From Opera To Spanish Rhythms, Straz celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month

Tampa has a long history tied to Latin cultures, dating back to 1539 and the arrival of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto to the Tampa Bay region.

That historical tie continues more than 470 years later when the Straz Center for the Performing Arts participates in National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. Starting as a commemorative week in 1968, it expanded in 1988 to a month of celebrating the contributions and influences of Hispanic Americans on the history, culture and achievements of the United States.

For its part in the national celebration of Latin cultures, The Straz will hold two major outdoor events that will give those who attend a taste of Hispanic culture through the performing arts: Spanish Nights and Arts Legacy REMIX.

Spanish Nights

Spanish Nights will be hosted and presented by Opera Tampa, The Straz’s resident opera company. Held outside along the Hillsborough River at 7:30 p.m., Oct. 8-9, it will feature selections from opera and beyond written by Spanish, Mexican and Cuban composers.

Melissa Misener, Opera Tampa’s artistic administrator and resident stage director, says shows on the Riverwalk Stage, such as Spanish Nights allows the company to reach new audiences.

“It’s important for us to connect with the community. (Outdoor performances) have been really rewarding; people stop and listen. (Many performances) are free to the public and that’s important … to kind of expose children and young people to the art form.”

Misener adds Opera Tampa outdoor events draw people who aren’t the usual opera audience. She says the Spanish Nights program, where the Opera Tampa singers will perform operatic selections from Spain, Mexico and Cuba, can create more inclusivity for Spanish-speaking communities and broaden opera’s scope.

From Opera Tampa’s A Night in Spain performance, 2019. (Photo: Will Staples)

“Everyone knows Italian opera, but for some reason, Spanish and these other operas didn’t make it into the mainstream canon of opera repertoire. If you don’t know about it, you don’t know about it,” she says.

Another motive behind Spanish Nights is to bring audiences better appreciation of Spanish zarzuelas, the lyric-dramatic genre that alternates between spoken and sung scenes, with the latter incorporating operatic, popular songs and dance.

“I would love for the audience to have a new appreciation for zarzuelas, music in Spanish. And I also want to see people want to come back to see the opera,” Misener says.

People strolling the Riverwalk will be able to hear portions of the program. Socially distant table seating for two-to-four people is available with tickets costing $48.75 to $63.75 per table. They can be be purchased at The Straz Ticket Office or online. Masks are not required for outside performances.

Arts Legacy REMIX

The first Arts Legacy REMIX of the season, 7:30 to 9 p.m., Oct. 15 on the Riverwalk Stage, is themed Melodic Sketches: Stories and Rhythms of Spain.

Alice Santana, Straz vice president of education and community engagement, in conjunction with Fred Johnson, Straz artist-in-residence and community engagement specialist, coordinate REMIX.

Begun four years ago, Santana says the popular events, which meld multiple disciplines taught at the Patel Conservatory including music, vocals and dance, are held October to June with the kick-off event marking Hispanic Heritage Month.

Working with the Dali Museum and Irene Rodriguez, a flamenco dancer from Cuba well-versed in Spain traditions, Santana also is looking for visual artists to participate in the event. She and Johnson are still narrowing down performers for the event that fit the theme of Spain, with a mix of Spanish and English languages.

“We want to bring awareness to these cultures and learning about their artistic mediums and how they celebrate art,” says Santana. “We want people to experience a unique event and celebrate the communities we have around the Tampa Bay area.”

The Riverwalk Stage. (Photo: Fotoset Photography)

A late add to the Straz Hispanic Heritage Month celebration is Latin Night on Sept. 24, part of the Tampa Downtown Partnership’s Fourth Friday. Latin Night on the Riverwalk Stage will feature the high-energy rhythms of Sol Caribe, a Tampa-based multicultural band that plays Salsa, Merengue, Cumbia and more. See you by the river on Sept. 24.

Other events on The Straz schedule during Hispanic Heritage Month include the Siudy Flamenco Company – Bailaora, 8 p.m., Oct. 1, which traces the evolution of flamenco from a New World perspective. On Oct. 24 at 8 p.m., popular Chilean singer-songwriter Myriam Hernandez will sing her romantic ballads in Tampa for the first time.

Go to www.strazcenter.org for more information and tickets for those events.

Paul Catala is a former entertainment writer for the Lakeland Ledger.

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