Sarasota Opera kicks off its winter season

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SARASOTA - The Sarasota Opera winter season kicks off this weekend, and it begins with a bang, staging the biggest production ever to hit its stage: Turandot.

Maestro Victor DeRenzi arrived at the Sarasota Opera in 1983 with a big dream for its future. On Tuesday, he will conduct his 600th opera here, and each time his baton goes up you can't help but feel his passion.

“I love the way we do opera here. I designed this opera company so that I could do opera the way I want to do opera: not with big stars. I'm not interested in big stars because I don't think stars are what stars used to be," says Derenzi.

His wife Stephanie Sundine, the stage director on Turandot, says the maestro’s passion for opera never wanes at home or away. "This passion is genuine for him. He eats, sleeps, and breathes opera."

It was opera that brought them together. "I was conducting an opera that she was auditioning for. She was a singer and I hired her to be in the production, so we began our relationship working together," says DeRenzi.

"He's wonderful to work with. We are celebrating our 34th wedding anniversary the day after the opening. And we'll spend that with our daughter, son in law, and grandson who live here in Sarasota," says Sundine.

Another big DeRenzi fan is Edward Bavaria of the Sarasota Opera's Board of Trustees. "He's got it all to me; he's the epitome of an artistic director and an opera conductor, he really knows his craft, he knows the music. He knows everything there is to know about the composers.”

And he says DeRenzi is fun to watch. "Many times you'll hear him, he sings most of these operas while he's conducting."

It's because opera brings him so much joy -- a joy he's dedicated to sharing with others. "The best part of my job is making someone love opera who didn't like opera before."

Turandot opens Saturday night, and that performance is already a sell-out. There are 10 more performances before the end of March, but a couple of those are also sold out -- a tribute to Victor DeRenzi, who has trained the Suncoast to love opera and to expect only the very best.