They're #operastrong: Naples companies keep singing, with ingenuity

Harriet Howard Heithaus
Naples Daily News
The GO (Gulfshore Opera) Divas brought a program of  Renaissance carols and harmonies to three venues during the Christmas holidays in 2019. Themed concerts such as Italian or romantic songs are a substantial part of their repertoire.

In this corner: a 250-pound, bench-pressing, belt-holding boxer. 

In that corner: an opera director, less than half the boxer's weight, who knows Richard Strauss way better than a right hook.

Put your money on the one holding the musical score as a weapon. Barehanded, opera companies in Southwest Florida seem to be pummeling just about anything, including the pandemic, to keep singing:

  • Opera Naples quickly recast its season into a four-day open-air opera festival at Baker Park in Naples. Some of its offerings were pushed back to next season, but it still offers a grand opera and a star concert as well as a contemporary work with operating underpinnings, "West Side Story."
  • Verdant Verdi:Opera Naples season under the stars
  • Gulfshore Opera, a regional company with more territory to cover, is roaming among performance venues and churches with small-group, themed offerings in socially distanced venues. It's also offering its own "Opera al Fresco" concerts and still has "La Boheme" on its schedule at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Fort Myers. 
  • The Phoenicia Festival of the Voice, a newcomer with a 10-year history in New York's Catskill Mountains, will literally light its first spark here Dec. 19. It is planning a candlelight evening of operatic artists' favorites from Metropolitan Opera veterans at The Knickerbocker. 

Gulfshore Opera covers its bases

Steffanie Pearce, founder-artistic director of Gulfshore Opera, joked two months ago that she had to do all her scheduling in pencil as state and local restrictions changed during the coronavirus pandemic. The organization that performs from Charlotte County down to Marco Island, has found a stability, however, in pivoting among intimate concerts in multiple venues to allow a safely sized audience and outdoor locations.

Its Renaissance Christmas Carols program visits the era of madrigals and ballads, along with Benjamin Britten's "Ceremony of Carols," through its costumed GO Divas (7 p.m. all dates and $35 tickets) at:

  • St. Leo Catholic Church, Bonita Springs, Dec. 10
  • Salvation Army Church, Naples, Dec. 13
  • The Gulf Theater, Punta Gorda, Dec. 17 ($25 option here)

The company then quickly moves outdoors with a concert of its Latin Divos group at Mercato at 7 p.m. Jan. 14 ($35). A trio of singers recreate the best of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals such as "Evita," "Phantom of the Opera," "Jesus Christ Superstar" and more  in "The World of Lloyd Webber," all at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted:

  • Marco United Church, Marco Island, $50 and $35, Jan. 29
  • Sanibel Community House, Sanibel Island, with wine reception, $45, 4 p.m. Jan. 31
  • Naples Art (former Naples Art Association), with wine reception, $55, Feb. 2
  • The Gulf Theater, Punta Gorda , $35 and $25, Feb. 4

Once again, the opera moves outdoors with "A Night in Italy" with a wine reception at the breezeway of St. Leo's Catholic Church, Bonita Spring, at 7 p.m. Feb. 6 ($55).

A "Viva Verdi" concert recreates scenes from the composer's works such as "Trovatore," "Aida," "Othello," Verdi's Requiem and more at Artis— Naples, $59, 8 p.m. Feb. 23. Two other performance locations in Marco and Sanibel Feb. 16 and 20, along with those times and prices, are yet to be announced.  

More:Opera Naples creates new, compact season under the stars at Baker Park

And:Naples Players forge a fresh-air season, both outdoors and in

Johann Strauss' "Die Fledermaus" is the story of a philandering husband, a pal out to get revenge and a wife ready to teach everyone a lesson, all enabled by a masked ball and an abundance of Champagne. Gulfshore Opera presents Josh Shaw's update that re-sets it in Hollywood's golden era, among stars and entrepreneurs, as "The Bat's Revenge."

Currently it's scheduled for the Charlotte Performing Arts Center, Punta Gorda, March 11, and negotiations for locations in Lee and Collier counties March 13 and 14 are underway. 

Gulfshore Opera is planning two major indoor performances with social distancing: its twice-delayed "La Boheme" at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Fort Myers, 6:30 p.m. Jan. 24 ($25-$75)  and its gala concert with a returning favorite, Irish tenor Anthony Kearns, at 4 p m. Feb. 28 at St. Leo's Catholic Church in Bonita Springs for concert only ($88 to $253.75 with dinner at Audubon Country Club, Naples). 

The Act II Christmas Eve scene from Gulfshore Opera's production of "La Boheme" at the Charlotte Performing Arts Center, one of three the company will play this year with "Tosca."

Information and tickets:  Including information on the upcoming Renaissance Christmas Carols concerts and its Taste of Opera dinners, is at or 239-5293925

Phoenicia festival follows the sun

For dogged determination, it's hard to match the Phoenicia Festival of the Voice. After 10 years the festival wasn't about to give up the following that arose from its first concert in 2009, when a group of opera singers performed to raise money for playground equipment in their village. 

The realization that everyone had to drive to the remote village — These people are inside their own social distancing! — brought cofounder Maria Todaro and her colleagues the inspiration to do an opera using that safety shield. Their drive-in "Tosca" in August hit news wires around the world and gave the group an additional life: They've become consultants to other organizations who want to do the same.

Kyle Albertson

Todaro, a former mezzo-soprano herself, knows how much people whose voices are their musical instruments need to sing. She also appreciates the critical need to stay safe. And finally, she also knows how cold New York is in the winter.

So Todaro has brought her festival south with a Candlelight Opera Salon at the Knickerbocker of Naples. As with the drive-in opera, it has blossomed: Within three days of the Dec. 19 tickets going on sale, the socially distanced seats were half gone. 

"I believe there's an audience here that has been deprived for a while. People were very receptive and I'm very, very encouraged," said Todaro. 

Jasmine Habersham

"This one is truly an act of resilience in this environment where the arts are suffering so much," she continued. "I'm not making money. The superstars who are coming are coming below their normal fees. They're doing it also because we want to create a model here."

Todaro isn't afraid to experiment. To help her "Tosca" stars in New York stay safe, she re-cast the setting under a futuristic dictatorship on a human-settled planet where space suits were required. 

Here the theme is candlelight, lots of it, flickering in the Knickerbocker courtyard, which may create its own romantic social distancing. Further, she's given the stars — soprano Jasmine Habersham, tenor Adam Diegel and bass-baritone Kyle Albertson — latitude to bring some of their personal favorites as well as their signature melodies. Good bets are attendees will hear arias from "Lohengrin," "Boheme," "Tosca" and "Carmen" from these Metropolitan Opera veterans.

Adam Diegel

Todaro is aware she is coming into a community already served by two opera companies. But she believes in the adage of a rising tide floating all boats.

"When you come from New York where you see restaurant, restaurant, restaurant, they're all packed. You see theater after theater and they're all packed. I think the more we give our audience, the more we're going to get."

What: Outdoor Candlelight Opera Salon

 Where: The Knickerbocker of Naples, 2225 23rd St. SW, Naples

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 19

Tickets: $65 and $75

To or 845-688-3291 

Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/ Reach her at 239-213-6091.