March 21, 2017 marks the 100th birthday of Maestro Anton Coppola, the conductor and composer whose career has spanned from singing in the Metropolitan Opera Children's Chorus for the American premiere of Puccini's Turandot at age 9 to - 91 years later - conducting his own an alternate ending for Puccini's unfinished masterpiece, one of two new works to be premiered on March 25th at Coppola Conducts: 100 Years Young. This concert will be presented by Opera Tampa, the company for which Coppola was the founding Artistic Director.
At Coppola Conducts the Maestro will conduct a full orchestra, chorus and soloists in a program that includes the world premiere of Fa Fa Do written to honor his nephew, acclaimed film director Francis Ford Coppola, using the initials in his nameF-F-C in the solfege-inspired title. Selections from Coppola's own opera Sacco & Vanzetti which premiered at Opera Tampa in 2001 will also be performed along with the world premiere of Coppola's new Duet and Finale for Turandot, reimagining the fairy tale with the tragic ending Puccini may have considered himself ("of course, we shall never know," writes Coppola).
Among the soloists scheduled to perform are Jessica Best (mezzo-soprano), Adam Diegel (tenor), Lisa Houben (soprano), Stefanos Koroneous (baritone), Diana McVey (soprano), Cleyton Pulzi (tenor) and Mark Walters (baritone).
Anton Coppola and Opera Tampa
A Puccini master, Maestro Coppola was taught by one of Puccini's own students, so he embodies a direct lineage to the great composer. "He knows everything, has everything in his head. So he doesn't need to reference the score - he knows Puccini better than any score," says Opera Tampa founder and Straz Center President and CEO Judy Lisi, who began her professional relationship with Maestro Coppola early in her career at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut and has been Coppola's latter day impresario. 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, and it wasn't long after moving to Tampa to run the Straz Center when Lisi heard opera's siren song. "There was no formal professional company at The Straz, and I just 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!"
In 1995, Opera Tampa premiered with Puccini's masterpiece, Madama Butterfly, under Maestro Coppola's baton. The ensuing years, until Coppola's retirement in 2012, brought 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 2001 world premiere of Sacco and Vanzetti.
Just 10 years old when the two Italian-American anarchists were tried for a murder-robbery that occurred in South Braintree, Massachusetts, Coppola carried the seed of his opera about the case for decades before it began to take form. The case, considered a gross miscarriage of justice toward immigrants that resulted in the electrocution of both men in 1927, landed in the trial-of-the-century category and certainly embedded itself in the collective consciousness of Italian-Americans, in particular. Coppola's opera, an examination of the men's humanity and a closer look at themes of justice, opened to rave reviews. "I told him we would do the opera, and we did," Lisi says. "It was a huge hit. To this day, I remain very proud of that opera and of the fact that the Straz Center produced it from scratch."
"In all this time working together," Lisi says, "we have become dear, dear friends. People come into your life and enhance it and enrich it in ways that you couldn't dream. I've been fortunate to have this friendship with Maestro. He knows Puccini, he knows Verdi, he knows opera unlike anyone else. He made Puccini real for me. It's not just notes on a page or an emotion captured by an orchestra or singer. He is among the greatest of the great transmitters of what it is all about."
About Anton Coppola
Anton Coppola was born in 1917 in the Italian ghetto of East Harlem where he grew up 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 Coppola descendants have been nominated 23 times for Academy® Awards, and Anton has become an international classical music icon, surviving as the oldest living conductor who still composes religiously and devotes his life to opera.
After his youthful tenure at the Metropolitan Opera Children's Chorus, Coppola conducted his first opera, Samson at Delila at the age of 18, in a production presented by the WPA. Coppola served for four years as an army bandmaster during World War II, and moved on to conduct at Radio City Music Hall. For 15 years, he was the director of both the Symphony and Opera Departments at the Manhattan School of Music and holds a master's degree in composition. Among his larger works are a symphony, an opera, a violin concerto and numerous film scores. Coppola appeared in his nephew Francis Ford Coppola's film, Godfather III and in his great-nephew's hit TV series Mozart in the Jungle. He also conducted the score for the Francis Ford Coppola film Dracula. Coppola has received honorary Doctorates from the University of Tampa and Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. He was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Puccini Foundation and recognized by the Italian government as Cavaliere, Gran Ufficiale.
During his illustrious career, Maestro Coppola has conducted at nearly all of the important opera companies in the United States and Canada including the San Francisco and New York City Operas. Known for his range and versatility, Coppola conducted the world premieres of Lizzie Borden, Deseret and Of Mice and Men, as well as many Broadway musicals.
This past summer The New York Times caught up with Maestro Coppola in his Central Park West apartment, where he has lived since 1956, for a charming spotlight in their "Character Study" feature. In the article, writer Corey Kilgannon draws a deft portrait of the diminutive, silver-haired composer working in longhand at an old, green folding cardboard table at a window overlooking the park.
Opera Tampa presents Coppola Conducts: 100 Years Young
Saturday, March 25 at 7 p.m.
Ferguson Hall at the Straz Center
Regularly priced tickets are $48.50-$78.50
Tickets may be purchased by calling 813.229.STAR (7827) or 800.955.1045 outside Tampa Bay, in person at the Straz Center Ticket Sales Office or online atwww.strazcenter.org.
The Centennial Celebration featuring Maestro Coppola is Saturday, March 25, in Ferguson Hall at 5 p.m. If you would like to attend, call the Straz Center Ticket Office at 813.222. 7827 or visit strazcenter.org for tickets.