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Sarasota Opera Opens its 50th Season

January 13, 2009 10:00 AM

Richard Russell, Director of Marketing
(941) 366-8450, ext. 245
Patricia G. Horwell, Communications Officer
(941) 366-8450, ext. 332

Sarasota, FL – Sarasota Opera will celebrate its 50th Season when its 2009 Winter Opera Festival opens on February 7th with Puccini's Tosca. In addition to Tosca, the Winter Opera Festival will include Donizetti's The Elixir of Love, Mascagni's rarely-heard L'amico Fritz and Verdi's epic Don Carlos. The opera season will consist of 37 performances and run through March 29.

In 1959 two members of the touring Turnau Opera Players were visiting Sarasota looking for a venue for their performances. The Turnau Players, based in Woodstock, NY, had been formed in 1955 by the students of the late Julliard opera professor Josef Turnau to provide performance opportunities for young singers. Following that initial Sarasota visit the company proposed a winter season in the 320-seat Asolo Theatre. This idea was accepted by the management of the Ringling Museum and the first Turnau Players season was presented in the winter of 1960. The first season opened with Mozart's Così fan tutte, and also included a double bill of Mozart's The Impresario and Ravel's L'Heure Espagnole, as well as Puccini's La bohème. All operas were sung in English and were accompanied by two pianos.

The following year the Asolo Opera Guild was formed to provide logistical and financial support fo a yearly season by the Turnau Players. Guild-sponsored visits by the Turnau Players continued until 1973.

In 1974 the Asolo Opera Guild became the Asolo Opera Company and began mounting their own productions at the Asolo Theater, still with two pianos or a small instrumental ensemble. Many of the singers were from the Turnau Opera Players.

Feeling the limitations of the Asolo Theater which lacked an orchestra pit and had limited production facilities, in 1979 the company purchased A.B. Edwards Theatre, formerly a home to vaudeville and movies, but now closed. After renovations the theater was partially ready in 1984 and the company, now called Sarasota Opera, opened with Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. The cast included Marc Embree in the title role, Stephanie Sundine as Tatiana, and Jerry Hadley as Lenski. The opera was conducted by Victor DeRenzi, who the previous year had been named Artistic Director. He continues in that capacity today.

The new theater allowed the company to use an orchestra for the first time. The previous season the company initiated its resident Apprentice Artists program for the training of young singers. Over the years members of the program have continued on to major operatic careers. In 1989 the company started the Studio Artists Program to provide further training and performance opportunities for emerging artists. That same year Sarasota Opera launched two artistic initiatives which have garnered the company national and international attention. The Masterworks Revival Series has seen the revival of rarely-heard operas of artistic merit that have included Catalani's La Wally, Nielsen's Maskarade, Moniuszko's Halka, and Humperdinck's Königskinder. With its 1989 production of Verdi's Rigoletto, Sarasota Opera began its initiative to mount every note of music written by Giuseppe Verdi. Subsequent seasons have seen productions of rarely-heard operas and separate productions of major revisions including the original and revised versions of Simon Boccanegra (1992), the original and Paris versions of Macbeth (200), and both Stiffelio (2005) and its significantly revised version Aroldo (1990). The company has also given concerts which have included much of the composer's non-operatic music.

Sarasota Opera, now lead by DeRenzi and Executive Director Susan T. Danis has a budget of $8.5 million. Over 50 seasons the company has performed 115 different works by fifty-five composers. The former Edwards Theatre, since 1984 called the Sarasota Opera House, has recently undergone a $20 million renovation and restoration. In 2008 Sarasota Opera expanded by launching its first fall season with five performances of The Barber of Seville. The company's ticket sales have been among the strongest in the opera industry and have exceeded 100% for four of the last five seasons.