OPERA NAPLES: OUR HISTORY
In 2005, a group of visionaries agreed that a professional regional opera company was an idea whose time had come in Southwest Florida. In May of 2005, Opera Naples was incorporated and received 501c3 status. The original board of directors consisted of Steffanie Pearce-Vasquez, Sam Vasquez, Jr., Ronald Doiron, Jean Seidel, and Livio Ferrari. The official debut was a Viennese style New Year’s Eve Ball hosted by the Community School of Naples.
The founders’ goals were far reaching. They projected a path of excellence that would embody first-rate opera productions with world-class singers in leading roles and local talent in the many phases of performance, operation and support. They drew upon knowledge of established opera experts such as Raymond Gniewek, former Concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera, Judith Blegen, soprano from the Metropolitan Opera, Dr. Ron Bowman, President of the Naples Opera Society, Maestro William Noll, and others to serve as advisors. The new company fostered community outreach involving young artist programs, youth education, volunteer workers, and collaboration with other artistic groups.
In April 2006, Opera Naples presented its first fully staged production, Tosca, at Gulf Coast High School. In November of that year the company presented Amahl and the Night Visitors/L’Enfant Prodigue. In 2007, Opera Naples was named Best Performing Arts Group by Gulf Shore Life magazine.
In seven years, Opera Naples has produced some of the most beloved operas and earned significant praise from both critics and patrons. Cosi Fan Tutte was called a “blowout performance.” La Boheme’s staging was “electrifying,” with an “irresistable Mimi, a robust performance with largely local talent.” Carmen played to sold out houses in 2011, and the 2012 production of Faust received this praise from local arts reporter Harriet Heithaus: “Opera Naples stoked Charles Gounod’s opera with everything it had Friday to produce engaging drama, gorgeous music and light-fueled settings that put the audience in every scene.”
Along with grand opera performances, Opera Naples has presented a Stars under the Stars concert and Gilbert and Sullivan operettas in Cambier Park. Concert presentations have featured major artists such as Anthony Kearns and Patricia Racette. They have produced major choral works, such as Verdi’s Requiem in local churches.
Community outreach, one of the founding principles, introduces opera to new audiences across the region. Each year, Opera Naples holds a summer camp for young artists aged 10-22 who work on sets and costumes, and perform in operettas such as The Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance. There is a Young Artists and Student Apprentice program that allow for more focused development of emerging talent. Opera Naples regularly produces a family opera, for public performance as well as presentation in local schools. To further promote cultural arts in Southwest Florida, Opera Naples has collaborated with other arts organizations, including TheatreZone, the music department at Florida Gulf Coast University, and the ArtsNaples World Festival.
Another milestone was achieved in 2009 when Opera Naples purchased a building on Linwood Avenue, in the Bayshore-Gateway Triangle, a redevelopment area focusing on cultural arts. This building, currently under renovation, will be used for rehearsal space, education activities, some technical crafts and administrative offices.
December 2012, marked another major step forward in the Company’s evolution. After seven seasons of producing opera locally in a variety of venues, Opera Naples made its fully-staged debut in a first-class facility with a production of Tosca at Artis-Naples (formerly known as The Philharmonic Center for the Arts). Tosca, our first opera, was the beginning. Fittingly, Tosca at Artis-Naples is the end of that first phase of growth — another Opera Naples vision, quietly and patiently nurtured until its time arrived.