Joining the ranks of many music organizations worldwide that have honored the 200th birth-iversary of opera composer Giuseppe Verdi, Santa Barbara Symphony did it up in a big way this past Sunday, with a large chorus, star-power soloists, and an all-Verdi program that highlighted eight of his 30 operas. It was all deeply satisfying, from the supreme melodist’s greatest hits to fortifying moments of fatal darkness. This tour through select arias and overtures demonstrated Verdi’s varied output and his subtle yet commanding emotional control.
Conductor and Music Director Nir Kabaretti chose to lace the program with a pedagogical ribbon, inviting Ramón Araїza to introduce every opera. Araїza, an engaging speaker skilled at contextualizing — and spicing — composers’ lives, holds a regular gig with the symphony as preperformance speaker. Sunday’s audience was generally warm to this narration, but a few who enjoy their music straight-up were sour on the interruptions.
But the players enjoyed their place in the sun, with three overtures, I vespri siciliani, Nabucco, and La forza del destino, surveying the big, the danceable, and the dark. Guest soloists, soprano Angel Blue and tenor John Pickle, gave focus to Verdi’s comedy and pathos with their exquisite voices. Pickle displayed a skilled actor’s ease, delivering the comic-sexist “La donna è mobile” in convincing voice and gesture. Blue, a technically dazzling singer, truly found her artistic taproot in the second half with a wrenching performance of “Pace, pace mio Dio.”