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Fall Arts Preview: Opera Tampa turns 25 with ‘Carmen,’ ‘Aida,’ Andrea Bocelli

Meanwhile, St. Petersburg Opera brings ‘Pinocchio,’ ‘The Merry Widow’ and more.
Michelle Johnson will star in Opera Tampa's 2020 production of Aida.
Michelle Johnson will star in Opera Tampa's 2020 production of Aida. [ Rob Harris Productions ]
Published Sep. 5, 2019
Updated Sep. 5, 2019

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It was never a guarantee that Opera Tampa would make it to a 25th year.

“It’s an art form that you have to learn, like anything else,” said Judy Lisi, co-founder and director of Opera Tampa, and president and CEO of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. “I think a lot of people, originally, were a little afraid of the language.”

In time, though, people got it. Since its opening performance of Madama Butterfly, conducted by then-artistic director Anton Coppola on May 3, 1996, Opera Tampa has found its niche of patrons turning out to support both classics and new works — including last season’s Lady Swanwhite, composed by the now-102-year-old Coppola himself.

To mark its 25th year, Opera Tampa will stage three fan-favorite operas in 2019-20: Carmen, Aida and The Pirates of Penzance.

That last one will be conducted by Robin Stamper, who last season quietly but officially inherited the mantle of artistic director. Stamper, formerly Opera Tampa’s managing director, took over for Daniel Lipton, who resigned in 2017 and was later caught up in allegations of sexual impropriety, including a sexual assault investigation in Canada.

“Robin pinch-hit for that year and the next year, and he did such a fabulous job,” Lisi said. “It was one of those things where the quality of his work was so great, we said we’re just going to go forward with it. ... He’s got a brilliant background. He’s a genius. He knows every single score known to man."

Across the Bay, the St. Petersburg Opera Company is planning its own busy year, with artistic director and conductor Mark Sforzini putting together a schedule that includes The Merry Widow, Rigoletta and a kid-friendly performance of Pinocchio.

If Opera Tampa is to make it to 50, it’ll require the participation of those younger audiences. Lisi believes that can happen.

“My hope is that this community and the people who are stewards here, and care for it, will continue it,” she said. "That’s my great hope. And I think after 25 years, I hope it’s become somewhat of an institution here in Tampa.

OPERA TAMPA

Performs at the Straz Center, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org.

Carmen (Feb. 7-9): Georges Bizet’s iconic opera about a soldier’s deadly obsession with the titular temptress returns to Opera Tampa for the first time since 2014, with Jorge Parodi conducting.

Tyler Putnam stars as the Pirate King in Opera Tampa's 2020 production of 'The Pirates of Penzance.'
Tyler Putnam stars as the Pirate King in Opera Tampa's 2020 production of 'The Pirates of Penzance.' [ Courtesy of Rob Harris Productions ]

The Pirates of Penzance (March 13-15): Gilbert and Sullivan’s verbose blast of pirattitude is a masterpiece of slapstick humor and lyrical dexterity. Just try following along to I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General as it’s projected above the stage. Robin Stamper conducts.

Aida (April 24 and 26): Not the Elton John-Tim Rice musical, but Verdi’s 1871 original about a war-torn Egyptian-Ethiopian love triangle, conducted by Andrew Bisantz.

Other events: Live in the Park (Nov. 3, Curtis Hixon Park), the Four Italian Tenors: Viva Italia (Nov. 30, Straz Center), Andrea Bocelli (Feb. 14, Amalie Arena), Grand Gala (May 2).

RELATED: What to wear to the opera

ST. PETERSBURG OPERA COMPANY

Performs at the Palladium, 253 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 823-2040. stpeteopera.org.

Kelli Butler, shown during a 2018 St. Petersburg Opera Company performance of 'The Magic Flute,' will return to St. Petersburg for the lead role in 'The Merry Widow,' coming Oct. 18, 20 and 22, 2019.
Kelli Butler, shown during a 2018 St. Petersburg Opera Company performance of 'The Magic Flute,' will return to St. Petersburg for the lead role in 'The Merry Widow,' coming Oct. 18, 20 and 22, 2019. [ Photo courtesy of Jim Swallow ]

The Merry Widow (Oct. 18, 20 and 22): Maestro Mark Sforzini lifts his baton for Franz Lehár’s comic operetta about a wealthy widow and the gold-digging misadventures she inspires.

Pinocchio (Nov. 16, 22 and 23): This pastiche of a performance, John Davies’ colorful adaptation of the classic folk story, is a great first opera for children, clocking in at an hour with music from Mozart, Verdi and other great composers.

Rigoletto (Jan. 24, 26 and 28): Verdi’s classic work about a duke conspiring to seduce the court jester’s daughter features one of opera’s best-known melodies in La donna è mobile.

La Fille du Regiment (May 29 and 31; June 2, 5 and 7): Donizetti’s opera about a young French army girl caught between love and arranged marriage is as vocally demanding as it is moving.

Other events: Holiday Sparkle (Dec. 12-15 and 19-22), Broadway Cabaret (Jan. 18 and May 23), Pops Spectacular (July 3-5).