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Love and Death in Sarasota

By Rodger Skidmore

Yes, it’s that time of year again – Old love, new love, every kind of love including true love. And everyone dies. Yes, that time of year – the opera is back at the Sarasota Opera House. La Bohème is first up, the tale of a group of bohemians who starve, and sing, and make love, in no particular order, in the Latin Quarter of Paris back in the 1840s. Why the 1840s? That is when the industrial revolution came to France, and to Paris. Factories opened, a new middle class was emerging, and with it, the rebellious children of that middle class. These young artists were called bohemians, after the Romani people, who did not come from Bohemia (go figure). A lot of the marginally employed did not have good healthcare coverage, and low cost housing was quite, quite crowded, so naturally all the seamstresses in Paris got tuberculous, including Mimi. Kind of the thing to do back then. Anyway, a writer falls in love with her and she dies. Tragic, but with really good music (Puccini). Side note: Arturo Toscanini, who conducted the NBC Orchestra in the 1950s, conducted the premiere of this opera in 1896. Bravo for him.

Charles Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet is also being performed in February. This opera is different in that two people die right away, and two people die at the end. The opera is based on Shakespeare’s famous English play and takes place in Verona, Italy so, of course, it is sung in French. But the music is beautiful, and the story line is tragic, but that is how opera is made. Actually, this is a very modern tale (first written in the 1500s) about class warfare. One family is rich and urban while the other is poorer and kind of rural – so naturally the children of these families (in Shakespeare’s version Juliet is 13) fall in love. And die.

The Donizetti opera Maitasunaren Elixir, originally set in the Basque part of northern Spain, is being performed at the Opera House beginning in late February. As Sarasota and New York have few Basque speakers, let alone Basque singers, the opera will be titled The Elixir of Love and will be sung in Italian. Spoiler Alert: Nobody dies, they just sing beautiful songs accompanied by lovely music.

The opera La Wally (not the operatic version of the animated film Wall-E) has a fantastic plot as well as great music. In the first act there is an argument where the protagonists are carrying guns (nobody is shot) but you know someone will die. Too bad it doesn’t open until March – can’t tell you more about it now. SarasotaOpera.org.

If you were a “Month”, which one would you be?

How about being “February”. The Sarasota Orchestra is playing so much this month that everyone will be able to hear multiple things that they will enjoy. The Orchestra has so many concerts scheduled that they added an extra day to February (the 29th) just to fit everything in. Even their Dvořák concert on Feb. 1st and 2nd has to start on January 30th – what a month! Dvořák’s Violin Concerto in A minor is so intensely listenable that they brought in Sarah Chang to do the four performances justice. That same concert contains three of Dvořák’s Legends – originally written as piano duets but orchestrated by Dvořák prior to publication. Plus, bonus selections by Janáček and Debussy.

Bigger can sometimes be better. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, the Eroica, is big enough to fill an entire concert – especially as Jeffrey Kahane not only conducts this February 6th special performance but presents his insights (with musical examples played by orchestra members) along with this marvelous work. Additionally, there is a special chamber performance on Feb. 9th (very close to Valentine’s Day) which musically explores the Love Triangle between Brahms and Clara Schumann after Robert Schumann was institutionalized. Robert’s Three Romances for Oboe and Piano, Clara’s Three Romances for Violin and Piano, and Brahms’ Sextet in G Major, add up to a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

On, before, and after Valentine’s Day (12-16) the Heart and Soul version of Great Escapes is at the Van Wezel. Light hearted fare for the light of heart. Have someone special or just thinking of someone special? This is the pops/light classic concert for you – and for them. A masterworks presentation, Sound of Nobility continues the music with Brahms Concerto for Violin and Cello. It has been said to be “one of the most rapturous concertos ever composed.” That description might be pushing it a bit, but then, can you think of more than three that are more rapturous? British conductor Bramwell Tovey conducts, with solo artists Simone Porter on violin and Joshua Roman on cello. The Rob Roy Overture by Berlioz and William Walton’s Symphony No. 1 round out these performances on the 21st – 23rd.

Thrill of a Lifetime is a special event at the Riverview Performing Arts Center on the 29th. Members of the Sarasota Youth Philharmonic are thrilled to be playing alongside members of the Sarasota Orchestra and you’ll be thrilled by what you hear. Starting on the 27th and running into the first day of March is another chamber concert, Symphony to Serenade. Selections start with a brass symphony by Jan Koetsier, continues with a trio by Ibert, and ends with Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings in E Major. Venues and times at sarasotaorchestra.org/concerts.

One of Twenty-Seven

A couple of years ago a two act play titled Grounded played at Florida Studio Theatre here in Sarasota as one of their Stage III presentations. It was strong and mesmerizing. Why, one thinks, was it such a penetrating experience? One could say, “Well, it was the acting.” Or, “Oh!, it was so topical that it really hit home.” Sure, it was great for those reasons and more. But how about, “It was just so well written.” The playwright, George Brant, has, at last count, written 27 plays with Grounded being the only one to be produced here in Sarasota. In February that number will double – to two – when Into The Breeches! opens as FSU’s Asolo Rep production up on the North Trail. Time-wise there will be no reason to miss this show as it runs from Feb.12 – March 21. There are, of course, reasons other than having a free evening to travel 4.7 miles north of Main Street – mainly the writing, directing, acting, and the sets. The Providence Journal wrote “…one of the sweetest nights of theatre you’re likely to see this season…” This comic drama is being directed by Laura Kepley, artistic director of the Cleveland Playhouse, who directed an earlier production of it at the Chautauqua Festival in 2018.

During the last World War, back when only men went to war, the women of America filled the gaps when so many men were absent. You’ve read the tales of all the Rosie the Riveters and others who flocked to the factories across the US. Women became traffic cops, bus drivers and, in Into The Breeches!, male actors. A comedy tracking how women continued to come into their own. Asolorep.org.