With the holidays over, the new year duly celebrated and visiting family members gone, Freedom Plaza residents are relishing a return to their routine activities.
Pickleball games, water aerobics and exercise classes are helping folks banish those Christmas cookie bulges, while bridge and Trivial Pursuit challenges get champagne-accustomed brain cells back on track. Resident organizations like the RAC (Resident Advisory Council) and the Freedom Plaza Scholarship Board have resumed regular meetings and special interest groups are busy planning their 2014 calendars.
One of those special interest groups is the Freedom Plaza Opera Club. Having foregone its biweekly sessions in deference to holiday events, attendees are eager to once again sample “the most extravagant entertainment conceived by the mind of man.” That’s the way 17th century journalist John Evelyn described the “new” performing art form, opera.
While Italy’s “opera per musica” may have been new in 17th century Europe, America also offered something new to this musical art form in the 20th century when George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” opened on Broadway Oct. 10, 1935. Other American composers had written operas but only in the traditional European style. Gershwin was the first to incorporate the purely American idiom, jazz, into an operatic work.
Freedom Plaza residents will visit Tampa’s Straz Center to enjoy the musical “Porgy and Bess,” a shortened, Broadway adaptation of Gershwin’s original four-hour opera.
Pursuing the study of American opera Freedom Plaza opera lovers will have the opportunity to experience yet another example when they see Carlyle Floyd’s melodic work, “Susannah,” in February at the St. Petersburg Opera. Set in Appalachia and echoing sounds of folk music the opera is based on the apocryphal account of Susannah and the Elders but with a more positive ending. “Susannah” has won numerous awards and was selected to represent American music and culture at the World’s Fair in Brussels in 1958.
Freedom Plaza Opera Club plans for the new year include this in-depth look at American Opera and at French opera, as well. The exploration will be conducted through sessions of commentary and through video viewings of complete operas on Freedom Plaza Auditorium’s giant screen. Opera Club continues to meet on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month at 7:15 p.m. and is open to the public.
Peggy Burgess is an associate of Freedom Plaza and a columnist for The Sun.