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Florida Grand Opera is Going Strong at 75

By S. Mathur

There were only six other opera companies in the US in 1941, when an Italian immigrant decided that Miami needed its own grand opera. That was Dr. Arturo di Filippi, an accomplished tenor and voice teacher, who founded the Opera Guild of Miami. The company opened with a production of Pagliacci, staged in 1942 in a high school auditorium with a hastily assembled cast and a shoestring budget. Seventy-five years later, the Florida Grand Opera (FGO) is going strong, and playing an active part in introducing opera to a new generation.

Brittany Mazzurco, Public and Media Relations says that "We believe that opera is a vital art form in South Florida. Not only is FGO Miami's oldest arts organization, but it's also the grandest- and Miami likes its opera grand." Community support is crucial to the survival of opera as an art form and Miami has certainly lived up to its reputation as a welcoming home for opera. This achievement is all the more impressive in a time when many opera companies have been forced to close their doors in the wake of economic recession.

Under the early leadership of di Filippi, the Florida Grand Opera established itself in the cultural landscape of South Florida. Guest singers from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City brought their iconic performances to FGO, including Joan Sutherland as Lucia di Lammermoor. That 1965 production featured the young Luciano Pavoratti in his American debut. After di Filippi, a succession of talented general managers made the FGO one of the leading opera companies in the United States. In 2006, the state of the art Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County became the home of the company.

In large part, the FGO's forward-looking vision has been responsible for its success. "Florida Grand Opera is dedicated to being a driving force of cultural growth in South Florida, which is an essential part of the company's mission," says Mazzurco, "FGO also aspires to ensure the future of our art form by fostering young, promising talents through the Young Artist Program, thus contributing to a solid future for the tradition of opera. Founded in 1984, Florida Grand Opera's Young Artist Program has gained worldwide recognition as one of the leading operatic training programs in the United States."

FGO's outreach focuses on young audiences, and on school programs that introduce students to opera. The programs range from classroom activities to full-scale performances. In addition, FGO connects to the community through free public recitals and musical workshops, creating an appreciation for classical music in general and opera in particular.

The new Community Conversations Series is partially sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. According to Mazzurco, "Community Conversations" is a free series of thought-provoking discussions hosted by Florida Grand Opera that tie the opera art form with religion, politics, and the humanities. Using this season's gripping opera The Passenger as a catalyst, we will explore other works of its composer, the roots of the opera, and experiences of the Holocaust through music, real-life stories, and personal retrospectives."

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