What does Daniel Lipton listen for in a singer?
"The paramount thing is for the voice to move me. That when I hear, I'm moved. If not, the voice can be beautiful but uninteresting. Sometimes it's just the sound. Most often, it's the expression."
Lipton's vocal tastes will be reflected in the singers he selects to perform with Opera Tampa, for which he was named artistic director last spring, succeeding the venerable Anton Coppola. This week, the company has released its casting for the two operas it will be staging as part of its newly conceived Florida Opera Festival in February and March, Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) and Puccini's La Boheme.
The Ballo cast includes John Pickle (Riccardo), Michele Capalbo (Amelia), Mark Walters (Renato), Julia Koci (Oscar) and Emilia Boteva (Ulrica). In Boheme, Mimi will be sung by Marianne Fiset, Rodolfo by Richard Troxell, Marcello by James Westman and Musetta by Ella Tyran.
"For the next three years, the idea is to do one opera that has never been done here before, and one that has," Lipton said in an interview last Friday at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, which runs the opera company. "I thought Ballo was the perfect choice for a Verdi opera, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth, especially since it has not been done here before. And Boheme is the most popular of all operas."
The artistic director will conduct both operas, as well as "POPera!," a concert of opera and musical theater favorites, with an orchestra and singers Julie Boulianne, Micaela Oeste, Bruce Sledge and Westman. "For people who love opera, they'll get to hear all their favorites without having to sit through the whole opera," Lipton said. "For novices, it will be a nice introduction."
The festival promises to be an operatic immersion of performances and educational events, such as open rehearsals. Also announced this week is the casting of Stella Zambalis as Julia Child in Bon Appetit, Lee Hoiby's one-act comic opera on the PBS queen of the kitchen. The festival will go the crossover route with a concert by Katherine Jenkins, the British mezzo soprano who was on Dancing With the Stars.
"The basic idea of the festival is to take advantage of the tourist season, the snowbirds coming, and giving them the opportunity of seeing many performances, not just here but elsewhere in Florida," Lipton said.
Opera Tampa will be using the center's smaller Ferguson Hall more often, with only Puccini's perennial favorite La Boheme being staged in 2,500-seat Morsani Hall. The company has a new chorus director, James Bass, artistic director of the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay.
The Tempest, English composer Thomas Ades' contemporary take on Shakespeare, is a highlight of the Metropolitan Opera season. It comes to movie theaters at 12:55 p.m. Saturday in a live transmission from New York, with Ades conducting. The cast features baritone Simon Keenlyside as Prospero and soprano Audrey Luna as Ariel. In the bay area, the performance may be seen at Citrus Stadium Park Mall 20 and Hyde Park Cinebistro in Tampa, Park Place Stadium 16 in Pinellas Park, Woodland Square 20 in Oldsmar, Grove 16 Cinemas in Wesley Chapel and Regency 20 in Brandon.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.