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Sarasota Opera Opens 62nd Season, Undeterred by Covid-19

The inaugural performance was received enthusiastically by patrons who expressed their appreciation for live opera returning to the stage.

Sarasota Opera Opens 62nd Season, Undeterred by Covid-19

On Friday, February 12th, Sarasota Opera opened its 2021 Winter Opera Festival with a fully staged production of Gioachino Rossini's The Happy Deception (L'inganno Felice) to a live audience filling 25% of the seating capacity of the Sarasota Opera House.

The opening of the 62nd season came after many months of preparation to plan and implement the lengthy protocols designed for the health and safety of the artists, crew, staff, and audience. The performance was received enthusiastically by patrons who expressed their appreciation for live opera returning to the stage, as well as music critic Gayle Williams of The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, who described the evening as "pure and charming diversion." Ms. Williams also stated that, "The choice to replace the typical full-length, full-drama productions of the company's winter season with shorter, less-familiar operas with smaller casts is one of the most brilliant pivots in the local arts world since the coronavirus pandemic."

The local arts and culture industry is the one of the largest employers in Sarasota County, known as "Florida's Cultural Coast." Sarasota Opera Executive Director Richard Russell said, "None of us imagined that opera houses, theaters, and concert halls around the world would be mostly shuttered for a year (and counting) and that most of our artists would be out of work. As we navigated the uncertainty of the situation, we realized that we couldn't remain silent. Despite the health emergency, we felt it was important to keep a connection with our audience, community, and artists."

Original plans for the 2021 Winter Opera Festival had included the grand opera that Sarasota opera goers love, including Puccini's Tosca, Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment, Bizet's The Pearl Fishers, and Verdi's Attila. In November 2020 the company experimented with a presentation of four "socially-distanced" concerts of opera arias at outdoor venues and in the Sarasota Opera House. The success of the fall performances inspired the creation of a "redesigned" 2021 Winter and Spring Opera Festival. In addition to The Happy Deception, the 2021 Winter and Spring Opera Festivals also include Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's Maid to Mistress (La serva padrona) opening February 19th, followed by Rossini's Il Signor Bruschino, opening April 9th, and Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, opening April 11th.

While Artistic Director Victor DeRenzi and Executive Director Richard Russell began to research early operas with smaller casts and orchestras, they also undertook the task of developing protocols for safely reopening the historic opera house to the fully staged operas "authentic to the composer's original intent" that are the hallmark of Sarasota Opera. Russell researched information from the CDC, State, and local health authorities. He looked into the policies and protocols being developed by other opera companies and the unions representing backstage crew, gathering as much information as possible, synthesizing all information into a master document that incorporated protocols for every department involved in the process of putting on an opera. The final protocols were reviewed and approved by a medical health professional as well as the local health authorities. In addition to the written protocols, a quarantine procedure was designed for arriving artists, as well as a daily health check-in process for all employees of Sarasota Opera.

WEDU, West Central Florida's PBS station, recently premiered a documentary that takes viewers on the journey of bringing live opera back to the stage of the Sarasota Opera House. "The Show Will Go On" can be viewed on their website at https://video.wedu.org/video/the-show-will-go-on-hk5gev/.

On the continuing efforts to produce opera under such extraordinary circumstances, Maestro DeRenzi concludes, "When we pass this crisis, people will want to be with others even more than in the past. Great art has survived wars, depressions and pandemics. It will be up to us to restore the arts to their place of importance in our society."

Individual tickets for live and online streaming performances start at $25. For more information, visit SarasotaOpera.org, contact the Sarasota Opera Box Office at (941) 328-1300 or visit in person at 61 N. Pineapple Avenue, Sarasota, FL 34236.


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