If you're even a casual Verdi fan, you probably love "Il Trovatore."
But even if you're an obsessive Verdi lover, there's a good chance you've never seen "Jerusalem."
You'll have a chance to see both in the next coming weeks. "Il Trovatore," one of the most popular operas in the world, opens the Sarasota Opera's recently announced 2014 Winter Festival Season on Saturday, Feb. 8.
"Jerusalem," perhaps Verdi's most obscure opera, is the final production of the season. It's set to open March 8.
In between are popular operas by Gioachino Rossini ("The Barber of Seville," which opens Feb. 15) and Richard Wagner ("The Flying Dutchman," March 1.)
"Jerusalem" is one that opera aficionados might not be familiar with. The Sarasota Opera specializes in works by Verdi, but this is the first production of "Jerusalem" in the company's 55-year history.
"It's not very well known" said Victor DeRenzi, the artistic director of the Sarasota Opera. "I don't even know when the last time it was performed in the United States."
The reason "Jerusalem" is so seldom produced isn't because it's a poor opera.
"The problem with Verdi is that he has 16 operas that everybody has to do,"
Opera companies have to draw audiences, and when they produce a Verdi work they veer toward the most popular ones, DeRenzi said. And there are so many of those that companies seldom have to produce obscure ones. It's kind of like a theater company choosing a Shakespeare play -- it's more likely to produce "Hamlet" than "Timon of Athens," even though "Timon of Athens" is a great play.
"But actors want to play Hamlet, and audiences want to see 'Hamlet'," DeRenzi said.
The opera audiences in Sarasota are erudite enough to appreciate seeing Verdi's lesser-known works.
"Our audiences have learned that every opera by Verdi has its virtues and deserves a hearing," he said.It may be the more serious opera lovers who come to see "Jerusalem." But the season opener "Il Trovatore" will appeal to both devoted opera fans and dabblers.
"For many years it was the world's most popular opera," DeRenzi said. And it's still solidly among the top 10 most frequently produced operas. Almost everyone knows its most famous song, "The Anvil Chorus."
The story involves love, torture, kidnapping, revenge and murder. It sounds extreme but it's not, the maestro says.
"Not if you follow the news," he said. "It's about not accepting people for what they are, about not accepting people who are different from you, about how that leads to hatred and about how hatred leads to murder. It's what you see every day in this world we live in."
Baritone David Pershall, making his Sarasota Opera debut, plays Count di Luna, who is usually considered the villain.
"That's the general perception," Pershall said. "Here we have a guy who's in love with a woman and who's charged with his father to avenge the death of his brother. He certainly makes some bad choice but I don't see him as evil. Sometimes the greatest evil in the world is done by people who think they're doing the right thing."
People who have been following the Sarasota Opera long enough will recognize this year's productions of "The Flying Dutchman" and "The Barber of Seville."
The company staged "The Flying Dutchman," one of Wagner's earlier, more melodic and more romantic works, in 2000. The set was so spectacular that it has been replicated this year.
"It wasn't worth saving because it was falling apart," DeRenzi said. "So we re-created it."
The set for "The Barber of Seville," Rossini's comic opera, has been saved since its 2008 Sarasota Opera staging.
The four operas will run in rotating repertory through March 23. All performances are at the Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. Tickets are $29-$135. Call 941-366-8450 or go to www.sarasotaopera.org.
And if that's not enough opera for you, Opera Tampa's Florida Opera Festival offers Mozart's "The Magic Flute" March 7-9, at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa. Call 813-229-7827 or go to www.operatampa.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.