Anton Coppola is making his exit as artistic director of Opera Tampa.
"I thought it was time for me to step aside and let somebody else do it," said Coppola, who turns 95 in March. "It wasn't a matter of any incapacity on my part. I just thought it was time for somebody else to leave his imprint on the company."
Coppola plans to step down at the end of the 2011-12 season. He first broached his departure during a dinner with Judy Lisi after the final performance of last April's production of La Traviata. Lisi, president and CEO of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, founded the opera company 16 years ago as a part of the center.
"It was a difficult conversation to have, because we have worked together so long," said Lisi, who began producing operas with Coppola conducting at her previous venue, the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, Conn. "I knew this change would come, but it will still be a challenge. At the end of the day, maestro is one of a kind."
Coppola has enjoyed an amazingly long career as a conductor. "I've outlasted everybody," he said from his apartment on Central Park West in New York. "(Arturo) Toscanini was 87 when he stopped conducting. (Leopold) Stokowski was 90."
He has conducted for many major opera companies in the United States and led the premieres of important works, such as Lizzie Borden and Of Mice and Men. He also has a stellar resume as a Broadway conductor and appeared in his nephew Francis Ford Coppola's film, The Godfather: Part III.
Also a composer, Coppola has been the artistic leader of Opera Tampa throughout its existence, and he premiered his magnum opus, Sacco & Vanzetti, in an impressive, critically well-received staging in 2001.
Even with the advantages that come with being part of the Straz Center, the company has had to scale back its ambitions during the recession. Coppola was disappointed that Don Giovanni, originally announced for October, was dropped from the season for financial reasons.
Coppola's pending retirement adds to uncertainty about the future of Opera Tampa. In August, Maria Zouves, the vice president-associate general manager, and her husband, legendary baritone Sherrill Milnes, artistic adviser to the company, announced they were leaving. Earlier in the summer, Eric Dillner, artistic producing director for the Straz Center, who had an opera background and directed La Traviata, also left.
"So much for succession plans," said Lisi, who has made opera a personal priority at the center. "It's all back on my shoulders. We'll be doing some long-range planning, both the Opera Tampa and Straz boards. At least we now know where we stand."
Coppola will be in the pit for the company's three productions this season, including the double bill of Cavelleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci in January and the finale in April, Aida.
In February, Coppola plans a program that he is calling "my fondest farewells," the conductor said. "It's going to be a collection of endings of scenes, like the end of the first act of Samson and Delilah. I think that's a particularly tender moment."