LWRWC Visits the Opera via Zoom

On Wednesday, February 10, 2021,  LWRWC members participated in a General Meeting via Zoom with Carlos Vicente, Sarasota Opera’s Director of Marketing. Carlos gave the members an inside look at the fascinating and illustrious history of this iconic institution.

Carlos shared why Sarasota Opera is truly a wonderful place as he took the club on a virtual timeline, complete with musical videos, of Sarasota Opera’s past 62 seasons including the Sarasota Youth Opera, the Steinwachs Artists Residences, and the Sarasota Opera Costume Studio initiative.

Carlos began his presentation with a vignette of an operatic toast. In 1958, Sarasota residents got a delightful taste of opera with a performance of Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio” by members of the New York City Opera, conducted by Julius Rudel. It was presented in the newly opened Asolo Theatre on the grounds of Sarasota’s Ringling Museum of Art. This marked the start of what would evolve into the Sarasota Opera, whose roots go back to 1960 and the debut of the Turnau Opera Players who presented their first season in the historic 320 seat Asolo Theater.

In 1961 the Asolo Opera Guild was formed to support the annual visits of the Turnau company. In 1974 the Guild formed the Asolo Opera Company to begin presenting their own productions. Recognizing the need for a theater more conducive to opera, the company purchased the former A.B. Edwards Theater in downtown Sarasota in 1979 with a $50,000 down payment and a $100,000 mortgage. Renovations began in 1982 and the theater, now on the National Register of Historic Places, opened in 1984 as the Sarasota Opera House with Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin.” The purchase was spearheaded by Deane Allyn, who became the company’s first executive director, with funding from patron Leo Rogers.

Since 1983 the company has been under the artistic leadership of Victor DeRenzi. A firm believer in the importance of training, Maestro DeRenzi founded the Apprentice Artist and Studio Artist programs. Sarasota Opera also maintains a commitment to education through its unique Sarasota Youth Opera program, currently the most comprehensive youth opera program in the nation. Every year 80 to 100 kids participate, free of charge, and enthusiasm is the only basic criteria.

The Opera Company also prides itself on its fabulous collection of over 30,000 hand stitched costumes and its reputation as the largest renter of costumes in the US. Primary rental customers include other opera companies and Netflix, particularly during the pandemic.

In 2008,the Sarasota Opera House completed a $20-million restoration to restore the beauty of the 1920’s theater, while creating an up-to-date opera house for the 21st century. The renovations included gutting the auditorium, which resulted in a newly configured seating plan and nearly doubling the size of the orchestra pit to accommodate operas that require larger orchestras. The renovation included expansion of the public areas and Opera Club on the second level, the opening up of the 3-story atrium to expose a newly installed skylight system which had existed in the 1926 building, but which had been covered by a ceiling and a chandelier used in the film, ”Gone with the Wind.” Today, Sarasota Opera owns and performs in the magnificently renovated historic Sarasota Opera House that now seats 1,119.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic cut short last winter’s season and forced the cancellation of plans for the fall and winter seasons all staff continued to have jobs and/or full pay when it was not safe to sing and all artists were paid in full for the whole season and were housed free of charge at the apartment complex owned by the Sarasota Opera, if they felt unsafe going home. The fall production was replaced by a November concert inside the opera house performed for a limited audience and offered for home streaming. Sarasota Opera performed some outdoor presentations at Selby Gardens’ downtown Sarasota and Historic Spanish Point campuses.

The denouement of Carlo’s delightful presentation was an inside look at the re-imagined 2021 Winter/Spring Opera Season and the innovative ways that opera lovers can safely enjoy the season consisting of four 90-minute operas:

Gioachino Rossini’s “The Happy Deception” Feb. 20 -Feb. 25,
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s “Maid to Mistress (La serva padrona)” Feb. 19-March 4,
Rossini’s “Il signor Bruschino” April 9-24, and
Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” April 11-25.

Tickets start at $25 for in-person performances in the Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. For those not ready or unable to attend public performances, the Sarasota Opera offers a 2021 Streaming Series that runs from Feb. 22, 2021 – April 26, 2021. All 4 of our operas will be recorded in HD, with multiple cameras, and will have English subtitles. Each of the performances will be available for several weeks during the Winter and Spring festival and can be enjoyed from the comfort of your home, anywhere in the world, with an online subscription for only $100! For more information, please call visit  sarasotaopera.org or 941-328-1300.

The Club thanks LWRWC Program Chairs Regina Napoli, Sharon Wright, and Monique Govostes for coordinating this Zoom presentation and to Katherine Benoit for her help in procuring the guest speaker! Also – Congratulations to Regina Joly, the lucky winner of two tickets to the Sarasota Opera in a drawing held during the meeting!