By Lawrence Budmen

A capacity audience was on hand on October 7 for the Grand Opening of the Sanford and Dolores Ziff Opera House at Miami’s newest jewel – the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts. This showplace is grandiose indeed. With spacious foyers, plush décor, and a multicolored curtain, the opera house should be the perfect venue for Florida Grand Opera’s production of Verdi’s ultimate grand opera Aida in a few weeks. Since the hall will house opera, ballet, and large scale Broadway theater, the opening gala featured a sampling of each of these genres.

Sightlines in the elegant auditorium appear to be excellent and virtually unobstructed from any seat. From a seat in the upper 4th tier, the sound was clear but needed more ping. Further judgment on the hall’s acoustics awaits future productions and seating locales. 

Florida Grand Opera opened the gala with a terrific, crackling performance of Act II of Puccini’s La Boheme. With picturesque sets by Michael Yeargan and handsome costumes by Zack Brown, David Gately directed an eye filling production that vividly recreated New Year’s Eve in the Paris of Puccini and Henri Murger. 

Puccini’s music was rendered with true Italianate abandon. FGO Music Director Stewart Robertson conducted the Florida Classical Orchestra with verve and passion. Puccini’s lyrical strophes soared in musical ecstasy. The orchestra’s lush string tone took wing in the opera house’s expansive ambience; a far cry from the dry sound of Dade County Auditorium. 

The real scene stealer in this Café Momus act was soprano Patricia Racette in a star turn as Musetta. A veteran of such operatic venues as the Met, La Scala, Covent Garden, and the Vienna State Opera, Racette sizzled as the saucy coquette. In Musetta’s famous waltz song, she spun a gorgeous, velvet cushion of tone that sent Puccini’s inspired melodic lines to the heavens. Here was great singing by one of the leading Verdi-Puccini-Janacek sopranos of our time. 

Racette was matched by a well balanced cast of Bohemians. As Rodolfo, Gerald Powers proved to be the authentic article – a tenor with a ringing voice, potent squillo, and passion to burn. Sandra Lopez (a University Miami graduate who now sings at the Met) was a sweetly lyrical Mimi. The sonorous bass of Morris Robinson imbued Colline’s lines with authority. Aaron St. Clair Nicholson lent a vibrant baritone to Marcello. In Parpignol’s brief role, David Portillo revealed a striking tenor voice. 

In the French march finale, Racette and company set the rafters ringing and the stage ablaze. Puccini’s music is rarely rendered with such fire and style. 

Miami City Ballet offered an elegantly classical production of Act III – Aurora’s Wedding – from The Sleeping Beauty. In the Imperial Russian style sets from the Boston Ballet and dazzling costumes from Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Geta Constantinescu staged Marius Petipa’s classic choreography in a graceful, restrained manner. Juan Francesco La Manna conducted with forthright vigor and captured the linear drive of Tchaikovsky’s score.

The highlight of the production was a marvelous performance of the pas de deux of Princess Aurora and Prince Desire by Yang Zou and Haiyan Wu. Their precise, classically pure dancing was a joy to behold. Their musicality, seamless partnering, and agility were exceptional. As the Lilac Fairy, the wonderful Deana Seay was exquisite in motion; capturing a flowing, lyric line. There was an exciting cameo by Renato Penteado and Katia Carranza in the Bluebird pas de deux. Their thrilling lifts and finely stated elegance notched up the evening’s voltage. The Miami City Ballet corps danced the final Mazurka with vivacious lilt. Here was a great prelude to the coming MCB production of the Petipa-Minkus Don Quixote. 

Representing the opera house’s Broadway side, playwright-actor Harvey Fierstein concluded the evening with The Best of Times from La Cage aux Folles, the show he wrote with Jerry Herman. Performing with the style and panache of a Broadway trouper, he was joined by the terrific vocal firepower of Racette, Powers, and the entire Boheme cast and Miami City Ballet principals and corps. With gold confetti flying from the rafters, it was obvious that many good times are ahead in this new showplace of Miami! 

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