Aflutter with anticipation for ‘Madama Butterfly’

The Vero Beach Opera takes flight with a banner year presenting “Madama Butterfly” by Giacomo Puccini in the first performance of the season. Adding to the intensity of this colossal performance is the opera’s first-ever collaboration with the Atlantic Classical Orchestra.

For nearly three decades, the opera and the orchestra have co-existed in Vero. The husband-and-wife opera impresarios, artistic director Román Ortega-Cowan and Vero Beach Opera President Joan Ortega-Cowan, say the collaboration with ACO has been a long time coming.

“Both organizations are very excited about working together and anticipate future productions,” says Joan Ortega-Cowan.“This is something both organizations have wanted to do for years.”

“It’s the natural thing,” adds Román Ortega-Cowan. “They are an established orchestra. We are an established opera company. We operate in the same areas. After all these years, the stars finally aligned perfectly.”

He notes that ACO President and CEO Alan Hopper brings a lot to the table. “He’s a musician and administrator. Having the knowledge of the working side of it makes a big difference. Added to that, Alan also has a lot of experience with the opera genre.”

Hopper says of this historic collaboration, “I’m looking forward to the experience. This brings a sense of community to both the orchestra and the opera company by working together. Román and Joan made a huge commitment to make this opera company the success that it is.”

He credits Román Ortega-Cowan with the talented cast the opera was able to put together for the performance. “He knows the opera world. He knows wonderful singers, and through those relationships, he’s able to get them to do these performances.”

Uruguayan soprano María Antúnez has taken on the role of Madama Butterfly. Critics have noted her “dark voice” as having “dramatic weight” with “… sterling silvery high notes, a creamy middle register and aristocratic bearing.”

Madama Butterfly’s love interest, Lt. Benjamin F. Pinkerton, will be performed by Martin Nusspaumer. The Uruguayan tenor has been called “one of the outstanding singers of his generation” and compared to Domingo with “his effortless high notes and full mature color make him a heartbreaking lead.”

The cast has performed under the direction of some of this century’s most celebrated conductors and graced the stages of premiere opera houses around the world. Under the direction of renowned conductor and pianist Caren Levine, those singers along with the ACO and Stetson University Opera Theatre Chorus will weave their skills to share the woeful libretto of “Madama Butterfly.”

Levine will be a guest conductor for the collaboration and brings with her the resume of an accomplished musician and conductor. The two-time Grammy Award winner has been on the roster of the Metropolitan Opera House as Assistant Conductor and Prompter since 2003.

During her 2016-2017 season Levine’s work included the Metropolitan Opera production of L’Amour de Loin and Die Zauberflöte, La Bohème at the Charleston Opera Company, Il Barbiere di Siviglia with Opera San Antonio, The Turn of the Screw, La Bohème, Les Contes d’Hoffmann and Le Nozze di Figaro at The Miami Music Festival. “The ACO will supply the opera with some of the best freelance players in south Florida,” promises Hopper. “I’ve managed six different orchestras, and I would say player for player this is probably the best.”

Opera is a very complicated art form, says Hopper. “There’s so much visual; it’s acting, set designs, costume designs and the music. We’re delighted to be a part of that from the musical standpoint.”

Levine has a massive job in front of her, explains Hopper. “You have to know the score very well; and when you’re conducting, you need to feel the confidence from the orchestra that they’re not going to ever be the problem. Added to that you’ve got soloists on stage who are singing from memory and moving around on the stage. All kinds of things can go wrong in an opera.”

According to Román Ortega-Cowan, it works because the cast is comprised of accomplished professionals. “We only have seven days to put an opera together which usually takes a minimum of a month. When the performers come here, they know the role.”

Local resident Tiziana Lahey has been cast as Kate Pinkerton. The Italian soprano moved to Vero Beach in 2000 with her husband, Patrick Lahey, the president of Triton Submarines. Tiziana put her career on hold as they started a family and is making her return to the stage for this Vero Beach Opera production.

“Vero Beach is a fantastic place to live, and I am so excited to share my joy and passion for the opera here,” says Lahey. “I am thankful for this opportunity to come back to the stage and hope to continue with future performances.”

The Vero Beach Opera has more to offer this season after Lt. Pinkerton breaks the heart of his geisha wife, Madama Butterfly, or Cio-Cio-San. Over the years the opera has cultivated a relationship with Metropolitan Opera soprano Deborah Voigt. Since her first Vero Beach performance in 2004, Voigt founded the Deborah Voigt/Vero Beach Opera Foundation as a means to mentor young opera singers. And in 2016 the diva was named Vero Beach Opera’s Artistic Advisor. On March 21 she will kick off the Deborah Voigt 2nd International Vocal Competition with a live performance.

A large part of the opera’s mission is to increase awareness and appreciation of opera to audiences of all ages. In that vein, Vero Beach Opera partners with the Majestic Theater bringing The Met Opera Live in HD simulcasts to the screen. It also collaborates with the Vero Beach Museum of Art to bring adult opera education to the community and awards vocal scholarships to draw younger voices to the opera.

The Vero Beach Opera production of “Madama Butterfly” is on Jan. 14 at 3 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center at Vero Beach High School. For the full 2018 season and to learn more about the Vero Beach Opera, visit

The Atlantic Classical Orchestra season opens on Jan. 17 with Ode to Love ~ Ode to Joy (Bernstein and Beethoven). For the full schedule, visit

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