The project has been underway for nearly 30 years. It comes to spectacular fruition this weekend.
Saturday, the Sarasota Opera premiered "Aida." When when the final curtain closed, the Sarasota Opera became the only company in the world that had performed every known work by Giuseppe Verdi. Victor DeRenzi, the opera's artistic director, became the only person to have conducted all of Verdi's works.
"It's a pretty big event for the opera company," DeRenzi said. "It's been 28 years in the making."
The final work in the Sarasota Opera's Verdi cycle is "Aida." It opened Saturday and is scheduled for 11 performances through March 19.
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It's the first time the Sarasota Opera has ever staged "Aida," even though it's one of the most popular operas in the world.
"Theatrically, it's a challenging opera to do, which may be why we saved it until last," DeRenzi said. "We'll have 107 people on stage in one scene. It's the biggest chorus we've ever had. I didn't want to do a version of 'Aida.' I wanted to make sure we did it properly."
It's become fashionable for opera companies to stage "Aida" with live animals, which obviously has its own set of challenges. The Sarasota Opera production will be animal-free. Among other reasons, DeRenzi said, Sarasota Opera tried to stay faithful to the composer's vision for the opera, and Verdi's 1871 original staging didn't use animals.
The story has to do with an Egyptian warrior who falls in love with Aida, a Nubian slave. The opera ranges from moments of delicate subtlety to the spectacular Triumphal March -- the scene that features 107 performers in the Sarasota version, and one of the most popularly familiar melodies in all of opera.
"Everyone will know the Triumphal March," DeRenzi said.
It's the last opera in the Verdi cycle, but it won't be the last Verdi opera of the season for the Sarasota Opera. Starting in Feb
ruary, the company will reprise "The Battle of Legnano," a Verdi opera that's not as well known as "Aida," "Rigoletto," "Il Trovatore" or "La Traviata."
One reason that other companies haven't attempted to do all of Verdi's operas, DeRenzi said, is economics. There are so many famous and popular Verdi operas that many companies are reticent to take a chance that audiences will turn up for the obscure ones.
"Verdi wrote 33 operas," DeRenzi said. "Sixteen of them are widely performed. The rest are known through recordings. All of his operas have artistic validity, but you have to see them performed to appreciate it. It just doesn't come through in recordings."
He credits the erudition of the Sarasota-Bradenton audiences for allowing the Sarasota Opera to perform the more obscure Verdi works and still draw crowds.
Besides "Aida" and "The Battle of Legnano," the Sarasota Opera will also feature Verdi works in a Grand Finale Concert on March 20 to celebrate the completion of the cycle.
But performing all the works of the greatest of opera composers has been its own reward.
"I love Verdi and the audience loves Verdi," DeRenzi said,. "That's reason enough to do it."
Details: Through March 19 (in rotation), Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 4, 10, 23 and 28, March 2, 5, 15 and 19; 1:30 p.m. Feb. 7 and 20 and March 13, Tickets: $19-$135. Information: 941-328-1300, sarasotaopera.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.