Music to Our Ears

The  LWRWC March 10 General Meeting was  music to the ears, due to the  presentation by renowned guest speaker, Martha Collins, celebrated Canadian stage director and operatic performer, who now serves as the Director of Education at the Sarasota Opera.  In her new role, Martha oversees development of Sarasota Opera’s Youth Opera and Adult Education Programs, along with community engagement efforts.

Martha Collins, Director of Education, Sarasota Opera

Prior to directing, she gained recognition as both an operatic and concert performer and appeared in productions with the Canadian Opera Company, Festival Ottawa, Vancouver Opera, Calgary Opera and Toronto’s Opera in Concert.

She was a finalist in the prestigious BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition in 1985 and chosen to perform for Prince Charles and Princess Diana at the opening gala of the World’s Fair in Vancouver in 1986.

Her film/tv credits also include the Norman Jewison film “Moonstruck” (1987), in the role of Mimi and she starred in the CBC-broadcasted production of Carmen (1986), in which she sang the role of Micaela.

Martha joined Sarasota Opera as a stage director in 2004 and has since directed a number of well received productions including Dialogues des Carmelites (2017), Nabucco (2019), and Romeo and Juliet (2020) and The Happy Deception and Dido and Aeneas, both performed during the 2021 Winter and Spring Opera Festivals. Since 2005, she has directed the annual Sarasota Youth Opera production every year, in addition to a number of other productions at various organizations including Tri-Cities Opera, Opera Southwest, New York University, and New England Conservatory. Martha is currently directing the cast of Attila, an Opera in a prologue and three acts by Giuseppe Verdi, that is being performed March 12 – March 22, 2022.

During her talk, Martha expressed her great esteem for the Sarasota Opera which produces outstanding opera true to the vision of the composer to entertain, enrich, and educate our communities, as well as patrons from across the state and worldwide! Sarasota Opera is the only opera company in the world that has performed all of Verdi’s works (including Aida), in every version and Maestro DeRenzi is the only conductor to have conducted all the composer’s works! In fact, the Sarasota Orchestra performed Verdi’s Requiem Mass exactly 100 years to the minute after Verdi died and the company made history in 2016 by completing the Verdi Cycle, a 28-season effort to produce every work written by Verdi.

Portrait of Giuseppe Verdi

The balance of Martha’s presentation was devoted to a fascinating, enlightening, and in-depth verbal portrait of Giuseppe Verdi. Below are some of the most intriguing facts about the life of this musical genius!
• Giuseppe Verdi was born at home in a very modest rural house on Oct. 9 or 10, 1813 at Le Roncole, near Busseto, Parma, Italy. His father, Carlo Giuseppe Verdi, was a local innkeeper and his mother, Luigia Uttini, was a spinner.
• At age four, Verdi started getting private lessons in Italian and Latin from Baistrocchi, the village schoolmaster. He then studied at the local school when he was six. Verdi learned to play the organ and showed great interest in music, which made his parents gift him a spinet
• At the age of eight, Verdi became the paid organist of his village church. He also wrote music for the largely amateur orchestra of the town church.
• In 1823, he was sent to attend secondary school in Busseto. At 11, Giuseppe started receiving lessons in Latin, Italian, rhetoric, and the humanities.
• When he was about 12 years old, he started lessons with Ferdinando Provesi, the co-director of the local Philharmonic Society, director of the municipal music school. Antonio Barezzi, the other director of the Philharmonic Society, took Verdi into his home and became a second father to him.
• Verdi wrote an eight-movement cantata when he was fifteen; it was performed to great acclaim.
• Barezzi gave his daughter, Margherita, to Verdi to be his wife in 1836.
• While working on Oberto, Verdi’s first wife and two small children all died within a two-year period, leaving the composer devastated. On June 18, 1840, the debut of his second opera was painfully overshadowed by the death of Margherita, who was just 26 years old. In September 1840, Un giorno di regno, a comic opera, premiered at Teatro alla Scala was not well received by critics or audiences.
• Verdi composed two four-part operas in 1842 and 1843, entitled Nabucodonosor and I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata. The operas were a great success and gave him a prominent reputation in the operatic theater. He was known to reject the traditional Italian opera for unified acts and integrated scenes, which added to his fame.
• Three of Verdi’s operas are based on plays by Shakespeare.
• Giuseppe’s most famous and best loved compositions were Rigoletto finished in 1851, and Il trovatore and La Traviata in 1853, however, Verdi’s operas, Othello, and Falstaff (which Verdi completed in 1890 when he was already in his late 70s) both received tremendously positive early reactions and still earn great fame today. Othello is still regarded to be one of the greatest operas of all time!
• Giuseppina Strepponi, a nineteenth-century Italian operatic soprano of great renown, was Verdi’s second and is often credited with having contributed to Verdi’s first successes, starring in a number of his early operas, including the role of Abigaille in the world premiere of Nabucco in 1842. A highly gifted singer, Strepponi excelled in the bel canto repertoire. She was described as possessing a “limpid, penetrating, smooth voice, a lovely figure; and to Nature’s liberal endowments she adds an excellent technique “and her “deep inner feeling” was also lauded. Both her personal and professional life were complicated by overwork and by her romances that resulted in several illegitimate children. While it is known that she had a professional relationship with Verdi from the time of his first opera, Oberto in 1839, they became a couple by 1847 when they lived together in Paris, then moved to Busseto in 1849, married in 1859, and remained together until the end of her life on November 14,1897.
• On January 21, 1901, Giuseppe suffered a stroke and on January 27, 1901, he died in Milan, Italy. There was an initial private ceremony for his burial in Milan. One month after, Verdi was moved to the Casa di Riposo and well over 300,000 people were in the streets and at the cemetery.
• Verdi’s operas continue to be performed hundreds of times each year all over the world and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert attended the premiere performance of Verdi’s opera, I masnadieri.
• Verdi’s opera Aida was commissioned by the Egyptian government to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal.
• Verdi was the greatest composer of Italian opera in history and made over 25 operas during his career. He continues to be regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time. His works have been reported to be the most performed pieces by performers worldwide. The most popular opera in the world is Verdi’s La Traviata!