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Opera Tampa receives $1 million gift

TAMPA — Good things can come from a mixup.

In June, Dr. Zena Lansky had decided to make a substantial donation to Opera Tampa when she received her 2010-11 season tickets in the mail. The tickets were for the wrong seats, and when Lansky, a surgeon in Clearwater, called the company to complain, she ended up speaking with Maria Zouves, the associate general director.

"I told her that I had decided to give the opera a gift, and they sent me the wrong tickets," said Lansky on Wednesday, laughing at the memory of that conversation.

Everything got worked out. Zouves made sure that Lansky received the right tickets and put the company's development department in touch with her. The result was the largest gift in the history of the opera company: $1 million, which was announced at a reception Wednesday night at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, where the opera performs. It is the largest single gift in the history of the company, which was formed by the center in 1996.

"This was one of those fundraiser's dreams," said Bill F. Faucett, director of endowment and planned giving for the center. "Dr. Lansky's interest in the company built up over a number of years of attending, of seeing the growth, and wanting it to continue."

Lansky is a nationally recognized expert in specialized nutrition, as well as a distinguished surgeon. A Clearwater resident since the early 1970s, she was the first woman in the department of surgery at Morton Plant Hospital and the first woman to be chief of surgery at the hospital. Now retired, she is married to Warren L. Rodgers. She declined to give her age.

"I wanted to give back to the community and to the arts, and in my mind, opera is the highest art form," said Lansky, who grew up in Philadelphia and went to performances at the Metropolitan Opera in New York as a child. The first opera to make a big impression on her was Puccini's Madama Butterfly — "It's the kind of opera a young person would love" she said — and now considers Verdi's Macbeth her favorite.

Interest and dividend income from Lansky's gift to the center's endowment will fund the hiring of principal artists in Opera Tampa productions, including soprano Rochelle Bard in Lehar's The Merry Widow and soprano Elizabeth de Trejo in Verdi's La Traviata in 2010-11.

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

Opera Tampa receives $1 million gift 08/19/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 20, 2010 7:49am]
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