Destination Opera: Susan Danis Shares Her Vision for FGO’s Future

Written By ArtBurst Team
January 19, 2016 at 6:47 PM

Opera lovers have long been willing to board a plane for New York City to get their opera fix. Susan Danis believes that one day soon Miami can be an opera destination too. The new general director and CEO of Florida Grand Opera reveals: “I don’t want people to feel like they have to leave home to experience great opera. Whether it’s hearing this singer sing that role for the first time, or experiencing this opera in that production, all of that can be found here in Miami.” An ambitious goal. Yet Danis does not falter. She came to Miami after 14 years as executive director of the Sarasota Opera, where she played a role in doubling that company’s operating budget. In Miami, she praises a board of trustees that she says allows her and music director Ramón Tebar to pursue creative programming that will draw crowds. As a result, FGO’s 2013-14 season, which is the first season that Danis and Tebar have planned together since taking control of the company last year, will feature Marvin David Levy’s Mourning Becomes Electra, Verdi’s Nabucco, Puccini’s Tosca, and Massenet’s ThaÏs. Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde had been originally scheduled, but had to be substituted by ThaÏs at the last minute because the directors could not find a production that would fit in both the Arsht and the Broward Centers for the Performing Arts in time for this season. However, Danis promises the epic, vocally-demanding, four-hour plus opera, for the season after next. “FGO has never done Tristan. Doing it makes a statement. It had already been cast, the conductor had been selected, it was ready to go. We’ll just have to wait one year.” Danis is also committed to presenting more contemporary operas. Such is the case for the season opener in the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Mourning becomes Electra, composed by Marvin David Levy in 1967. It’s no accident that Electra is opening in Broward; the composer lives in Ft. Lauderdale. Danis points out that this fits with her goal of featuring local talent: “Being able to open in his adoptive hometown is really important.” Another local talent featured this season is 23-year Miami-resident Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste. She will star in the title role in Tosca. Jean-Baptiste is part of next season’s Florida Grand Opera Young Artist Studio, a program that develops new talent. Next season the program will place its members in different tiers for the first time. Experienced young artists like Jean-Baptiste will be given featured and principal roles, while less experienced artists will perform in outreach concerts and activities, small stage roles, and scene performances. In addition to developing young professionals, Danis plans to develop a youth program, modeled on one in Sarasota that offers training in classical singing for children, as well as performance opportunities in choirs and productions. “Every year they do their own production,” Danis notes, “with full professional values, in pieces written for children’s voices.” Aiming to educate audiences too, FGO will continue the Unexpected Operas in Unexpected Places program funded by a three-year grant from the Knight Foundation. Last season, FGO presented Maria de Buenos Aires by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla at a local nightclub in an effort to combat the stigma of opera as a stuffy affair. Danis says next year’s pick has not yet been decided, but promises it will be an even more intimate production. That’s all part of Danis’ ambitious plan: “I want there to be opera in Miami that you can’t see anywhere else.”

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