Artistic Director,
Steffanie Pearce explains,
“I’ve always believed
that providing high level
professional product and
keeping prices affordable
to the general public
is the way to go.”

Maestro Paul Nadler conducts.

Gulfshore Opera is a
regional affair with
performances scheduled
at venues in Collier, Lee
and Charlotte counties.

A Regional Affair

by Julie Clay

OPERA AFICIONADOS IN SOUTHWEST FLORIDA now have more choices from which to fulfill their operatic needs. Gulfshore Opera has opened its proverbial doors, and their inaugural season is sure to please opera fans young and old. Headed by Steffanie Pearce, a founder of Opera Naples, this new venture is a regional affair with performances scheduled at venues in Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties. They received a warm reception back in November debuting for audiences with selections from Viva Verdi’s Requiem, featuring over 100 performers onstage. Opening night was in Naples at North Naples Church, followed by repeat performances within the next three days at the Charlotte Performing Arts Center in Punta Gorda and Harborside Convention Center in downtown Fort Myers. Each presentation was also augmented by the use of a video screen so audiences were able to see the artists up close. Now with the season off and running, we spoke with Gulfshore Opera founder Steffanie Pearce about the concept and lineup ahead.

“I’ve always believed that providing high level professional product and keeping prices affordable to the general public is the way to go,” Ms. Pearce ruminates, “We also present a variety of repertoire every season to attract both someone who’s new to opera as well as the aficionado who just wants something different.” She adds, “When I was separated from the company I founded, I started thinking about all the things I wish I could have done. I turned it into an opportunity to restructure on the principles that I believed in from the beginning and make it the regional company that I wanted it to be. I had only thought about Collier and Lee counties, then I found out about this lovely theatre in Punta Gorda, the Charlotte Performing Arts Center.” Located on the campus of Charlotte High School, CPAC offers 850 seats and will be one of two locations for Gulfshore Opera’s only full scale production this season, Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan. Mikado will be performed in English, somewhat of a rarity for this genre, and ticket prices are half of what you would normally pay for this level of production.

“Gilbert and Sullivan is considered operetta, which means light opera. That was right around the turn of the century when there wasn’t Broadway or music theatre yet. It was the immediate predecessor to music theatre.,” she explains. “It does have dialogue, so it’s not so challenging as Puccini and Verdi melodies. It’s very familiar and very accessible to the general public.”.

Featuring traditional sets, costumes and specialists of the Gilbert and Sullivan New York repertoire, Mikado will be performed February 28 at CPAC and March 5 & 6 at the Center for the Performing Arts in Bonita Springs.

The new year kicks off with a special gala fundraising concert on January 4, featuring tenor Michael Fabiano performing in Hayes Hall at Artis–Naples. Attendees are invited to meet Mr. Fabiano at a wine reception after the show.

Opera fans can also look forward to future performances at Harborside Event Center in downtown Fort Myers. Ms. Pearce paints the picture: to be able to park, shop, have dinner, watch sunset over the harbor and catch a show. “It’s got gorgeous lobbies and it’s right on the waterfront. I am very grateful that the Fort Myers Redevelopment Agency saw the potential of adding Gulfshore Opera to the offerings. The mayor told me that our timing is perfect to go with their redevelopment,” she emphasizes.

Pearce stresses that Gulfshore Opera is committed to having a presence is all three counties. “We’re working with the school up in Charlotte County affiliated with CPAC. We’re doing an internship program with their theatre and choir kids. In Collier County we’re at Artis–Naples, Barbara B. Mann in Lee and CPAC in Charlotte County. I’m in talks with the major venues in southwest Florida to do a grand opera production next year.”

Besides expanding offerings to a tri-county audience, Gulfshore Opera is also opening the door to opera and general enrichment for at-risk kids with the Gulfshore Harmony Choir.

“We’re members of the El Sistema network, an outreach program that is really a social program, but it uses music as the conduit to help build a more harmonious community,” she explains. “Being a resident of Collier County and aware of the socioeconomic demography, there are some isolated pockets of our population that will really benefit from this type of a program. What we’ve chosen to do is focus on recent immigrant families, mostly Haitian and South American families. The program teaches music, but it also teaches group dynamics and self esteem. It’s an opportunity to blend in with the new environment and to have mentors that maybe can help develop the child and the family to be more connected to the larger community.”

She adds that the program is free to families, with the first nucleo (choir) already in place with Artis–Naples and the program reaching to Lee County next. “We’ve identified a community center in Fort Myers where perhaps next year we’ll open a second nucleo,” she says. “One hundred percent of that is funded through contributions to the company, so we need to make it work like that ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy.”

“I’ve been spending a good five hours each Saturday going and picking up the kids and chaperoning the program. The kids have gone from being really quiet to really joyful and open,” she notes, adding, “I’m getting as much out of it as the kids are.”

Cape Coral based Friends of the Opera are also looking forward to the upcoming season. Until now bus trips to performances in Miami were their only option to enjoy live opera. The group’s President, Robert S. Withey says that Gulfshore Opera is “an exciting, worthwhile and much desired boon to Charlotte, Lee and Collier Counties’ cultural life, and a joy to the ears for all lovers of beautiful singing and the pleasures of live opera!” For more information about Friends of the Opera, call 945-6117.

Alongside Ms. Pearce, the Gulfshore Opera artistic team includes former Southwest Florida Symphony Conductor, Paul Nadler and Musical Director and Chorus Master, Trent Brown. Along with a committed board of directors, it looks like Steffanie Pearce’s vision of a regional opera presence is coming to fruition. For a complete listing of performances and more information about Gulfshore Opera, call 529-3925. •

January-February 2015