.

“Puccini wrote it that way,” DeRenzi said. “He wanted the audience to feel as if there is a whole world going on behind that curtain, and that we’ve been invited in to observe it.”

The next “Meet the Artists” program, devoted to Don Giovanni, is at 5 p.m. Feb. 8. Tickets are $15.


Glass Act

Seth Randal can thank Mikhail Baryshnikov for helping him become a world-renowned glass sculptor.

Years ago, when Randal was dancing with Baryshnikov’s American Ballet Theatre, he was hospitalized with a severe injury.

Baryshnikov came to visit him, and while trying to break the news that the injury was career-ending, he suggested that Randal find a hobby to occupy his time. Randal ended up taking a stained-glass course, which sent his life in an exciting new direction.

Randal talked about his career and demonstrated his craft in a recent Art Muse program sponsored by the Sarasota Museum of Art. The event was held in the former Sarasota High School building, which will eventually house the modern and contemporary museum and studio space for the Ringling College of Art and Design.

Construction will begin once the $22 million fund-raising goal is reached. And Wendy Surkis, the president of the museum board, told the audience—down to the penny—where the campaign was.

“We’ve raised $12, 139,649.91,” an exuberant Surkis said.


Not taking the Bete

I loved the Asolo Rep’s production of La Bete so much that I’m going to see the production again. Watching the amazing Danny Scheie deliver a breathtaking and hilarious 25-minute monologue in rhymed couplets during Act I is alone worth the price of admission.

But Sarasota audiences evidently aren’t racing to see this comedy about the tension between high art and popular entertainment. I hear that ticket sales are lagging so much that one matinee has had to be cancelled. Maybe the notion of rhymed couplets is intimidating people. If so, that’s a shame, because the show is easy to follow, thought-provoking and delightfully entertaining.






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