Victor DeRenzi could never get too much Verdi. As artistic director of Sarasota Opera, DeRenzi presides over one of the most significant achievements in the opera world, his company's Verdi cycle, in which all 33 of the composer's operas (including five extensively revised versions) will be performed by 2016. This season, the company is on No. 27 in the cycle, Verdi's fourth opera, I Lombardi, which opens Saturday night.
"As a musician, Verdi was always changing," said DeRenzi, who has conducted all the Verdi operas in the cycle so far, starting with Rigoletto in 1989. "He never got to a point in his career where he moved backwards or even stayed the same. One finds going along this journey that even when you get to an opera that people don't consider very good, like Alzira, there are still moments in that opera that one should hear. The reason one can do this with Verdi more than any other composer is that there is this constant progression in his music."
I Lombardi, which premiered in 1843, is typical of early Verdi operas in its energetic orchestration and rousing choruses. Set during the Crusades of the 11th century, the libretto by Temistocle Solera is a ramshackle tale about a pair of Italian brothers from Lombardy who are rivals in love. The Act 4 chorus, O Signore, dal tetto natio, is one of Verdi's best-loved pieces.
The Sarasota audience has embraced the Verdi cycle, no matter how obscure the opera. "From a marketing standpoint, it's much easier to get people to come to see Rigoletto or Traviata than to convince an audience to see I Lombardi," DeRenzi said. "Our advantage is that our audience has come to really enjoy these operas and look forward to them. We're probably the only company in the world that could sell 102 percent of its tickets to I Masnadieri."
The I Lombardi cast includes Matthew Edwardson as Arvino, Rafael Dávila as Oronte, Kevin Short as Pagano and Abla Lynn Hamza as Giselda. There are seven performances through March 20. $19-$120. (941) 328-1300; sarasotaopera,org.
Opera winners: Jasmine Galvez won first prize in the 39th annual vocal competition for high school vocalists, held Saturday by the Florida Suncoast Opera Guild at St. Petersburg College Music Center. Galvez, a student at the School of the Immaculata, was awarded $500. Other winners included Hannah Zazzaro from Countryside High School ($400), Melody Rubin from Freedom High School ($300) and Alexandra Halchak from East Lake High School ($200).
Wagnerian opera: New Century Opera, a small company in Tarpon Springs, has been staging a lot of Wagnerian opera — it completed a Ring cycle last year. At 2 p.m. Sunday at Tarpon Springs Heritage Museum, it presents singers Michelle Smith-Sund, Todd Donovan, Kevin Nickorick and Doreen Summers in a concert of music from Tannhauser, Die Meistersinger, Die Walkure, Lohengrin and other Wagner operas. Constantine Grame conducts and plays piano. $13, $15. (727) 942-5605; tarponarts.org.
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.