The Florentine Opera Company is Wisconsin’s oldest fully professional performing arts organization and the sixth-oldest opera company in the United States.
The company presents three operatic productions per season at the Marcus Center in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In addition, the Florentine presents its @ THE CENTER series at the Wayne and Kristine Lueders Florentine Opera Center in Milwaukee Riverwest Neighborhood.
The Florentine Opera was founded in 1933 by John-David Anello. At that time, the group was called the Italian Opera Chorus, and it met at the Jackson Street Social Center. In 1942, the group became The Florentine Opera Chorus, remaining under the direction of John D. Anello. He explained that the change in name “was to honor the birthplace of opera as we know it. The craft originated in the Italian city of Florence, which has been known as a bustling center for the arts for many centuries.” By this time, the chorus had grown to a group of 100 members of many nationalities, with a waiting list of over 100 more. In the program of the first “Opera Album” after the name change is written the Florentine Opera Chorus motto: “If our song has stopped one heart from aching, we have not lived in vain.” In 1950, the Florentine Opera Chorus extended its efforts from operatic choral performances to the production of complete operas and the company became a private venture, changing its name one final time to the Florentine Opera Company. Over the past decade, the Florentine Opera has premiered several new American operas. It produced the American premiere of Lowell Liebermann’s opera The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1999. In 2009, the Florentine presented Robert Aldridge and Herschel Garfein’s Elmer Gantry (with a two-time 2012 Grammy Award-winning professional recording). A world premiere (with a 2013 Grammy Award-winning professional recording) of Don Davis’ Spanish language Rio de Sangre opened in 2010. The Florentine presented a world-premiere and professional recording of Robert Aldridge and Herschel Garfein’s Sister Carrie in October 2016.
Scott S. Stewart has acted as the Chorus Master and Associate Conductor since 1978. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra serves as the orchestra in performances by the Florentine Opera.
Notable performers at the Florentine Opera have included Diane Alexander, June Anderson, Angela Brown, José Carreras, James Courtney, Gilda Cruz-Romo, Plácido Domingo, Dale Duesing, Marisa Galvany, Anthony Dean Griffey, Jerome Hines, Lise Lindstrom, Spiro Malas, Susanne Marsee, James McCracken, Sherrill Milnes, Raquel Montalvo, Jan Peerce, Luciano Pavarotti, Ewa Podles, Samuel Ramey, Natalia Rom, Beverly Sills, Erika Sunnegårdh, Harry Theyard, and Richard Tucker.
Associations and Funding
The Florentine Opera is a charter member organization of the United Performing Arts Fund and receives funds from the City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County and the State of Wisconsin, as well as support from corporations, patrons and foundations, and individuals such as the Target Corporation, Nita Soref and the Bradley Foundation. The Florentine Opera Company is a member of Opera America.