FGO presents TOSCA to a Modern Audience

Florida Grand Opera is performing for two weeks “Tosca,” a psychological drama titled for the last name of its star Floria, who fights to save her lover. The story – packed with murder, lust and suicide – has a tragic ending but for the Florida Grand Opera, the future appears full of great promise.

Consider that “Tosca” – one of the world’s most frequently performed lyrical productions – opened this week not only to great fanfare and gushing reviews. But, thanks to FGO’s fresh leadership and its innovative performance concepts (think: opera in a South Beach bar,) FGO also lifted its curtains to a more modern audience. It’s a crowd that included the traditional opera aficionados, sure, but also professionals in search of expanding cultural experiences and parents seeking fine arts exposure for their children.

“Opera is attracting a younger crowd and this is something that’s happening nationally,” says Victor Mendelson, FGO’s immediate past president. “You see people who are 20 years old and 30 years old and they are not wearing suits and ties. It’s what opera has become.”

Though to be clear, points out Mendelson, it’s what this musical score has become within the opera companies managing to survive the last decade. The economic downturn closed the curtain on several of the country’s oldest houses – for example The Connecticut Opera founded in 1942 shut its doors in 2008 after donations and ticket sales dried up. But FGO is well poised to move forward, producing not only the classic but also the cutting edge and, on occasion, a combination.

Take its 2013 production of “The Magic Flute” – which has had countless worldwide performances. For this one, FGO director Jeffrey Buchman took advantage of the Gangnam Style trend and incorporated those dance moves, says Susan Danis, FGO managing director and CEO.

“I would watch kids who were six and seven years old transfixed through three hours of opera,” she says.

Through a Knight Foundation grant, FGO has rolled out its “Unexpected Opera” series, in which it performs in unconventional locations. In a Washington Avenue bar, it put on the show “No Exit,” which tells the tale of a lesbian, a socialite, and a misogynist each dammed to hell – which in this case meant the three would spend eternity together. In the Design District, FGO performed “Maria de Buenos Aires” – about a prostitute – and also “Tango,” which told the story of the dance being outlawed for being too sexual.

“You have people walk in off the street,” says Danis. “It’s so cool to see a room full of 60-year olds and also 21 year-olds, seeing their first opera.”

While “Tosca” involves lust, suicide and murder, it’s a classic tale. Its modern twist comes in that FGO double cast several lead roles, meaning the part could be played by a seasoned performers or a first-time vocalist, depending on the performance you catch. Based on a play by Victorien Sardou, famous diva Tosca sets out to rescue her lover amidst a perilous political climate. Packed with terror, passion and suspense. The Miami Herald’s David Fleshler wrote, yes, the story is brilliant but FGO provided its own “imaginative” touches and called the orchestra, “outstanding.”

“People who see it for the first time,” says Danis, “are on the edge of their seats. As if they were watching a movie.”