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As Opera Booms in Florida, The St. Petersburg Opera Company Finds its Niche

By S. Mathur

The St. Petersburg Opera Company is a rarity among opera companies and indeed among arts organizations in general. For all ten years of its existence, it has operated in the black. Nancy Preis, Marketing Director, reflects that "It is very gratifying to know that the community has embraced our style of intimate, musically excellent opera. We have grown from presenting two performances of one opera to three performances of three full scale operas, 3-6 performances of a Broadway classic, and two performances of our holiday season musical extravaganza."

Eschewing the old style "park and bark" school of performance, the St. Petersburg Opera Company "...has carved out a niche in this crowded marketplace by offering intimate operas (courtesy of our relatively modest sized venue, the Palladium Theater) characterized by musical excellence," Preis says, "Because our singers are not trying to fill a huge hall, they can concentrate on their artistry. Our orchestra and chorus, also professional, are known for their precision and beautiful sounds."

This season's programming includes Carmen, Abduction of the Seraglio, La Boheme and South Pacific. Staging traditional operas in a small space can be challenging. But with skillful stagecraft and music, the company under the guidance of Artistic Director Mark Sforzini brings off performances that capture audiences and win rave reviews.

Preis believes the lasting lure of the opera is due to the merging of music, voice and dramatic stories that explore universal themes and passions: "Opera is inherently a multi-media experience, combining orchestral music, singing, theater, and dance with fabulous costumes and scenic elements. It appeals to a large slice of the arts constituency on one or more levels. Operas are stories set to music, so some people are wrapped up in the story. Others revel in the sound of the singing. Modern productions filled with action allow for short attention spans to be consistently re-engaged. There is always something to look at, in a way that straight orchestral performances or vocal recitals can't match."

There is an active outreach and education program, building on and helping to create Florida's opera boom. There are 10 professional opera companies in the state, and three in the Tampa Bay region alone. There are numerous semi-professional and volunteer companies as well. At least part of this can be attributed to audience-building activities, like the Evening with the Maestro program combining live performance with commentary, which has expanded to three venues and sell-out audiences. Opera Express introduces opera to primary school students.

The Emerging Artist Program, which has been recognized by the National Endowment of the Arts, is highly sought-after by young artists, who gain artistic and voice technique coaching, opportunities for rehearsals with the orchestra, and master classes with famous singers. To round out the success story, there is also strong community support where it matters, i.e. financially, for the capital campaign as well as the annual fund.

Photo Credit: Thee Photo Ninja

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