Saturday, February 24, 2018
Stage

Sunshine City Opera, a new professional company, brings a fresh approach

A new professional opera company focusing on new or little known work holds its second concert Thursday. At a time when established opera companies tend to rely on proven war horses or eternal favorites, Sunshine City Opera is already offering a change of pace.

"My intention is to more or less avoid all of the big pieces everybody knows, which some might say is risky but I personally think is incredibly exciting," said Erin Huelskamp, who serves as its artistic director and choreographer. "People have heard all of those pieces multiple times. That's not to say they won't continue to go, because they're beautiful, wonderful pieces. But they might also be interested in what else is out there, and what's new."

Sunshine City Opera performed its first concert last week at a sold out [email protected] in St. Petersburg. Thursday's concert at the St. Petersburg Museum of History features soprano Vanessa Rodriguez, who has performed with the St. Petersburg Opera Company, Opera Tampa and the Winter Opera St. Louis, among other venues; Florida Orchestra cellist Doniyor Zuparov, and flutist David Tagliarini, who a veteran of Broadway tours and the St. Petersburg Opera Company. It is part of the museum's Experience Cuba! exhibit and National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Huelskamp, 34, moved to St. Petersburg from Boston in October. She has always had eclectic tastes— studying dance, playing the flute and composing music from age 10. She entered a joint degree program at the University of Missouri-Columbia intending to be a lawyer, but decided to stick with the arts.

"When it came down to where I wanted to spend my time," she said, "they say you should do what you would wake up and do for free. Well, that's what this is, what I'm doing now."

She has since directed musicals, opera and Shakespeare, and taught music theory at Boston College. In Thursday's concert, Huelskamp arranged all of the music in the concert for soprano, flute and cello.

Opera Sampler, last week's concert, included her composition, The Ten-Block Walk, about an elderly woman walking to what she believes is a Shakespeare class. Mezzo soprano Thea Lobo sang a libretto by Christie Lee Gibson to a piano score that raced with urgency, narrating the woman's encounters with a different neighbor on each block. One tells her breathlessly about a fire. Another wants to tip her off about a farmer's market. A third distraught neighbor is trying to find her missing husband.

The piece reflects "the kinds of things people are struggling with today," a niche she hopes to fill with Sunshine City Opera.

"I am talking to a few people in the city and trying to convince them to help me fund a piece that would be about St. Petersburg, about the kinds of things people are struggling with today," said Huelskamp, who moved to the city from Boston in October. "That's the kind of thing we are looking to make happen."

Huelskamp's company is seeking nonprofit status. Besides new work, she also wants to bring out lesser known operas, and is hoping to put on Antonio Vivaldi's Griselda in May.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

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