Saturday, Oct. 30 started as a regular day for shoppers at the Milwaukee Public Market downtown on North Water Street. Milwaukee locals were shopping for their usual market goodies when faint orchestral music began playing in the background. As its volume amplified, the voices of people nearby – who looked like fellow shoppers – rang in a progressive, full opera chorus of “Nessun Dorma” throughout the market.
Led by chorus master Scott S. Stewart, over forty chorus members and studio artists from Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera Company brought audience members to tears with this flash opera as they kicked off the “Opera Week at the Market,” a series of performances in celebration of the second National Opera Week, Oct. 29 through Nov. 7.
The Florentine hopes to make the staged performance an annual event, according to Kathryn Reinardy, the company’s marketing and public relations manager.
“This was our first flash opera,” Reinardy wrote in an e-mail. “It was a lot of fun and the response was fantastic. Given the success, there may be more to come – who knows!”
(Check it out on YouTube: Flash Opera: Milwaukee Public Market: 10-30-2010)
In addition to the performance, the company began National Opera Week with a masterclass on Oct. 29, where 30 attendees got a glimpse of the opera technique singers must develop. Erie Mills, a nationally acclaimed performer and vocal coach, facilitated this free, public event.
Studio artists held three free lunchtime performances throughout the week at the Milwaukee Public Market. People attending cooking classes at the market also received special discounts on tickets to upcoming operas.
Throughout the same week, opera groups held over 100 events like this one nationwide in celebration of National Opera Week, sponsored by OPERA America, the national endowment of the arts.
Founded by John Anello and a group of community members in 1933, the Florentine Opera Company is one of Wisconsin’s oldest and most enduring professional performing arts organizations. It is in the midst of its 77th season and is the 6th oldest opera company in the United States, according to Reinardy.
Reinardy, who has worked at the Florentine since 2007, explained how many people it takes to keep the company running. Led by general director William Florescu, the administrative staff alone “includes finance, fund development, marketing, public relations, customer service and administrative professionals, who all play a key role in keeping the company running,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Grand opera is definitely no small undertaking!”
The Florentine employs “around 100 artists, artisans, craftspeople and administrative staff each season,” Reinardy wrote. “Our main stage artists are nationally auditioned and work professionally around the country. So, when they appear in a Florentine production, they move to Milwaukee and live here in the weeks that include the rehearsal process and the performances.”
She said the company also hires a professional chorus each season, made up of professional singers that live in Milwaukee and the Chicago area.
The Florentine presents its operas at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, located at 929 N. Water St. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra plays for all of its main stage productions, where vocal artistry meets “the visual excitement of elaborate, period authentic sets and costumes, high drama, light-hearted comedy and superb choreography,” the company’s website states.
The opera company contracts directors and principal performers from a pool of working professionals who work around the country. This season, all three of the stage directors are Milwaukee natives.
Directors this season include Paula Suozzi, who directed the world premiere of “Rio de Sangre” last month. William Theissen, who is the artistic director at the Skylight Opera, will direct “The Italian Girl in Algiers” on March 18, 19 and 20, and William Florescu will direct a double bill of two baroque operas: “Venus & Adonis” and “Dido & Aeneas” in May. All three directors have also directed operas around the country.
Some of the Florentine Opera Company’s upcoming events include: Bayshore Tree Lighting on Nov. 12, where studio artists will sing at Bayshore Town Center’s holiday tree lighting ceremony; The Golden Days concert at Vogel Hall in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts on Nov. 14; and the CMA Artist & Ensemble Recital at the Steinway Piano Gallery on West North Avenue on Nov. 21.
The Florentine offers students rush tickets for $15 that are available one hour before a performance with a valid ID. Students receive 15 percent off opera tickets at all times.
Besides opera performances, “community outreach and education are a key component of (the Florentine’s) mission,” Reinardy wrote. Last season, over 24,000 members of the Milwaukee community were served by its programming.
Reinardy said the company offers programs like Get Opera and High School Masterclass to a wide range of people, from kindergarteners to adults. Each winter, a Florentine touring opera visits 70 community venues and schools. The company presents a series of six free concerts with Alterra each summer and community performances throughout the year.
by Melanie Pawlyszyn
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