Opera Tampa, the resident opera company of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, celebrates its 25th anniversary season with three electrifying main stage performances.
This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2020 issue of Tampa Bay Magazine. We are happy to have permission to reprint it for our blog, in honor of the upcoming performances of Opera Tampa’s Carmen Feb. 7-9.
A 25th anniversary is symbolized by silver, a lustrous metal that carries the highest capacity to conduct heat and electricity. Such characteristic seem fitting for the current Opera Tampa season, the grand opera company’s 25th, which boasts productions of Carmen, The Pirates of Penzance and Aida for this hallmark occasion.
“We wanted this season to make a statement since we know how important opera is to this community,” says Straz Center President and Opera Tampa General Director Judy Lisi. “There are so many people who live here who grew up listening to great opera around a radio or record player with their parents and grandparents. We also have a new generation of young opera fans who know the music from movie scores, cartoons and popular remakes and are discovering the excitement of the original material. We are putting up an epic season to honor the best of what everyone loves about great opera.”
Lisi, a Puccini aficionado and classically trained singer, launched her first successful opera company in Connecticut with Maestro Anton Coppola acting as artistic director. The pair ushered in a revival of great opera for the Shubert Theater in New Haven, building a loyal following and stellar reputation for excellence in programming and production. The duo reprised this success in Tampa, when Lisi and Coppola created Opera Tampa, producing Madama Butterfly to complement a Broadway tour of Miss Saigon, a musical adapted from the opera’s story.
“When we introduced grand opera at The Straz, we knew we wanted to work with what audiences who may not be familiar with opera already knew and loved, which was Broadway,” says Lisi. “The first year we started with Madama Butterfly; the second year RENT was on our Broadway season so, naturally, we staged La Boheme, the inspiration for Jonathan Larson’s hit musical. Our original plan was to put up one opera a season, but we quickly found out we had a strong audience for the art form here. Before we knew it, we were staging three huge productions per season.”
Over the years, Opera Tampa has drawn internationally-renowned singers to Morsani Hall in the Straz Center to portray the towering characters that populate the opera canon. For the past quarter of a century, the company breathed life into the masterworks of Mozart, Puccini, Verdi, Rossini, Wager, Bizet and Donizetti with outstanding local talent performing onstage with singers from The Met and La Scala. As the reputation and popularity of Opera Tampa grew, the organization decided to institute an annual recognition to someone in the field. After Maestro Coppola’s retirement, Opera Tampa unveiled The Anton Coppola Excellence in the Arts Award, bestowed each year at the Grand Gala. Recipients include such luminaries as Placido Domingo, Denyce Graves, Sherrill Milnes, Diana Soviero, Carlisle Floyd and Paul Plishka.
In November 2019, Opera Tampa held the inaugural D’Angelo Young Artist Vocal Competition, helping to establish Opera Tampa as an entity that not only produces great opera but also cultivates the next generation of opera performers. Through their extensive arts education program, Opera Tampa has also cultivated the next generation of audiences by bringing professional singers into school classrooms to get kids excited about opera music and stories. “When I look back over the past 25 years and assess the ways Opera Tampa has impacted this area culturally, educationally and artistically, I almost can’t believe how much has happened,” says Lisi. “What started as a hope that people would like this art form has grown into a full-fledged cultural institution. We have a solid name in the professional opera world; our successes in one of the most acoustically gorgeous theaters in America has people sitting up and taking notice of what’s happening in Tampa. We couldn’t be happier to have reached our 25th anniversary season with such momentum and excitement about what’s to come.”
Under the baton of newly-appointed artistic director Robin Stamper, who has been with Opera Tampa as a director, choral master and pianist for several years, the future of the company looks rosy. “I have seen so much incredible talent appear with Opera Tampa in my 4 1/2 years with the company, not just onstage but with our extraordinary production crew and musicians,” says Stamper. “I am deeply honored to steward this magnificent company and to direct us into an exciting future.”
The 25th anniversary season promises to be lustrous with plenty of heat and electricity, starting with George Bizet’s Carmen in February, continuing with Gilbert and Sullivan’s madcap genius The Pirates of Penzance in March and concluding with Guiseppe Verdi’s iconic Aida in April. “We’re so grateful for the support and enthusiasm we’ve seen over the past two-and-a-half decades,” Lisi says. “We’re honored to be able to give such exemplary artistic works to everyone in this community.”