Press Releases

2017 Press Releases

Show All

Sarasota Youth Opera Awarded $20,000 towards 6th Sarasota Youth Opera World Premiere

More Than $82 Million Awarded for Arts Projects Nationwide

July 5, 2017

Samuel Lowry, Director of Audience Development
  (941) 328-1322

Sarasota, FL—National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu has approved more than $82 million to fund local arts projects across the country in the NEA’s second major funding announcement for fiscal year 2017. Included in this announcement is an Art Works award of $20,000 to the Sarasota Opera in support of the commissioning and world premiere of Rootabaga Country , a new opera by composer by Rachel J. Peters which will mark the company’s 6th world premiere. The NEA received 1,728 Art Works applications and will make 1,029 grants ranging from $10,000 to $100,000.

“The arts reflect the vision, energy, and talent of America’s artists and arts organizations,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support organizations such as the Sarasota Youth Opera, in serving their communities by providing excellent and accessible arts experiences.”

“We have been very gratified to receive NEA support for Sarasota Youth Opera programs in the past and are thrilled that support will continue with a grant for our commission of Rootabaga Country,” says Richard Russell, Executive Director of Sarasota Opera. “The production of this new opera will involve nearly a hundred youth opera members, and countless more who will enjoy the performances. It is just one of many ways that the NEA positively impacts the creative lives of young people in this country.”

After a nationwide search, Sarasota Opera commissioned composer/librettist Rachel J. Peters to compose Sarasota Youth Opera’s next world premiere. Ms. Peter’s opera, Rootabaga Country, which is being written now and will have its premiere on November 11, 2017, was selected over 12 other submissions. This will be the sixth opera commissioned by the Sarasota Youth Opera program.

The winning work is an adaptation of selections from Carl Sandburg’s 1922 book Rootabaga Stories which is a collection of whimsical short stories created out of Sandburg’s desire to invent “American fairy tales” to match American childhood. In her opera, Ms. Peters introduces the audience to three characters; Gimme the Ax and his two children, Please Gimme and Ax Me No Questions, who have sold their possessions as they prepare to travel to Rootabaga Country, a land in the sky. Alelia, the children’s mother who loved to visit Rootabaga Country as a young girl, had previously disappeared when they were small so this journey is the family’s way of connecting with her again. Once they arrive, they meet Potato Face Blind Man who stations himself at every town’s post office and leads the family on adventures meeting unique characters along the way.  Each journey provides the children with a connection to the mother they never knew and, at the conclusion of the story, the knowledge that families come in all shapes and sizes.

Sarasota Opera announced the Request for Submission in March 2015. To be considered, composers were asked to submit at minimum 30% of a new work that had yet to receive a performance. Sarasota Opera received 13 submissions from composers around the country and after several months of consideration, Ms. Peters’ work stood out among them. The requirements for submission included the opera having a libretto in English and be approximately 60 minutes in length. In addition, the work needed to include 10 – 15 solo youth roles, be mostly sung with minimal spoken dialogue, and have a chamber orchestra for up to 13 instruments.

Composer Biography
Rachel J. Peters’
broad array of work encompasses several genres including opera, musical theater, concert work as well as art songs and cabaret. Her work has been performed at music festivals and theaters across the United States. She holds a double B.A. summa cum laude in Music Theater from Brandeis University as well as an MFA in Musical Theater Writing from New York University. This will not be Ms. Peters first appearance in Sarasota. In 2007, the Asolo Conservatory produced an adaptation of Euripedes’ The Bacchae which featured an original musical score by Ms. Peters.

Rootabaga Country will have two performances on Saturday, November 11 at 5:30pm and Sunday, November 12 at 12:30pm. Tickets will be available on exclusively online at on August 1st and in the Sarasota Opera Box Office on September 1st.

Based on Florida’s beautiful Gulf Coast, Sarasota Opera recently completed its internationally acclaimed Verdi Cycle making it the only company in the world to have performed every work of Giuseppe Verdi. 

In 1960, the company began presenting chamber-sized repertoire in the historic 320-seat Asolo Theater on the grounds of Sarasota’s Ringling Museum of Art. Recognizing the need for a theater more conducive to opera, the company purchased the former A.B. Edwards Theater in downtown Sarasota in 1979 and first performing in it in 1984 as the Sarasota Opera House. The theater has just undergone a $20 million renovation and rehabilitation enhancing audience amenities, while updating the technical facilities including increasing the size of the orchestra pit. The theater, which reopened in March 2008, has been called “one of America’s finest venues for opera” by Musical America.

Since 1983, the company has been under the artistic leadership of Victor DeRenzi and administrative leadership of Executive Director Richard Russell since 2012. The company has garnered international attention with its Masterwork Revivals Series, which presents neglected works of artistic merit, as well as the Verdi Cycle producing the complete works of Giuseppe Verdi. Recognizing the importance of training, Maestro DeRenzi founded the Apprentice Artist and Studio Artist programs. Sarasota Opera also maintains a commitment to education through its Invitation to Opera performances for local schools and the unique Sarasota Youth Opera program.

Sarasota Opera is sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Programs are supported in part by an award the Tourist Development Tax through the Board of County Commissioners, the Tourist Development Council and the Sarasota County Arts Council. Additional funding is provided by the City of Sarasota and the County of Sarasota.


Sarasota Opera • 61 N. Pineapple Avenue • Sarasota, FL 34236 • (941) 366-8450