The Sarasota Opera is an organization of change. Each year, dozens of new artists and performers come through the doors of the Opera House, ready to breathe life into each new season. And, with the turn of every year comes a new slate of operas—some as familiar as an old friend and others as new as an untold story—each with new costumes, sets, performers and artistic identities. With all this turnover, one might think that the Sarasota Opera is an organization that is constantly trying to reinvent itself, but it’s not. Through all of this year-to-year change, the company has stayed true to who it is since it first visited Sarasota as the touring Turnau Opera Players in 1960. “We aim to be true to our mission of doing great work as the composers envision it,” says Richard Russell, general director of Sarasota Opera. There’s a level of accountability from knowing exactly who you are as an organization. You know who your audience is, how to reach them and how to challenge them. You know your position in the community, what you mean to the next generation of opera lovers and your place in the ecosystem of Florida’s cultural coast. And, most importantly, you know how hard you have to work to deliver your very best. That level of accountability is what leads to the Opera producing great work, and it can be found throughout the company’s upcoming season.

The season opens with Georges Bizet’s Carmen, one of the most recognizable and popular operas in the company’s repertoire. “It’s one of the favorites of our audience. It’s a great work with lots of recognizable music, which is why it’s a great first opera to see,” says Russell. “Interestingly, it’s the first opera I ever saw at 12 or 13 years old and the last role I ever sang, so it’s an important opera to me personally just because I love the piece so much. It’s one opera that I could probably sing every note from start to finish.” 

Although Carmen is not new to Russell and the team at the Sarasota Opera, it still shows the company’s organic approach to storytelling. Just because the Sarasota Opera can reuse the set and the costumes from previous years’ performances, it doesn’t mean that this year’s iteration of Carmen is akin to dusting an old book off the shelf. “We look at every production from the ground up. Our director and conductor always take a fresh look at the work. They don’t just, by rote, do something that they’ve done before,” says Russell. “Additionally, it’s a completely different cast from years before (besides the lead, Chelsea Laggan, who was a studio artist with us last year).”

Carmen also features a children’s chorus in the first act, paving the way for a prominent role for members of the Sarasota Youth Opera Program. Members of the program were given the opportunity to audition for the chorus, with the chance to appear in Carmen’s 12 mainstage productions this year. 

Following Carmen is Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel, The Bride of Lammermoor. Set in the hills of Scotland, the tragedy follows the ill-fated romance between Miss Lucia and Edgardo, a member of a rival family. When Edgardo departs to France to improve his family’s fortune, Lucia’s brother Enrico promises her hand to a Scottish nobleman, instead of Edgardo, in the hopes of helping his family as well. “It’s a little bit of a bloody piece, but the music is extraordinary and beautiful,” says Russell. “It’s the type of opera that we call Bel canto, which means beautiful singing, because the pieces are very melodic and designed to highlight the qualities of singers’ voices and have been popular for many many years.”

Luisa Miller, the penultimate opera of the company’s season, is a return to the works of Giuseppe Verdi (one of the composers for whom the Sarasota Opera is best known). The Sarasota Opera even completed the Verdi Cycle, a 28-year-long run of all the composer’s operas. Even though the Sarasota Opera is not doing another full Verdi Cycle, Verdi still remains an integral part of the company’s DNA. “Verdi is a lot of what built this company. Doing a piece like Luisa Miller is really consistent with the kind of work that we’re doing,” says Russell. “And the fact that we can put it together and produce it with a quality that I think is equal to any opera company in the world is really important.” 

This spring’s production of Luisa Miller marks the first time the company has performed the opera in 25 years. The decision to bring back the opera was made possible thanks to the Sarasota Opera’s completion of the Verdi Cycle in the first place; doing so allowed Russell and the rest of the company to take a step back and reevaluate what Verdi operas they really wanted to produce. “It’s a work that we like very much; it’s richly romantic with wonderful music, and it’s a great opportunity to revisit one of the pieces we haven’t done in a while,” says Russell. “Twenty-five years is a really long time, and we have a lot of new audience members since we last did Luisa Miller.  And, as it happens, we have a very good cast, so I think it’s going to come together to make a wonderful production.”