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Duo raise their voices, and the bar, for Opera Tampa
Famed baritone Sherrill Milnes and soprano Maria Zouves intend to make the company a national name.
By John Fleming, Times performing arts critic
Published August 19, 2007
TBPAC president Judith Lisi, left, talks to Maria Zouves and Sherrill Milnes before a screening of the 1976 movie "Tosca." The screening drew a full house. "What an encouraging thing that was for us," Zouves said.
[Daniel Wallace | Times]
Opera Tampa has been in business 12 years, but it is not well known on the national scene. Sherrill Milnes and his wife, Maria Zouves, hope to change that in their new roles as, respectively, artistic adviser and associate director of the company.
"We don't have that much visibility yet," Milnes said. "In some cases, it's hardly known it exists."
Milnes, 72, brings credibility to the company as the leading American baritone of his generation. He and Zouves, a 42-year-old soprano and native of Clearwater, and their 7-year-old son settled in Palm Harbor two years ago. They reached an agreement several months ago on their new roles with Judith Lisi, president of Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, which operates the opera company.
"Sherrill Milnes is a name to be reckoned with," said Anton Coppola, music director of the company throughout its existence. "I think it's a good idea to bring them into the picture."
Over the course of their long careers, Coppola, 90, and Milnes have worked together in productions that include Il Trovatore at Cleveland Opera and a New York City Opera tour of The Barber of Seville. "He's the last of the real Italian conductors working in America," Milnes said of the maestro.
In April, Milnes and Zouves went to Miami for the Opera America convention on behalf of Opera Tampa. "We had three days there and passed out as many cards as we could and told everyone we're going to start stirring up the soup in Tampa," Zouves said.
In early August, they hosted a screening of a movie of the Puccini opera Tosca, made on location in Rome and featuring Milnes in one of his signature roles as Scarpia. It drew a full house at the performing arts center's TECO Theater.
"What an encouraging thing that was for us," said Zouves, who dressed down for the event - in track suit and slippers - to make a point.
"Opera should be cheap and cheerful and accessible," she told the crowd.
Opera Tampa has two productions in 2007-08, La Boheme and Tosca, as well as a recital by New Zealand soprano Kiri Te Kanawa. As Zouves acknowledged, with such a skimpy schedule - a total of only five performances - it's no wonder the company isn't known.
"Five shots are all you get to go see something of that level in the classical world, vocally. That's not enough. There has to be more going on," she said.
The next generation
Since 2000, Milnes and Zouves have conducted a program for young opera singers called VoicExperience, with sessions in Chicago, New York and Orlando. They now have plans to align the program with Opera Tampa and TBPAC's Patel Conservatory.
Zouves knows from personal experience the need for a program like VoicExperience in the Tampa Bay area.
"Being from here and knowing what wasn't available for me as a young singer, there was no reason for me to stick around," she said. "I had to go to New York to get some work. It shouldn't be that way. We're too big a city to not have things available for our young artists."
This week, several VoicExperience events are being held at TBPAC, including a concert called "Death by Aria," featuring about 20 singers, at 7:30 p.m. Monday tickets are $10. Milnes also will sign copies of his autobiography American Aria, which has just been updated and issued in paperback.
At an Aug. 26 concert (also $10), five singers from VoicExperience will be introduced as Opera Tampa apprentices for the upcoming season. Also on the agenda this week are free master classes with director Tito Capobianco (7:30 p.m. Thursday) and directors John and Marie Martello (12 p.m. Saturday).
The 2007-08 season features five performances. Tickets are available through www.tbpac.org or the box office, (813) 229-7827.
La Boheme: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16, 2 p.m. Nov. 18. Ticket sales open to the public Monday. $59.50-$99.50.
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa: 8 p.m. Feb. 9. On sale to the public Dec. 3. $75.50-$105.50.
Tosca: 7:30 p.m. April 25, 2 p.m. April 27. On sale to the public Dec. 3. $59.50-$99.50.
The Metropolitan Opera has announced that it is expanding its live high-definition simulcasts into movie theaters in 2007-08. The first of eight matinees (there were six last season) will be Romeo et Juliette on Dec. 15 with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon. Others include an English-language version of Hansel and Gretel (Jan. 1), Peter Grimes, directed by John Doyle, (March 15) and Deborah Voigt and Ben Heppner in Tristan und Isolde (March 22).
The Met plans to reach more than 300 theaters around the country - up from 113 last season. In the bay area, the operas were beamed to the Regal Citrus Park 20 at Westfield Citrus Park mall in Hillsborough County. Locations for this season are yet to be announced. See www.metopera.org.