Make us your home page
Instagram

Opera season brings growth of the art form in Tampa Bay

Daniel Lipton, the 6-foot-4 maestro with the deep voice that shifts seamlessly into other languages, spoke to the class.

"Who here has never been to an opera?" he asked the crowd at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts' free Opera 101 seminar.

A few hands went up.

"What do you think opera is?" Lipton asked.

"A play with music," one man volunteered.

"A musical," a woman said. "But the musicians are more finely trained."

Each year, opera is a concept that more and more casual consumers of theater are venturing to grasp. And it's high time for the art in Tampa Bay. The St. Petersburg Opera Company and Sarasota Opera are about a third of the way through their current seasons, and Opera Tampa is entering its 21st year of the Florida Opera Festival this weekend. Opera Tampa's festival brings two Mozart compositions this season (Cosi Fan Tutte and Don Giovanni) and Verdi's La Traviata at the Straz.

The challenge, as always, is getting bigger and more diverse crowds to attend. Opera Tampa is trying to bring in fans by employing younger singers and offering free lectures and having a little sense of humor.

• • •

A taste for opera has grown steadily, if slowly, in the Tampa Bay area. The Sarasota Opera started doing productions in 1973, an outgrowth of the Asolo Opera Guild. Judy Lisi, the chief executive officer and president of the Straz, and others launched the Florida Opera Festival in the mid-1990s. The St. Petersburg Opera Company got off the ground in 2006.

Can Tampa Bay support three opera houses?

"I don't think having three opera houses in this geography is an issue," said St. Petersburg Opera artistic director Mark Sforzini, "as each company creates its own special brand of opera."

Lipton's recent talk at the Straz should be proof of that. Opera 101 resulted in 40 ticket sales and several season subscriptions.

Lipton took over in 2012 as Opera Tampa's second artistic director. Besides English, he speaks French, German, Italian and Spanish. He lives in Tampa six months of the year and spends the rest of his time in Germany, where his wife lives, or conducting around the world.

He believes the opera will continue to expand its audience as more people appreciate its entertainment value.

Lipton has directed more than 60 operas and never tires of it.

"I can't compare conducting to anything," he said. "It's like being in love. When people ask me what my favorite opera is, I say, 'The one I'm conducting.' Because when I'm conducting, that is my true love."

At Opera 101, Lipton previewed the coming attractions, weaving in some trivia. The longest opera, it turns out, lasts 18 hours, including intermissions. Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, better known as the Ring Cycle, consists of four operas to be performed consecutively.

The fourth piece culminates with a nearly 20-minute aria by Brunnhilde, a stout Viking warrior princess, giving rise to the axiom, "It ain't over until the fat lady sings."

Opera's roots extend to the ancient Egyptians. The first opera as we know it came out in 1597, in Italy. That opera was Dafne, by Jacopo Peri, Lipton explained to the class.

Then, a mechanized female voice from someone's iPhone interrupted from near the front.

"Sorry, I missed that," said Siri.

"Jacopo, Jacopo," Lipton said, and everyone laughed.

• • •

Many opera companies are encouraging the art by establishing residencies for up-and-comers. They have prominent roles in all of the productions and may serve as understudies for the leads.

At Opera Tampa, there's Leigh Remy, whose grandmother used to read her bedtime stories. At the time, Remy didn't know the stories were also the plots of operas. When she thought the girl was ready, the grandmother finally said, "You know, music goes with these."

There's Gabriel Preisser, a coach's son who just wanted to play football.

"I was the kid who would be dressed in my football pads and sing the national anthem before games in high school," Preisser said.

Florida State University passed on Preisser as a quarterback, but offered him a music scholarship.

And there's Cody Austin, one of last year's "New Voices" crop at the Straz. (All three have roles in Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte, which is playing now.) Austin grew up in Texas, where he won a few singing competitions. He didn't know much about opera until he and some friends went to see a production of Rigoletto by the Dallas Opera.

"I realized, 'This is the epitome, the top voices in the world,' " Austin said. Besides the quality of the voices, it also impressed him that they were singing without microphones.

"We are out here exposed like none other," Austin said. "If we mess up, you hear it. They can't cover you with some sort of Auto-Tuner, like Justin Bieber."

The profession is highly competitive, and demands must be met quickly. Performers travel constantly. Fluency in Italian, German or French is a plus. At a minimum, singers are expected at least to know the meaning of each word they are singing.

And while the purpose of opera remains singing, the ability to act is more than desirable.

"As a musician, I'm really sorry to have to say that if I see an opera performance which is poorly staged and brilliantly sung," Lipton said, "I'll appreciate it but if falls flat. And if I see a performance that is maybe not as brilliantly sung but brilliantly staged, then my interest is piqued."

There are no shortcuts to producing top-tier work, Austin said. The first year or two of some of the best training might not involve singing words at all, just making sounds.

Austin acknowledged that singers have been known to hastily prepare audition pieces by watching YouTube, then mimicking those performances.

"That will only get you so far in your career," he said. "You will get weeded out. You will meet a maestro who knows that you listened to YouTube."

Anyway, he said, imitation misses the point, which is the joy of discovering "no one has a voice like you."

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

>>If you go

Opera Tampa

• Cosi Fan Tutte, 8 p.m. Feb. 19, 2 p.m. Feb. 21

• La Traviata, 8 p.m. March 11, 2 p.m. March 13. Preperformance receptions: 6:30 p.m. March 11, noon March 13. $50. (Open rehearsals sold out.)

• Don Giovanni, 8 p.m. April 8, 2 p.m. April 10. Open rehearsals are at 6:30 p.m. March 22, 24, 29 and 31 at Rehearsal Hall at the Straz Center. $10. Preperformance receptions: 6:30 p.m. April 8, noon April 10. $50.

Opera Tampa Gala, March 5. Call (813) 229-7827 for details.

All performances are at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. (813) 229-7827 or strazcenter.org.

St. Petersburg Opera

Puccini's La Boheme, 7:30 p.m. June 3, 2 p.m. June 5 and 7:30 p.m. June 7

• South Pacific, 7:30 p.m. July 1, 2 p.m. July 3, 7:30 p.m. July 5, 7 and 9 and 2 p.m. July 10

Annual gala, 7 p.m. May 7, Opera Central, 2145 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg. General admission $175 (VIP $300, limited number).

All performances are at the Palladium Theater, 253 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg. $22-$67. (727) 823-2040 or stpeteopera.org.

Sarasota Opera

• Cosi Fan Tutte , through March 12; Fidelio, through March 11; The Battle of Legnano, Feb. 27 to March 18. $19-$135.

Sarasota Opera House is at 61 N Pineapple Ave. (941) 328-1300 or sarasotaopera.org.

Opera season brings growth of the art form in Tampa Bay 02/17/16 [Last modified: Friday, February 19, 2016 4:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Sept. 24

    Events

    Zac Brown Band: The country, folk and Southern rockers embark on the "Welcome Home" tour in support of the album. 7 p.m., MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4802 U.S. 301 N, Tampa. $27.50-$77.50. (813) 740-2446.

    Handout photo of the Zac Brown Band, performing at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on 9/24/17. Credit: Shore Fire Media
  2. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Sept. 23

    Events

    Smithsonian Museum Day Live: Museums across the nation partner with the Smithsonian to offer free admission for one day. Among them are Florida Holocaust Museum, Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art in Tarpon Springs.Cracker Country in Tampa, Ringling Museum of Art. Note: Dalí Museum is free for Pinellas County …

    The Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg is among the museums participating in the Smithsonian's Museum Day Live, offering free admission. (LANCE ROTHSTEIN   |  Special to the Times)
  3. Tampa Repertory's 'Flying' soars in some places, sputters in others

    Stage

    TAMPA — Tampa Repertory Theatre has always insisted on putting on plays that mean something. Several shows over the last couple of years have zeroed in on the social and cultural baggage that comes with being female (The Children's Hour, Silent Sky and Grounded come to mind). None of those …

    The Southeastern premiere of Flying, Sheila Cowley's play at Tampa Repertory Theatre about veterans of the Women's Air Force Service Pilots, includes (from left) Holly Marie Weber, Rosemary Orlando, and Becca McCoy. Photo by Megan Lamasney.
  4. After 22 years, it's last call for beloved Ybor venue New World Brewery

    Music & Concerts

    YBOR CITY — Steve Bird spreads his tools across a patio table. He has awnings to unbolt and paraphernalia to unpry, from the busted Bop City neon by the stage to the Simpsons "El Duffo o Muerte" mural in the courtyard. He'll uproot a fountain and dismantle a roof and attempt to keep his bar intact. The …

    Various decor and memorabilia fill the walls and shelves at New World Brewery in Ybor City.
Long time music venue and hangout New World Brewery in Ybor City will be closing it's doors and moving locations. Patrons enjoy one of the last events before New World Brewery changes its location to Busch Blvd in Tampa.  [Photo Luis Santana | Times]