Gulfshore Opera comes to Punta Gorda
On a rainy Saturday evening, while very few people were watching, something really remarkable happened in Punta Gorda. A brand new southwest Florida opera company graced the Charlotte Performing Arts Center and made some music lovers very, very happy.
The company’s inaugural season opener was Viva Verdi!, a concert with full orchestra, full chorus and 5 soloists transforming our hometown hall into what could have easily been Avery Fisher in the middle of New York City. In fact, Maestro Paul Nadler, the company’s conductor, has a Metropolitan Opera pedigree. And, a quick glance at the program revealed impressive resumes for everyone – San Diego Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Boston Lyric, Alice Tully Hall, Carnegie Hall, many international theatres, as well as respected Florida companies in Naples, Sarasota, and Palm Beach.
From the moment Maestro Nadler and the soloists took the stage, the air began to crackle with electricity. These people had the air of confidence that only training and experience provides. This was going to be good.
The evening opened with The Chorus of the Gypsies from Il Trovatore, followed by Stride la Vampa sung by the beautiful young Ola Rafalo who rocked everyone’s world with a glorious full mezzo soprano voice that was a complete surprise. Thomas Cannon and Michael Wade Lee followed with powerful familiar arias proving that, to a person, this company is world class.
For the Rigoletto offerings, Wade Lee thrilled us with La Donna e Mobile, conveying all the wit and spectacular high notes we could ask for. Soprano Julie-Anne Hamula joined the ensemble, singing the beloved Caro Nome, plus two duets and a quartet with Rafalo, Wade Lee and Cannon (would have liked to have heard even more of his divine baritone). It was glorious. I was there with Regina Buckley, Executive Director of the Charlotte Symphony and a classically trained singer herself. We just kept looking at each other with wide eyes and huge smiles saying ‘wow’.
During intermission, we chatted with Ken Barber and some other Symphony fans, pretty excited about what we had just experienced. I think we were all ‘blown away’. We didn’t know what to expect, but we certainly didn’t expect this.
The second half of the program included spine tingling selections from Verdi’s Requiem, where the chorus was able to pull out all the stops in Dies Irae, as well as some of the big highlights of La Traviata. Everything was extraordinary. But, for me, the showstopper was Stephanie Pearce (the founder of the company) singing Pace Mio Dio from La Forza del Destino. I was spellbound, probably with my mouth open during the whole thing, hardly breathing. I realized halfway through that I had begun to cry. She was simply magnificent.
I know that not everyone loves opera as I do. My life in Manhattan was rich with music, and I lived right around the corner from the Met, where I held season subscriptions and grabbed student desk rehearsal tickets for $5 as often as I could. So, yes, I’m an opera junkie. The manifestation of opera at this level, right here in my backyard, feels like special delivery direct from heaven.
For those opera lovers in our community who were not there on Saturday, I am so sad you missed this. For those who are not quite sure about opera, this company is coming for you! They want you in their audience. The ticket prices are reasonable. They travel to various locations to make the performances available. They provide lovely visual projections evoking the locale and setting of each opera performed, and there are English translations of everything being sung in a foreign language. The soloists are beautiful, charming, funny and talented. Oh, they are talented!
This performance was worthy of a sold out house and I truly hope the next time Gulfshore Opera is in town, they will have that. What a gift to our community this is!
Feature photo by Ivan Seligman