First-time guest Judith Lisi shared stories from her long and distinguished career as an ats administrator on Thursday’s edition of The Catalyst Sessions.
Lisi, President and CEO of the David E. Straz Center for the Performing Arts, recalled how the downtown Tampa facility – then known as the Tampa Bay Center for the Performing Arts – was operating at a $4 million deficit when she was hired in 1992.
“Nobody did anything wrong when they started it,” she explained. “They just didn’t know how it could be. When I saw the Broadway that they were doing … it wasn’t the big national tours.
“And when you look at a theater like this, you’ve got to do something great here. I always say, you can’t go into a fine dining restaurant and have a hot dog. You have to present your expectation, the promise of the place.”
Lisi also discussed the formation of Opera Tampa in 2005. A former lyric soprano herself, Lisi had launched a successful opera organization in New Haven, Connecticut – and so getting a major company established in Tampa, which had none at the time, was high up on her list of priorities.
“You can’t shortcut opera,” Lisi commented. “You can, but you don’t get the outcome you want. We had a couple of (small local) companies that were really trying. Young people in opera, they’re really passionate about it. But it takes a lot more than passion.”
Once the Straz Center debt had been eliminated, she turned her attention to the establishment of Opera Tampa. One of her first strategic moves was to convince her New Haven friend, Maestro Anton Coppola, to come to the area and serve as Artistic Director.
“So he came down and we just picked up where we left off,” she said. “And it worked out great.”
Today on The Catalyst Sessions: Musician Ronnie Dee.
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