A harmonic merger
Sunstate Opera and Florimezzo Orchestra join forces for the first time to bring affordable live opera to St. Petersburg this weekend.
By MARTY CLEAR
Published June 9, 2005
In Madama Butterfly, disparate cultures clash with tragic results. In this weekend's production of the Puccini opera, though, two local cultural institutions merge for the first time, and those involved think the results could be thrilling for the audiences and the community.
The production, scheduled for Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon at the Palladium Theater, marks the first collaboration between the Florimezzo Orchestra and the Sunstate Opera.
It's a natural and mutually beneficial pairing for the two, both of which perform regularly at the Palladium.
"These groups are so special," said Julia Coulmas, a longtime Sunstate singer who is in the title role in Sunday's matinee. (Sara Peeples takes the role Saturday evening.) "They share the same focus and mission, which is to bring together professional and up-and-coming singers, or musicians in the case of the orchestra. And everybody works together. The professionals help the up-and-coming people."
Sunstate usually performs its opera with only piano accompaniment, so the collaboration with Florimezzo provides a rare opportunity for its singers to appear with a live orchestra.It's a rare opportunity for audiences too, Coulmas said. Because both groups are committed to making their art forms affordable, tickets for Madama Butterfly range from $10 to $15, a fraction of what professional, fully staged opera usually costs. The hope is that young people and others who are curious will take the opportunity to experience live opera for the first time.
But even though this production enjoys full staging, a decent-sized cast (15 to 20 singers) and a 35-piece orchestra, it can't quite be classified as "grand opera." The quality is first-rate, Coulmas said, but the theater has limitations.
"The logistics are a challenge," said Coulmas. "We don't have a pit, so the orchestra is going to share the stage with the company. It's going to be cramped."
So cramped, in fact, that there's no room for conductor Mark Sforzini. He'll be on a small stand in front of the stage that will bring him up to the musicians' level.
But Coulmas said she's focusing more on the opportunity than the limitations. She has been singing for more than a decade with Sunstate, but she's still building her career. The chance to sing one of opera's greatest soprano roles is one many seasoned professionals never realize.
"Because of this company, I've been able to do the leading roles in some of the greatest operas," she said. "But I could never even dream that I'd be singing Madama Butterfly with a full orchestra, especially an orchestra like Florimezzo, which is just so wonderful. I could never get another opportunity like this, ever."