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The Opera Lovers Club basks in the costume, culture and sound of it all.

Kathy Hoover desperately wanted to learn more about opera: the spectacular sets, the heartbreaking music and those disciplined voices belting out perfect high C's.

She fondly remembers attending the Metropolitan Opera in New York City as a child. But as life got busy, her love of the libretto was waylaid.

That is, until five years ago when she started Hernando County's very own Opera Lovers Club. The group, comprised mostly of retirees, recently celebrated its anniversary with a luncheon.

"Opera is more than music; it's emotion," Hoover, president of the club, explained.

The group of about 20 opera aficionados meets once a month to revel in the costume, culture and sound of opera - a theatrical form dating back to 16th century Italy that group members readily admit is an acquired taste.

"Before the group was formed, I just didn't have friends who liked opera," said Hoover, a retired registered nurse. "I was really fortunate to meet such knowledgeable people."

Club member Joseph Tomaselli agrees.

"When I went to school, we had music appreciation classes. I learned something that has been lost in our culture," said Tomaselli, a local voice instructor classically trained in Italy who went on to write for Opera News, a publication of the Metropolitan Opera.

Tomaselli brings to the club his insider knowledge of voice and the much-loved eccentricities of singers.

Concentrating on opera education, various club members - including Tomaselli, along with performers and retired divas - make presentations on topics ranging from operatic voice to a detailed analysis of plot and character, as well as a historical critique of opera itself. Club member Randi Rosmarin even spoke about opera in the movies and TV commercials, illustrating opera's pop-culture value.

"Opera is an art form that has taken a back seat to music that lasts no longer than two to three minutes, which is a disappointment to people who understand good music," said Jerry Squier, the club's treasurer and a frequent presenter.

As executive chef at a private school in Massachusetts, Squier insisted that students listen to opera and classical music while working in the kitchen as part of their work-study curriculum. As their interest grew, he branched out into musical theater, organizing trips to New York to see live performances.

Club members are looking forward to a busy sixth year.

A famous opera singer, a chief of police and an inspired painter are caught in a sadistic web in Puccini's Tosca; an Ethiopian princess is enslaved by Egyptians and caught in a passionate love triangle in Verdi's powerful Aida. As a group, club members will catch these performances live in high-definition satellite broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera, to be shown at the Citrus Park 20 movie theater in Tampa.

"It's wonderful to see those broadcasts," Hoover said, adding: "They always show great close-ups of the singers."

Additionally, the broadcasts feature subtitles and translations, a help in following the complex story lines, as well as backstage interviews.

Club members also purchase discounted tickets for the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, and this season they will be seeing Puccini's La Rondine and a concert by American soprano Renee Fleming, along with other performances.

"I've loved opera forever," said Bill Larkin.

Originally from Seattle, Larkin sang in a high school production of The Desert Song, an operetta with music by Sigmund Romberg. A career with Boeing Aircraft and work with the space program took him away from his first love, but now that he's retired and a member of the Opera Lovers Club, he and his wife, Donna, can learn more about musical theater.

The Hernando County Fine Arts Council - as part of its mission to encourage and promote the creative arts - supports the group by listing it on the Web and in the council's monthly calendar.

"We are thrilled when a group showcases an art form in Hernando County," said Mary Jane Russell, executive director of the Fine Arts Council. "We're glad that we have a club to serve the local opera lovers."

As for the next five years, the club would like to increase membership, and the group hopes to attract opera lovers both young and young at heart - from those who know a lot, to those who just want to learn more.

"The purpose," Tomaselli said, "is to learn about opera and to enjoy it."



The Opera Lovers Club meets the third Saturday of each month in the clubhouse of the Forest Glenn retirement community, 1431 Friar Tuck Lane, off Osowaw Boulevard, Spring Hill. The public is welcome. For information, call Kathy Hoover at (352) 688-4741.