The Straz Remembers Maestro Anton Coppola 1917-2020

Last Monday, March 9, the Straz Center said goodbye to Opera Tampa’s founding artistic director and one of the most colorful characters to grace our halls and stages. Here, we recount some of our favorite things about Maestro Anton Coppola.

Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.

On March 21, 1917, Anton Coppola arrived to Italian-American parents in a country that was not yet a superpower. He grew up in East Harlem with six brothers, a clan of men who made the Coppola name as indelible to America’s artistic history as the Great War was to the history books. The line of Coppola descendants has been nominated 23 times for Academy® Awards, and Anton, our beloved first artistic director of Opera Tampa and international classical music icon, was the oldest living conductor who still composed until his death on March 9, 2020.

Maestro Coppola was taught by one of Puccini’s own students, so he embodied a direct lineage to the great composer. A Puccini master, “he knew everything, had everything in his head,” says Judy Lisi, Straz Center president and CEO and general director of Opera Tampa. “He didn’t need to reference the score—he knew Puccini better than anyone.” Lisi began her professional relationship with Maestro Coppola early in her career at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, Conn. Lisi, herself an operaphile, launched an opera company at the Shubert that partnered with Yale’s opera master’s program. There she met Maestro. “We were doing a production with Yale students, so I met Maestro and said ‘why don’t you help me start an opera company?’ He said yes, and that’s how it all started,” Lisi says.

In their eight years in Connecticut, Lisi and Maestro Coppola produced 48 operas together, their creative power ending when she took the helm here. However, it wouldn’t be long before Lisi heard opportunity knock again on the pristine concert hall stage in Morsani Hall.  “When I stood on the stage, I thought ‘oh my gosh, they built an opera house.’ There was no formal professional company at The Straz then, and I knew what I wanted to do. It had been ten years since I’d worked with Maestro, but I called him and said I wanted to start an opera company in Tampa, and I couldn’t do it without him.”

Coppola, affectionately known as ‘the little general’ for his tough demands in rehearsal and no-nonsense communication style, barked at her, “Judith! I was waiting for this call!”

Photos from Coppola Conducts: 100 Years Young gala. Maestro Anton Coppola conducting at the performance (left); With the company at the performance (top right); With Francis Ford Coppola following the performance (bottom right). Photos: Jordan Pysz

In 1995, Opera Tampa premiered with Puccini’s masterpiece, Madama Butterfly, under Maestro Coppola’s baton and for a packed house at Morsani Hall.

The ensuing years brought triumph, glory, honor and exaltation to the opera season, growing an ardent following for Opera Tampa and an ongoing infatuation with Maestro Coppola’s brilliant gift at culling the best from performers and serving up one dazzling opera production after another. A crown jewel of Coppola’s tenure at The Straz was the world premiere of his heartfelt, contemporary, original opera, Sacco and Vanzetti.

Photos from Sacco and Vanzetti.

“I worked with Maestro on the libretto for Sacco and Vanzetti,” says LeeAnn Douglas, the senior director of digital marketing at The Straz. “He was in NYC and I was here. He would give me corrections over the phone. Since it was a new opera, and he was tweaking it and changing it, I spoke to him often. The most challenging part was he talked fast … real fast. I had a hard time keeping up with him. But he was always patient and kind and humorous. He was a funny, dynamic man. Plus, it was exciting to get to assist with a new work so close to an artist of his caliber.”

Coppola’s opera, an examination of humanity and a closer look at themes of justice based on the famous 1927 Sacco and Vanzetti murder trial, opened to rave reviews in 2001. “I told him we would do the opera, and we did,” Lisi says. “It was a huge hit. It got great reviews. To this day, I remain very, very proud of Maestro’s opera and of the fact that the Straz Center produced it from scratch.”

An irrepressible spirit, Maestro returned to The Straz in February 2019 to conduct his last full-length original score, Lady Swanwhite, the second production of last opera season.

Maestro Coppola in rehearsal for the premiere of Lady Swanwhite.

“Two of the most remarkable things about Coppola were his absolute command of the entire room even with his small stature and the fact that he barely looked down at the scores he was conducting from because he had every note and every word memorized,” says Opera Tampa’s Artistic Administrator Melissa Misener. “It was uncanny—he knew every flute entrance to every chorus line of text. He knew the music better than anyone I’ve ever seen. The most remarkable thing, however, was his health and longevity. Just last year at age 102, he was insisting we work 12-hour days with lunch and dinner breaks. For breaks, he walked from the Straz Center to the Residence Inn across Ashley Boulevard to go eat. So, by my count, the man walked the distance six times a day! For Lady Swanwhite¸ we were all so tired the second night at the end of rehearsal when he said, ‘I’m not ready to stop rehearsing.’ Everyone was stunned, but no one said a word. We all just kept going. The man just would not quit.”

“Maestro was so full of life,” Lisi says, “so full of a passion for music that anyone around him got excited about opera. Maestro was one of the greatest transmitters of the emotion locked inside every single note. With Maestro, you didn’t just hear the music, you felt it. His life inspired me and so many of us at The Straz. We loved him,” says Lisi. “He allowed the music to whisk him away to another world, and he took everyone along with him. We were very fortunate to have had someone with that kind of gift, that kind of genius, steering our opera company.”

Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.

Silver Linings

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.

Carmen. Photo by Rob Harris Productions.

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.”

Pirate King, Pirates of Penzance. Photo by Rob Harris Productions.

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.”

Aida. Photo by Rob Harris Productions.

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.”

Past, Present & Future

The 2019 D’Angelo Young Artist Vocal Competition honors Opera Tampa’s dedication to nurturing new artists. On a more personal note, the competition represents Opera Tampa League Board Chair Gina d’Angelo’s commitment to continuing her parents’ love of music through philanthropic support.

Dr. George and Mary D’Angelo

When Straz Center donor and Opera Tampa League chairperson Gina d’Angelo was in college, a fortunate series of events led to her parents hosting a dinner party for Luciano Pavarotti at their home in the hamlet of Erie, Penn. Tasked with pressing the wrinkles from the famed tenor’s tux, Gina and her sister Joanne set to their chore with giddy delight. Joanne, an actress, knew a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with a costume when she saw it.

She pulled on Pavarotti’s tux, brandished its white handkerchief, then launched into her best impression, small white flag a-wave, as though she stood on the stage at La Scala.

Pavarotti and Gina at a D’Angelo dinner in Erie, Penn.

As charismatic and larger-than-life as Pavarotti was, it wasn’t the two D’Angelo daughters who were most enamored with the Italian singer — that was George D’Angelo, the girls’ father, who happened to be Erie’s homespun impresario and a devoted fan of fine music and inspired artists. Dr. D’Angelo, a heart surgeon, also presided over the Erie Philharmonic and had befriended Pavarotti’s manager in the hopes of convincing him to get Erie on Pavarotti’s performance calendar. A few years passed until, one day, Dr. D’Angelo received a call.

“Pavarotti’s going to be singing in Cleveland on Friday,” the manager tells him. “If you want him on Sunday, he’s yours.”

That’s how Joanne D’Angelo ended up in Pavarotti’s tux while the rest of the house was in a tizzy getting ready for the post-concert reception for the world’s greatest tenor.

“It’s funny,” Gina remembers, “because when you host an event like that, everybody comes through the front door. My parents were very social, and because they were such lovers of great music and subscribers to The Met, we had quite a few singers at our house in those days. But Pavarotti — he came through the back door, through the kitchen. He started talking to the cooks, tasting the food. He was just a normal guy. A pretty large normal guy.”

George D’Angelo came to his appreciation of the arts through Gina’s mother, Mary. “It all started with my mother,” Gina says. “She was classically trained. She had a beautiful voice. She first got involved with the Erie Philharmonic, eventually convincing my dad to get involved as well. Those initial investments of time grew into so much more.”

Mary D’Angelo with Granddaughters Olivia and Alexa

The D’Angelos ultimately funded the D’Angelo School of Music at Mercyhurst University and the Mary D’Angelo Performing Arts Center. Eventually, they saw the need to take an active role in developing new talent, so the couple conceived of and created the annual D’Angelo Young Artists Competition in Erie, awarding the winners substantial prize money and a performance opportunity.

When George D’Angelo passed away in 2014, Gina felt a profound sense of responsibility to live up to and honor the example her parents had set as contributors to their community. “I thought, if my dad could be a surgeon working 18- hour days and be president of the philharmonic as well as giving to so many other charities, then I can do that, too,” says Gina. She became the chair of the Opera Tampa League in addition to her full-time job and various other obligations, deciding, last year, to revive the D’Angelo Young Artists Competition for Opera Tampa. “I think Dad would be proud of me. I contacted the winners from when we hosted the event in Erie. I asked them, ‘what did winning the competition do for your career? How did it impact your life?’ The responses I got convinced me we needed to bring it back.”

Dr. George D’Angelo with Pavarotti

This season, Opera Tampa celebrates its 25th anniversary — an auspicious milestone for enacting the inaugural D’Angelo Young Artists Vocal Competition. Purely a competition for upcoming singers, this event demonstrates Opera Tampa’s unwavering commitment to finding operatic talent and developing their careers. The winners receive prize money to further their studies and careers and also earn the opportunity to perform in an Opera Tampa production. “For me, bringing back the competition is an extension of what my parents did. Mom and Dad instilled in me that giving back is just what you do. I am trying to live by their example,” says Gina.

The D’Angelo Young Artists Vocal Competition finale takes place on Sunday, Nov. 24, at 4 p.m. in the TECO Theater. Winners will be announced, and prizes awarded. To see these upcoming opera stars, rsvp@strazcenter.org.

 

Triple Threat

The Straz Center’s Manager of Special Events Nicole Stickeler dons a bum roll to change into her next role for Opera Tampa.

Nicole Stickeler in costume and make-up for Opera Tampa’s Madama Butterfly.

In show business, you’re considered a triple threat if you can sing, dance and act.

In the performing arts, you’re considered a triple threat if you can sing, act and raise money.

The Straz Center’s Manager of Special Events Nicole Stickeler plans TASTE @ The Straz, the Broadway Ball and the Opera Tampa Grand Gala as well as 27 other special events designed to raise money for The Straz’s many programs and educational efforts. Then she warms up, hits the Rehearsal Hall and auditions for Opera Tampa. A trained opera singer but also someone who has a full-time day job, she jockeys for roles in the chorus often landing a few roles a year. You’ve probably seen her over the past few seasons in Tosca, Romeo and Juliet, Madama Butterfly and Die Fledermaus although our costume department does a fantastic job of rendering her (almost) unrecognizable. This week, she suits up for the grand finale of the opera season, La Boheme, which runs Friday evening and Sunday afternoon.

Nicole’s first “audition” happened accidentally, when, on our President/CEO/General Director of Opera Tampa Judy Lisi’s birthday a few years ago, Nicole stood around the corner of Judy’s office and sang “Happy Birthday” dramatically in Italian while our VP of Development lip synched in the doorway. The gag worked like charm—it was a great birthday surprise, but the biggest surprise was the effect of Nicole’s voice. Nicole had just started a position as our development coordinator, so no one knew she could really sing. Judy, who happens to be a trained opera singer and Puccini expert herself, took Nicole’s arm and suggested she try out for the next chorus auditions for Opera Tampa.

Nicole did, embarking upon a pretty amazing side hustle. Caught in the Act sat down with Nicole to talk about her artistic life, her admin life, and what it’s like getting to perform her artistic passion while doing critical work for the performing arts as well.

Nicole at her “day job” at The Straz.

Caught in the Act: Where did you study? Did you have ideas for a vocal career, but then you ended up in fundraising? What was your path?

Nicole Stickeler: [dramatically] Well, it started on a snowy day in New Jersey … [laughs] No, I’m just kidding. I mean, that is actually how it started, though.

CITA: We’re intrigued.

NS: I probably really started singing in middle school.

CITA: Did you know you had a good voice?

NS: No. The first time I sang was fourth or fifth grade, and I auditioned for the chorus. It was literally like stand there and sing for the music teacher. I got in, but you could only do one extracurricular. I had already said yes to being a patrol, and so I chose being a patrol over being in the chorus.

CITA: A patrol? Like a hall monitor?

NS: Bus patrol.

CITA: Oh, okay. Yeah … we totally understand why you would want to choose that versus starring in a show …?

NS: [laughs] I guess I liked telling people what to do. But, in sixth grade, I chose chorus for my elective. That’s probably when I learned I had a good singing voice. I got my first solo in seventh grade and surprised my mom. I didn’t tell her that I got a solo.

CITA: Really?

NS: I was so nervous, but I got up there and sang. She was so surprised … You sing along when you’re doing stuff at home and all that, but I don’t think she knew I was a singer.

Nicole in costume for La Traviata.

CITA: Is she a singer?

NS: My mom is not a singer. My dad’s not a singer. My grandma sang, but there are not many musicians in my family. My sister did music. I think I saw her and thought, ‘oh she’s good, let me try it, too.’ For college, I ended up auditioning at the University of Florida, and I really liked their music school. I auditioned for vocal performance, which is classical voice studies. I had diction classes and music theory classes. I had my private voice lessons, and everyone had to be in a choir. Then I also took an opera workshop class. Every year we would do one big opera. I got a major role my sophomore year when we did Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

CITA: What role?

NS: I was one of the mean, old ladies—the ones who are mean to Susannah. I remember the line that was always really funny and ended the first act. At the church, they have this gathering, like a potluck, and everybody comes. Susannah brings black-eyed peas or something. At the end I’m like, [singing] “I wouldn’t touch them peas of hers!” Blackout! [laughs] My junior year we did The Magic Flute, and I was one of the three spirits, so that was fun. Two of my roommates and best friends were the other two spirits. So that was a lot of fun. My senior year we did Die Fledermaus. I was Prince Orlofsky. It was first “full pants” role. That was also a lot of fun.

CITA: Were you in Die Fledermaus here this season?

NS: I was. I was in the chorus.

CITA: Was that a full circle moment for you, or were you like ‘I was a better Prince Orlofsky’?

NS: [laughs] No. Sara [Nordin as Prince Orlofsky] was fantastic! But it was kind of full circle, like, ‘oh my gosh. I did this in school. It’s so much fun to be doing it again, and on a bigger stage and with a bigger audience’. It was neat just to relive the experience.

Opera Tampa’s Die Fledermaus. (Photo: Will Staples)

CITA: What about a career just in music? Did you consider that after college?

NS: I did think after undergrad that I was going to go to grad school and continue studying music. Then, it just didn’t work out that way. After I graduated I moved back home to Brandon. I got an email from UF that they were starting a graduate certificate program in Arts Administration via distance learning. It was all online courses, and I was kind of figuring out what I was going to do working my part-time job I had back in high school. I thought, well, why don’t I do this? The last course was doing a practicum in arts admin. That led me to start looking for internships, and I found one in development with the Orlando Philharmonic. During my interview process, the general manager noticed I had a background in opera. At the time, there was no opera company in Orlando, so the Philharmonic was putting on operas. They were getting ready to do Madama Butterfly. He had asked if I wanted to be a second assistant stage manager on it, which would start before my official internship with development there. So, I did.

CITA: It’s different being part of the crew on a show. It changes your understanding of the big picture, how hard it is to make a show work without incident.

NS: Yes, I have a huge respect for the crew. They have the biggest responsibilities. Actually, in that show, I had my first orchestral debut. But, then it got cut. [laughs] They wanted me to do the chains for when the ship comes in.

CITA: You were the chain player?

NS: I was, but I don’t know how to read percussion. I tried to move these heavy chains to go with the sheet music. I got to do it during the first dress rehearsal. Then the director was like, ‘Um … I think it’s better without it.’ [laughs] But I got to play with the Philharmonic, if we can call it that.

Invitations from just a few of the special events that Nicole has put on during her time at The Straz.

CITA: Did development speak to you in some way? Were you like, ‘wow, I’m good at this’ or ‘I like this’ or ‘oh my god this is an incredibly important part of arts administration’?

NS: Honestly, before doing the certificate program, I didn’t even realize that arts administration was a field to get into.

CITA: It might be common that people don’t understand arts administration is a thing.

NS: Yeah. There are so many different aspects to it, too. While I didn’t really know it was something that existed before the internship, I really learned to enjoy it. After my internship, I got a job there. I was their assistant director of development. That was a great experience, working with the Philharmonic and learning, not only about the ins and outs of arts admin, but also learning more about orchestra.

CITA: How’d you get from there to The Straz?

NS: I had previously met Frank McClain from Opera Tampa here. I was almost going to work for him but it was only a part-time, seasonal job, so I took the job in Orlando. But, when I saw the development coordinator position open, I applied. The rest is history.

Nicole’s Madama Butterfly costume.

CITA: Did you know that there were going to be performance opportunities if you took this development job?

NS: It was a bonus. I knew we had Opera Tampa here, but I didn’t know I would ever have an opportunity to work with them. When I got my first job with Opera Tampa, they were doing Madama Butterfly. It was the first opera I stage managed, or assistant stage managed, but the first professional opera I performed in, too.

CITA: That’s cool because it was the first opera that Opera Tampa produced for the Straz Center as well. So, your first performance with Opera Tampa was five years go because Butterfly was part of the 20th anniversary season, and we’re having the 25th anniversary next season. Have you done an opera with Opera Tampa for every season since, or you just pick it up when you can?

NS: I’ve pretty much done one or two operas every season, except last season because I had to organize so many events. We do a lot events around opera.

CITA: That’s true.

NS: What has been great is that even though I’m in this admin role, I’ve still been able to keep up with my singing. Getting to be on the stage, in an opera, and getting to wear the costumes and be with all of the people that love what I love is really special.

CITA: For anybody’s who’s going to read the blog who’s not an opera person: What does it mean to be in a chorus of an opera? What do you actually do?

NS: Basically, it’s the ensemble. If you think of a musical and all of the additional people on stage who are singing in a group format, that’s what the chorus is in an opera. In an opera, you’re not a choir, you’re not trying to blend and sound like one voice. Everybody’s their own individual person on stage. You don’t change the way that you sing just because the person next to you makes maybe their vowels a little bit different or something like that.

Nicole showing us the props for La Boheme.

CITA: What’s your costume for La Boheme?

NS: I have two costumes.

CITA: Are you a poor bohemian, or do you get a fancy costume?

NS: In the second act, where it’s Christmas Eve and everyone’s in the plaza, it’s a grand time. I am a flower vendor, so my costume is pretty nice. It’s green with a high neck and giant hat. I mean giant hat, so, that one’s a little fancy. Then in Act III, I’m a milkmaid. There are only six of us doing that, so it’s fun to get to do something a little bit different. Now that costume is frump city. Of course, there’s always the petticoat with the overskirt. That costume doesn’t have the bum roll, but the first costume has a bum roll.

CITA: Oh, you get a bum roll! We’re jealous.

NS: Yeah. For the second costume, no bum roll. There’s just a super baggy frumpy dress that also doesn’t reach the floor. It’s too short.

CITA: Poor, French milkmaid.

NS: Then there’s the apron to put over that. There’s this coat with a scarf, and then these gloves without the fingers. Then, this little bonnet.

CITA: It does sound adorable but not at all sexy.

NS: No, it’s not.

CITA: So people can get their milkmaid fantasies right out of their heads this moment.

NS: Indeed.

One of Nicole’s costumes for La Traviata.

CITA: Of all the operas you performed, which has been your favorite?

NS: That’s a good question. I feel like just because it was also the first, Madama Butterfly, and it was also Puccini, which it was just … He’s got beautiful melodies and everything. Plus, getting to the makeup for Madama Butterfly was fun because it’s all the white powder, and the eyeliner, and the red lips. Getting to do the party scenes La traviata was fun as well.

CITA: Do you have any advice for somebody who wants to get into the opera world but maybe doesn’t want to be a career singer? Somebody who wants to be like you? How would you advise that person to achieve their dream?

NS: Ultimately, getting a voice teacher, a voice coach, that’s always a great first step. They’ll help you learn and hone your craft. They’ll know what’s best for your voice, what type of voice you have, what to learn for your voice, and all of that. The bottom line is: If it’s something you’re passionate about and you want to make the time for it, go for it. While sometimes when I’m in it, and I’m putting in these long days of working and rehearsals, I wonder why I do it. In the end, it’s just so great to be on the stage. That feeling you get when the curtain rises and the lights are shining on you … it’s worth it.

See Nicole and all the hardworking people of La Boheme this weekend. The opera runs for two performances only, so catch it while you can.

How Did You Get That Shot?

Longtime Opera Tampa and Straz Center photographer Rob Bovarnick reveals the secrets behind capturing that Pearl Fishers photo.

1819 Opera Tampa_Bravissimo_LR_2019-02-06 FINAL-1

Cardboard box. Plastic bag. Three thousand white beads …

What sounds like either the making of a Mardi Gras costume or the making of a very bizarre murder comprised the basic backstage ingredients of one of the most popular graphic concepts in Straz history. Inspired by Annie Leibovitz’s iconic photograph of Whoopi Goldberg submerged in a tub of milk, the “face” of the Opera Tampa 2018-2019 season became, literally, a face. Seen everywhere from region-wide advertising to billboards along I-275, the “Pearl Fishers photo” has created an unexpected bit of buzz for its arresting, unusual beauty—very much like the opera itself.

Pearlfishers BHTS by Rob-Harris-6306

Behind the scenes of the photo shoot. (Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.)

The driving forces of The Straz’s in-house ad agency and PR firm are VP of Marketing Summer Bohnenkamp, Senior Director of Communications Paul Bilyeu and Creative Director Mei Crain. Prior to each season, they brainstorm with individual marketers to determine the creative “look” of opera, Broadway, Club Jaeb … everything. Last spring, Paul showed the photo of Whoopi for his pitch for the concept of a woman’s face emerging from a sea of pearls. It flew. He called longtime freelance photographer and friend Rob Bovarnick of Rob-Harris Productions, explained the idea and Rob began to visualize the shot.

Pearlfishers BHTS by Rob-Harris-6313

Time to add the pearls! (Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.)

“We determined early on we wanted to use real beads, not photoshop them in after the fact,” Rob explains. “We carefully discussed the size of the pearls because we wanted it to look correct, scale-wise. We always need enough room for all types of marketing uses. Whether it be on billboard, which is usually a longer horizontal format, or on a vertical brochure. So, we brought multiple sizes of cardboard boxes to the shoot. We found the right shape and height for the model’s head. Since we were “floating” her head within the box, we used a plastic bag to seal the box which made a pillow for her head to sit in. We made sure she didn’t have any strain on her neck; then once we got that adjusted, we could start adding the pearls.”

The model, Mischa Temaul, had to keep her head perfectly still while Rob took the photos, otherwise the shifting pearls would ruin the picture. “It was like going to get a CAT scan. You have to hold extremely still, but she did great. We found that the overhead view was more dramatic and more universal for a multi-use in advertising. You have to think about leaving enough space for copy.”

faves collage

A few of Rob’s favorite shots from his portfolio of Opera Tampa photos. Clockwise from top left: Lucia di Lammermoor (2009), Romeo and Juliet (2006), The Barber of Seville (2008), La Bohème (2013).

Rob should know. He’s been creating most of the Opera Tampa promotional photos since 2006, when he landed Romeo and Juliet as his first assignment for the company. “We love working with The Straz. We appreciate when there’s something different, and we have to figure out how to make it happen. I’ve been working with Summer, Paul and Mei and the rest of the staff for so many years, about 13 years. There’s a comfort level with having us just run with their ideas.

And it’s great for us, we love the problem-solving challenge of trying to create something really unique.”

Rob Bovarnick - Photo by Eric Swanson

Rob Bovarnick. (Photo: Eric Swanson)

Rob-Harris Name Explained
Many people think Rob Harris is one person when, in fact, it’s two. Here’s the story:

“I started my business in 1987 with my former University of Tampa college photography professor, Lew Harris. When we were coming up with ideas for company names, we both felt that Rob Harris had a better “ring” to it than Harris Bovarnick. Shortly after naming our company, we went to a local bank to open a business checking account. The first think the bank teller asked us was “which one of you is Rob Harris?” That’s when we decided to put the slash in between Rob and Harris: Rob/Harris. Since the beginning of the digital age, we have had to change the slash to a dash and add Photography and Video in addition to Productions for better search engine optimization.” – Rob Bovarnick

Raw, Sexy, Emotional

Die Fledermaus soprano and Opera Tampa returnee Rochelle Bard explains life in opera.

Rochelle Bard - Die Fledermaus photo by Rob-Harris Productions, Inc.

Photo by Rob-Harris Productions, Inc.

One of the great injustices to opera is the enduring stereotype involving a strident woman in a blonde braid wig and a Viking hat. It’s not a very sexy image, and let’s face it: opera is sexy. The canon teems with gorgeous women and men seething with power, oozing lust, greed, desperation, joy and in hot pursuit for fulfillment in romantic love.

For those of you who’ve been around for a few Opera Tampa productions, you know our resident opera company delivers the goods, stacking our casts with extraordinary talent who embody the balance between raw and cultivated sensuality in operatic stories and music.

One such star returns to Morsani stage this season as Rosalinda in Die Fledermaus – dramatic coloratura soprano Rochelle Bard, who debuted in Opera Tampa’s 2009 production of La Rondine.

Rochelle in Opera Tampa’s La Rondine. (Photo by Rob-Harris Productions, Inc.)

In 2011, Rochelle starred in Opera Tampa’s The Merry Widow at the request of former Artistic Director Anton Coppola, who determined to mentor Rochelle after hearing her perform during a competition in New York.

When The Straz hosted Coppola’s farewell party the year he stepped down from Opera Tampa, Rochelle performed Cio-Cio-San’s “Tu? Tu? Piccolo iddio!” (“You? You? My little god!”), the final aria from Madama Butterfly, a fitting tribute to the Puccini master.

Though Rochelle commands the towering soprano roles like Butterfly or Tosca, she also wields an adroitness in comic roles, notably in The Merry Widow and this season’s production of Die Fledermaus. An operetta, Die Fledermaus is performed in the language of whatever country in which it’s being performed. So, our version will be sung in English with dialogue as well as singing. The story unfolds as a large cast of mischievous characters get increasingly tipsy over the course of a New Year’s Eve party.

Rochelle in Opera Tampa’s production of The Merry Widow.

“It’s the perfect blend of musical theater and opera,” she explains. “It’s just a silly, silly, silly plot which makes it so much fun. It’s really funny. With it being in English, people can get the jokes. It’s convoluted, there are a lot of moving pieces, and should be entertaining, fast and cute.”

Rochelle belongs to a family of doctors and nurses, an admittedly shy child who had no desire to be in the spotlight whatsoever. For her course of study, she chose bio pre-med, preparing for a medical career. A talented pianist, Rochelle confesses to an ardent love of music. “I just love it. I love music. When I was picking a career, I just didn’t think I could make a living doing it, so I was very practical. Right when I was getting ready to take my MCATs [medical college admission tests], I auditioned for The Sound of Music and got the Mother Abbess role. After opening night, a random guy came up to me and said ‘Why aren’t you singing [for a living]? Singing is your thing.’ Then he just disappeared.” She laughs. “I don’t know if he was an angel or just happened to say what I needed to hear at that moment, but I got on a track to go back to school to study music. I’ve been making a living, supporting myself on music, ever since.”

Rochelle in rehearsal for Die Fledermaus with Gabriel Preisser.

“I do this because I love it,” she says. “Not for the spotlight or to be famous. It’s the most beautiful music ever, and it’s our job to make people feel something. Opera is so raw, so passionate. It can be laugh-out-loud hilarious. It’s our job as artists to put that emotion all out there.”

See Rochelle Bard as Rosalinda in Johann Strauss II’s comedy Die Fledermaus, playing in Morsani Hall, Nov. 30 and Dec. 2.

Witch Way

Halloween lurks and looms. Witch means (see what we did there?) it’s time to take a look at some really great harpies, hags, conjurers and spellcasters from stage and screen. Here’s a Ten List since we had too much toil and trouble trying to figure out how to rank the best witchy stories and characters ever.

Into the Woods

Into the Woods
You thought we’d start with Wicked, didn’t you? Ah-ha! A trick!

This Sondheim favorite would fall apart without the machinations of Witch, who plays a pivotal role in the entire plot (as witches do). When Into the Woods—which is a wild adaptation of Grimm and Charles “Cinderella” Perrault fairy tales—opened on Broadway in 1987, guess who played Witch? (Answer at bottom).

 

macbeth meme

Macbeth
As noted, witches tend to co-opt a story, sending hapless protagonists straight to madness and/or death. Nobody does it better that The Weird Sisters, Shakespeare’s trio of heath-living hags, who show up smack-dab in the middle of Macbeth’s victory lap to plant some pretty poisonous prophecies in his soldier’s brain. If anything, these ladies teach us eye of newt is not to be trifled with. Not at all.

 

Wicked Elphaba

Wicked
Here we are! Wicked. The Wicked Witch of the West gets a name, a backstory, a psychology, a friend. What is not to love about this show? And the original Broadway cast? Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, Joel Grey, Norbert Leo Butz. Fuggedaboutit. So here’s another trivia question … Norbert Leo Butz, who played Elphaba’s love interest Fiyero, later starred on what Netflix series set in the Florida Keys? (See below.)

 

Narnia White Witch

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
No matter whether this tale comes to life on the page, on the stage, in animation or on the big screen, children everywhere remember the shameful temptation of Turkish delight thanks to the frosty witch of this classic. The White Witch solidifies, literally, her glorious evil by freezing Mr. Tumnus and then we feel great about hating her for the rest of the story.

 

Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus
So, this colorful little film turned 25 this year and is seeing a well-deserved anniversary celebration. After years with cult status, coven status?, the film’s characters landed lead roles in Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom, putting them in league with Disney’s witches, the Who’s Who of pop culture witchery. The poorly-reviewed Sanderson Sisters in the movie—powered by a buck-toothed Bette Midler, rubber-faced Kathy Najimy, and ultra-curvy “straight man” Sarah Jessica Parker—get their revenge at last, which, like destroying the main characters’ lives, also seems to be the destiny of great witch characters.

 

Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz
When you have an army of flying monkeys in jaunty fezes and matching capes, you are next level wicked. When you set fire to a straw person whose only desire in life is to have a brain, you are the worst. And then you threaten a dog. This is so much evil we can’t write another word about it.

 

the crucible

The Crucible
Okay, back up. Even though the characters in the Arthur Miller classic about falsely accusing people of being witches so they get killed is technically about fictional fake witches, the point of the whole story is that real humans can be eaten by fears that turn them even more evil than someone who ignites a scarecrow-man. Leave it to Mr. Miller to use witches as deconstructed symbolism that are no fun at all.

 

hermioneHarry Potter and the NOUN of NOUN
Where to start, where to start … J.K. Rowling’s global takeover with this story repackaged witchcraft and wizardry that made not only magic cool as all get out but also—school. Witch school was the place everyone wanted to be, even the disgusting warped force of soul-splintered evil driving the main story arc. The question here is, who’s your favorite witch—McGonagall? Bellatrix? Fleur? Hermione? Ginny? Ginny was the best, right? Or Nymphadora? Too many choices.

 

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time
A very huge shout out to any story that successfully mixes quantum physics and witches. The universe and its mind-bending sub-atomic particle activity is in the capable metaphysical, zen-like hands of Mmes. Who, Whatsit and Which. Here we have a trinity of good witches marshalling a girl to heroic super-heights in negative space and it’s an interesting read. That in and of itself is powerful conjuring.

 

the craft

The Witches of Eastwick and The Craft
We said ten list, but here we have an Eleven List. Another trick! Ha-ha!

Truthfully, we again faced insurmountable indecision. If this Halloween-y blog was worth its salt, we’d have a Thirteen List, wouldn’t we? However, our last two screen covens represent the perennial attraction of witches but to different generations. Beautiful women, unlimited power. Cher on the one hand, Neve Campbell on the other. Even Jack Nicholson couldn’t survive in a world of Susan Sarandon’s magic (may be factual), but let’s face it: Michelle Pfeiffer has zero trouble casting a spell. Zero.

witches of eastwick

 

We’ve tricked you a few times in this blog, so how about a treat? Come see other famous witches when the Opera Tampa Singers perform The Witching Hour on Oct. 26 from 7-8 p.m. in the Jaeb Courtyard. It’s FREE!

TheWitchingHour_Logo.indd

How’d you do with your trivia?
1. Bernadette Peters played Witch in the original Broadway Into the Woods.
2. Norbert Leo Butz starred in Bloodline as the flighty youngest brother Kevin Rayburn.
3. Treat! Our favorite Potter witch is Nymphadora. No, Hermione. We mean Ginny!