By Alyssa Morlacci Photography by Eduardo Schneider
Two years ago, the Florida Grand Opera was getting ready to raise the curtain on Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto when the pandemic brought the production to a halt. Amid bans on large gatherings, the Opera’s CEO, Susan T. Danis, says the not-for-profit performing arts company had to furlough 60 percent of its staff and reduce wages for the rest in order to survive. But this spring, opera fans will finally be able to return to the auditorium at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts and experience the postponed performance of Rigoletto.
The FGO survived during the pandemic with Danis at the helm, and this year the South Florida fixture is celebrating its 80th birthday. “In the opera world, this company is quite prestigious, and it has a very distinguished history with very famous opera singers,” Danis says. Today, many people are intimidated by opera, thinking you have to wear a tux or gown and purchase expensive seats in order to attend. Danis would like to set the record straight. “We don’t care what people wear, just come. Come and get the experience. I’ve seen people in shorts and flip flops.” And as for a show being too pricey? “There are tickets as low as $18,” she says.
Perhaps the biggest misconception Danis deals with is guests who think they will be unable to understand what is being sung. “Above the stage, there’s a screen and there are always translations in both English and Spanish,” she assures. Making opera accessible and lifting the veil on the age-old art form is key to keeping it alive, so Danis and the FGO connect with younger generations through field trips and school performances. “We do our best to get into schools and expose kids to art,” Danis says. “If we don’t start there, then it’s way harder to convince somebody in their 20s or 30s who’s never seen a live performance.”
Part of this outreach includes having operatically trained singers perform music from familiar genres, like Motown and jazz. This spring, the series Singing at the Sandrell is expanding to Broward with shows at Dillard High School Center for the Arts. Barbara Copanos, a season-ticket holder and member of the Florida Grand Opera board of directors, wants to ensure the art form isn’t lost on future generations. “I am determined, as long as I live, to promote young, classical musicians. What are we going to be if we forget classical music, forget cultural arts?” she asks. Danis certainly doesn’t want to find out. “The thing with live performance is that it just happens once,” she says. “It’ll be a night when the soprano sings her aria really beautifully or someone misses their entrance, but there is a communal experience. And I just think that’s kind of lacking from our lives today in so many ways.”
Danis is focused on not only attracting new audiences but providing entertainment you can’t get when scrolling on social media or binging a Netflix series. It’s through captivating and imperfect real-life performances that she hopes to preserve opera and ensure the FGO survives for at least another 80 years.
Support the Florida Grand Opera this Spring
Help the performing arts company celebrate its 80-year milestone by attending one of the following events:
Singing at the Sandrell: March 18 (jazz) and April 14 (Motown) at Dillard High School Center for the Arts
Diva Celebration Luncheon with 2022 honoree Diana Soviero: March 19 at the Coral Ridge Yacht Club
Rigoletto: March 31 and April 2 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts
Fellow Travelers: April 23, 24, 26 and 28 at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center