2010: Performing arts expanding, but in need of patrons who will endow stability

It's always interesting to look back over the year and pull together a list of memories from the performing arts. Against all odds, the Tampa Bay area continued to spawn valuable work in theater, classical music and opera, and even the dance scene grew in 2010. What's missing is broad financial support for the arts. With the recession grinding on, corporate and government funding has dried up. Pinellas County hit bottom in October when it shut its office of cultural affairs. The Florida Orchestra cut its musicians' pay to the bone. Florence in the Renaissance had the Medici family. It's time that this community started developing a class of art patrons. • These things are what I'll remember most about 2010.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at tampabay.com/blogs/critics.

Directed by Eric Davis

Two superb productions served notice that Davis is a director to be reckoned with: Hair, the American Stage in the Park happening that was a joyous hit; and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Gothic classic by Davis' freeFall Theatre. Davis has a keen visual sense — an ax slamming through a door to begin Jekyll and Hyde was a thriller-diller — and a knack for strong casting. In January, he is scheduled to open freeFall's new space with The Frogs, an early Stephen Sondheim musical.

Opera on the rise

St. Petersburg Opera came into its own in 2010 with first-rate productions of Cosi fan tutte, Carmen and A Little Night Music. Under artistic director Mark Sforzini, the company has made a virtue out of creatively working around the limitations of its home stage at the Palladium Theater. Top performance: Cherry Duke as a sexy, intelligent Carmen.

Year of the cello

Mark Kosower was the splendid soloist in Dvorak's epic Cello Concerto with the Florida Orchestra. Haydn's charming Cello Concerto in C doesn't have the profundity of the Dvorak, but the orchestra's performance of it featured another fine soloist, Julie Albers.

Frank Wildhorn

With his Wonderland bound for Broadway, Wildhorn had a second musical produced in the area, Bonnie & Clyde at the Asolo Repertory Theatre. The Depression-era Dust Bowl setting resonated with current hard times, and Laura Osnes, as Bonnie, gave a starmaking performance. Wonderland returns to the Straz Center in Tampa, where it premiered, for a pre-Broadway run in January.

Nobu-mania

There was something magical about the blind Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii, who seemed physically — ecstatically — inhabited by the music in his recital of Chopin, Liszt, Schumann and Mussorgsky at the Capitol Theater in Clearwater.

Africa on stage

Ruined was given a riveting production by Florida Studio Theatre. Lyn Nottage's play about the civil war in the Congo is deeply relevant to the comfortable audience that saw it. In large measure, the war is being waged over the country's lode of minerals such as coltan, vital to the manufacture of cell phones, laptops and other electronics. Another emergency from Africa was dramatized in What the Heart Remembers: The Women and Children of Darfur, a dance theater piece by University of South Florida professors Jeanne Travers and Fanni V. Green about the plight of refugees from the war in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Top tour

With three performing arts centers, the Tampa Bay market is dominated by touring productions. The best in 2010 was South Pacific, the venerable Rodgers and Hammerstein musical in a sparkling revival directed by Bartlett Sher.

Joan of Arc

The martyred French teenager was depicted in two productions: Verdi's Giovanna d'Arco at Sarasota Opera; and The Lark, a play by Jean Anouilh at Gorilla Theatre, where Magali Naas was beguiling as Joan. Petite and girlish, a pixie in tights, she played the Maid of Orleans like Leslie Caron in Gigi.

Oratorios: The Florida Orchestra and the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay teamed up on a pair of biblical dramas: Mendelssohn's Elijah and Haydn's Creation. Leon Williams was the richly theatrical bass soloist in both.

Show me the money: Two shining examples of Medici-like patronage in 2010: Al May's $10,000 commission for composer Mark Sforzini to write The Voyage of Life to be premiered by the Encore chamber music series (Sforzini is artistic director of the series as well as of St. Petersburg Opera); and Zena Lansky's $1 million gift to Opera Tampa for an endowment to underwrite the hiring of singers.

Good night, sweet prince

Sadly, the senseless murder of local actor Jeff Norton in July was one of the big stories of 2010. Norton was a peerless creature of the stage who will live on in the memories of everyone who worked with him and saw him in so many great performances.

2010: Performing arts expanding, but in need of patrons who will endow stability 12/23/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 23, 2010 2:18pm]

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