When last we checked in with Tyler Putnam and Sarah Nordin, on a late-April edition of the Catalyst Sessions video interview series, the husband and wife opera singers were still smarting from the abrupt cancellation of everything on their calendars. Still, they were optimistic that life – the concert and recital life, that is – would eventually return to normal.
We’re quite a ways off from normal, of course, but the New York-based Putnam (a bass singer) and Nordin (mezzo soprano) are in town and onstage this weekend, performing with St. Petersburg Opera Company for its three-performance pop-up concert, “Opera’s Greatest Hits.”
Nordin had recently completed Rigoletto with SPO when Covid arrived. “St. Pete was the last thing I did before we shut down,” she explains, “so I’m really glad to be back. Florida’s really like home to me – I’ve got lots of home companies here, and it feels great to be singing in this state, where I know the audience, and the audience knows me.”
A native Floridian (she was born and raised in Crystal River), Nordin and her husband (who’s from Maine) appeared in December’s Orlando Opera production of Die Fledermaus. It was the first full indoor opera production in America since the pandemic began, with live orchestra and video-recorded chorus (each singer was recorded separately).
“It was amazing and frustrating at the same time,” Nordin says of the production, which took place in the socially-distanced Walt Disney Theatre (400 seats used in a 3,000-seat venue). “We had to rehearse with masks on, which took some getting used to.”
Nordin was on the Straz Center’s Riverwalk Stage last weekend in the Opera Tampa show Gilbert vs. Sullivan. Putnam couldn’t be there, as he was in Fort Myers with Gulfshore Opera, performing La Boheme.
Ironically, Putnam was to have sung one of the leads in the Opera Tampa production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance last March; the show was canceled the very morning of opening day. “We always hope for the best,” he says philosophically. “And I think it’s important to plan for productions to return. But if they can’t, they can’t. I think it’s just the way of things.”
The months between late spring and late fall, Putnam adds, were disconcerting at best.
“It’s really hard to stay motivated if you don’t have a gig that you know is the next thing you’re going to do. So of course it was a struggle, but we’re very thankful for the work we have now. We’re busier now than we have been in a very long time, with outdoor concerts.”
During their down time, Nordin adds, “We also started doing Zoom operas. Tyler was in a MacBeth. And we did some Zoom concerts. And I started learning new arias, which ended up being really nice – because I had time to learn arias that I wouldn’t have time to learn otherwise.”
Many of these were performed in a virtual recital for St. Pete Opera, part of a series the organization cooked up during the darkest days of the pandemic.
Performed with four other singers and piano accompaniment, “Opera’s Greatest Hits” is the most ambitious production yet in SPO’s cautious return to live work.
As always, it will be conducted by SPO founder and artistic director Mark Sforzini.
Among the selections: A full 10 minutes of La Boheme, the final 18 minutes of Don Giovanni, Act 1, and an assortment of arias both well-known and perhaps not so.
“Mark is trying to give you a taste of opera at its most grand, under the limitations we’ve got, that we can’t meet in an opera house and we don’t have a full orchestra,” according to Putnam. “So he’s using selections that are the best opera has to offer.”
Next for the Tyler ‘n’ Sarah Show: On Feb. 11, they’ll sing (along with others) on the top deck of the Starship 1 luxury yacht; it’s the Valentine 2021 Concert Under the Stars, with a gourmet dinner and other perks (suitably socially distanced). Details and reservations are here.
“Opera’s Greatest Hits” is performed Friday at 8 p.m. at Opera Central (this performance is sold out); Saturday (4 p.m.) at Cage Brewing (also sold out); and at 4 p.m. Sunday on the north lawn of the Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg. All info can be found here.
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