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Curtain opens for world premiere

Fans revel in their feathers and finery at Anton Coppola's opera, Sacco & Vanzetti.

Before the double-murder trial, before the chorus sang " . . . the Devil take them all . . . ," before Sacco and Vanzetti were executed, the audience sipped chardonnay, ate tandoori strips and talked about designer gowns.

Linda Greco, the mayor's wife, was a little worried the feathers in her New York City gown would litter the floor. "I hope I don't leave a trail on the way," she said.

This was world premiere opera, in Tampa.

Anton Coppola, who prefers to be called "maestro," could have picked any city to showcase his debut opera, Sacco & Vanzetti, about the radical immigrants prosecuted for murder.

He is of that Coppola family. Uncle to Francis Ford Coppola of Godfather fame. The lineage includes Nicolas Cage.

But Anton Coppola, 83, chose the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, where he conducted Tosca two years ago and befriended Judith Lisi, the center's president. Coppola composed the music of Sacco & Vanzetti, wrote the lyrics and also conducted the Florida Orchestra.

Grateful opera-goers came out from hiding Friday, although not enough of them to fill the 2,500-seat Carol Morsani Hall.

"Once in a lifetime," Marion Smith, a construction company office manager, called it.

"History in the making," said Denise Lasher, a political consultant from Lutz.

It mattered little that this opera's story was about a murder in which the guilt or innocence of the accused is still debated. At least it wasn't turned into a cheery musical, Marion Smith said.

Tickets ranged from $20 to $55, but the really devoted paid $250 for a gala opening package Friday: orchestra seating, pre- and post-opera parties.

Just outside the center, under a white tent sporting red roses and ice sculptures, tray-carrying waiters skirted past Tampa's best-dressed.

Georgette Moger, a University of South Florida English literature student with a pheasant feather in her french twist, was among the youngest in the crowd. "It's exciting," she said.

Mayor Dick Greco was there, hobnobbing. So were County Commissioner Jan Platt, City Council member Bob Buckhorn, and Jack Shiver, who runs Tampa's most expensive hotel, The Don Vicente in Ybor. There were arts supporters who have halls named after them at the center, including Frank Morsani, who admitted he wasn't much of an opera fan.

"Oldies and goodies are more my speed," he said.

Missing were the movie stars from the movie star Coppola family, but the performing arts center told reporters some would be at tonight's cast party.

In the 1920s, the case of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti attracted worldwide headlines. The opera has also. The national broadcasting company from Italy, London's Opera Now magazine, as well as reviewers from Denver, Toronto, Pittsburgh and Dallas were at the premiere.

But how would the premiere of an opera fare in Tampa?

About 300 attended the opening gala party. But there were some empty seats for the premiere, and plenty of tickets remained Friday for the final two shows, today and Sunday.

"I didn't bother calling. I just walked up to the box office and got tickets," said Mike Ferragamo, out with two friends for the evening.

He got floor seating, the 14th row. "If this was happening in another city, it would be sold out."

The show, almost 3{ hours with the intermission, went off without a hitch. The nearly full house received the performance warmly and bestowed a five-minute standing ovation. The cheers grew louder as Coppola came to the stage.

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