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St. Pete Opera takes its fundraising gala online

Bill DeYoung



St. Petersburg Opera founder and artistic director Mark Sforzini will emcee Saturday's free livestream event. Photo by Jim Swallow

In 2019, St. Petersburg Opera Company’s big fundraising gala was held at the Don CeSar Resort. Hundreds of supporters, dressed to the nines in tuxedos and evening gowns, dined well, danced to an orchestra and listened to a hand-picked collection of the bay area’s finest opera singers in live performance.

In 2020, not so much.

Bella Voce, as the annual event is called (it’s Italian for “beautiful voice”) was a casualty of the pandemic. Scheduled for early May in the oversized ballrooms of another swanky hotel, it fell off the calendar.

The uncertainty of booking dates in the summer or fall made rescheduling impossible.

Enter Vincerò (it’s Italian for “I will be victorious”), St. Pete Opera’s virtual fundraising gala. It happens this Saturday (May 23), streaming from 7 to 8 p.m. on the company’s website, Facebook page and YouTube page.

There’s an hour of entertainment, most of it live, some pre-recorded specifically for the event, with executive and artistic director Mark Sforzini “broadcasting” from the Opera Central headquarters, on 1st Avenue S.

You can watch for free.


“With any nonprofit companies, especially performing arts, ticket sales don’t bring in enough money to operate at the level they need to operate,” explains Special Projects Manager Chris Green.

“Bella Voce is a big part of our budget. So while we are reducing a lot of our performances, and losing the ticket sales, we still wanted to keep our people engaged.”

Naturally, SPO will gratefully accept donations. Although there’s no cost to view the livestream, $10 gets you registered for the silent and live auctions – and a company supporter has agreed to match every $10 registration with $40, for up to 250 registrants.

As for the wine-and-dine portion of Vincerò, an alternative has been created, thanks to restaurateur Steve Westphal, a longtime St. Pete Opera supporter.

His Parkshore Grill is offering a $150 gourmet dinner special – with wine, for delivery (by Parkshore staff) anywhere in St. Petersburg or St. Petersburg Beach.

Green has an idea of what he and Sforzini want that to look like.

A scene from Bella Voce 2019. Photo: Jim Swallow

“The big thing that was lost was the VIP experience, all the fun things that go along with that VIP gala,” he explains. “People wouldn’t be able to dress up. This is a way to bring a little piece of that to someone’s home. They can still dress up at home, on a Zoom camera kind of thing; they can have a nice meal from one of our supporters, and a bottle of wine.”

Although all performances have now been canceled through early November – including the previously-announced first full opera of the season, Daughter of the Regiment – St. Petersburg Opera has maintained a presence online, through weekly streams of its archived shows, live interactions with Sforzini and more.

The staff brainstormed for weeks about the fate of their cash cow fundraiser.

“It was an incredibly difficult decision,” says Green, “but ultimately I think it’s the right one.”

Information and registration are here.



















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