Raising the Curtain

Soprano Danielle Pastin wowed the audience at last year's gala concert introducing Finger Lakes Opera at SUNY Geneseo to the public.

Gerard Floriano is raising the curtain on a bold musical vision for the Finger Lakes.

The SUNY Geneseo professor of music and 1984 alumnus has delighted for many years in conducting professional summer music festivals and operas across the country. He now is determined to bring such inspiration to Western New York through the newly formed Finger Lakes Opera at SUNY Geneseo, a professional company that will engage some of the most talented singers and musicians in the opera world.

“I have always thought it would be wonderful if the Finger Lakes area had an engaging summer musical and cultural festival to fill the gap from mid-July to the end of summer,” says Floriano, who is the company’s artistic director. “There is a great amount of enthusiasm for opera in our region, and having the support of the college is giving opera buffs the opportunity to attend world-class grand opera without having to drive several hours. My thanks to Geneseo President Emeritus Christopher Dahl for helping to move this venture forward as a cultural treasure and much needed regional economic driver, and to Interim President Carol Long for her continued support.”

Finger Lakes Opera will present its first full production, “Carmen,” August 8 and 10 in the college’s air-conditioned Wadsworth Auditorium. Georges Bizet’s beloved classic will feature mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges, a rising star in the opera world from the Lyric Opera of Chicago, as Carmen, and internationally renowned tenor Gregory Kunde from Penfield, New York, as Don José. Kunde recently debuted at the world-renowned opera house La Scala in Milan, Italy, in Berlioz’s “Les Troyens.”

“J’nai is a terrific talent and very likely will be one of the next great mezzo-sopranos,” says Floriano. “It will be a treat for our audience to hear her perform. Greg sings all over the world, and we’re fortunate to have him join us.”

Also in leading roles for “Carmen” are soprano Danielle Pastin as Micaëla and baritone Luis Ledesma as Escamillo, both with growing national and international performance credits.

“Danielle sang at last year’s gala introducing the company, and she wowed the audience,” says Floriano. “She was a highlight of the evening. Luis is a powerful baritone. He will sing the ‘Toreador Song’ with tremendous vigor.”

All four of the leading characters have had wide operatic experience at such notable venues as the Metropolitan Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, La Scala and the Sydney Opera House. Directing the production will be E. Loren Meeker, a leader in the new generation of great American opera directors.

The Finger Lakes Opera production of “Carmen” will be sung in French, but will have the storyline projected in English above the proscenium so the audience can follow the action. David Meisel, professor emeritus of physics at SUNY Geneseo and a long-time opera patron, is preparing the projection system and is using a contemporary translation from the highly respected opera expert Nico Castel for the supertitles. The translation is contained in a multi-volume set of opera translations published by William Leyerle, professor emeritus of music at Geneseo.

“My main motivation for working on the supertitles for ‘Carmen’ came after listening to a radio interview with Renée Fleming last fall,” says Meisel. “She was asked what she thought accounted for the resurgence of opera, and she said subtitles. So we decided this is something we needed to address to give the production maximum appeal.”

Meisel and his associates are using a commercial program that originated in Europe for use at film festivals. He recruited two local French speakers from SUNY Geneseo’s faculty to work with him on coordinating the French and English: Anne Lutkus, a lecturer in the English department, and Anne Pellerin, assistant professor of physics.

Floriano hopes the care and attention given to such things as supertitles will help attract young people to the pleasures of opera and expose them to its magnificent showiness. He notes many Americans perceive opera as an elitist art form for the wealthy, but historically in Europe, everyone in the city, town and village attend – from the young to the very old – to enjoy the alluring, captivating stories told in the great operas. He says ‘Carmen’ is particularly appealing for those introducing themselves to opera.

“The tunes are familiar, the storyline is captivating, passionate and tawdry – a wonderful melodrama,” says Floriano. “The music is fiery, even bombastic at times, but then turns lyrical and beautiful. It’s about an attractive, passionate and sexy woman cheating on a man; a man murdering a woman. Add to that great music, a beautiful set and colorful costumes. Those coming to opera for the first time will be hooked for life. There is nothing like grand opera to involve all of the senses.”

Finger Lakes Opera at SUNY Geneseo’s first season comprises the two productions of “Carmen,” but Floriano has plans for future expansion. “An element of tradition will always anchor the company, but I envision different kinds of lyric theater such as operetta or American musical theater entering the mix at some point. The college recently opened a new state-of-the-art recital hall in Doty Hall, for example, where perhaps chamber music, string quartets or jazz could be a part of a multi-week festival. We’re going to build on the momentum.”

To learn more about Finger Lakes Opera and to purchase tickets, visit fingerlakesopera.com or call 585-245-5650.


by David Irwin