Ask The Locals: Mark Sforzini

click to enlarge Ask The Locals: Mark Sforzini - todd bates
todd bates
Ask The Locals: Mark Sforzini

As executive and artistic director of St. Petersburg Opera Company, Mark Sforzini has successfully banished the notion that opera is stuffy. He enjoys sending up the art form with events like the Opera Therapy series, in which he literally puts opera characters on the couch; gets up-close-and-personal with fans in Mornings and Evenings with the Maestro (“I explain things, tell a lot of jokes”); and famously showed off his hula hooping skills (he was a world champ at 10) in a production of Die Fledermaus. One of six children of a NASA engineer who taught at Auburn, he picked up musical instruments and composition easily, gigging with a professional big band when he was still in high school. He went on to study bassoon at FSU, won the principal bassoon seat with the Sarasota Symphony during his senior year, and moved from there to the same job with the Florida Orchestra in May of 1992 at the age of 22. “I’m a teacher at heart,” he says; he established FloriMezzo, precursor of the Tampa Metropolitan Youth Orchestra, and directed the Pinellas Youth Symphony for three years. He founded St. Pete Opera in 2007, and has grown it into a thriving local institution that moves into its 10th anniversary season this year at the Palladium Theatre (opening Oct. 16 with Carmen) with a spacious home base, Opera Central, in the Grand Central District. Through it all, his conducting expertise and personal charm have been instrumental in the company’s success. Now 46, he lives in the Beach Park area of South Tampa with Michael Roberts, his partner of 22 years and the Opera’s artistic administrator, and their 12-year-old Lab, Lucy. 

Auburn or FSU? “I enjoy watching my family root for Auburn. That’s a whole entertainment in itself. I was conceived during a football weekend in Gainesville, so if it wasn’t for college football I probably wouldn’t exist.”
Where opera singers go for lunch: “TACO BUS. Because they’re rehearsing here [at Opera Central] they’re interested in things that are within walking distance. TROPICCOOL is another of their faves. I love POM POM’S – I find myself going there twice a week.”
Where to spend Mornings with the Maestro: THE MFA CAFÉ at the Museum of Fine Arts in downtown St. Pete.
And Evenings? CLEARWATER’S MUSIC GALLERY (5990 Ulmerton Rd.). “Sometimes the cast goes out to eat and the audience joins them at MAMA MIA’S on Ulmerton after evening shows.”
Where the maestro hangs out when he’s not meet-and-greeting: “Central Avenue in St. Pete between Opera Central and the water. I like LA V and ACROPOLIS a lot. One of the things I like is outdoor dining. I love the three-cheese cheeseburger at PARKSHORE GRILL.”
Favorite spot for a celebration: BERN’S STEAK HOUSE. “Who doesn’t like to go to Bern’s? After the Sunday matinee of Turandot we went to Bern’s with my brother and his partner.”
How he keeps in conducting shape: “We belong to ANYTIME FITNESS on Kennedy near our house. I’ve also been to the one at 900 Central. Michael was riding the exercise bike there and he said to me, ‘You know it’s really funny to be working out at your gym and to look up across the street and see a poster of your husband conducting opera.’”
Where he gets his locks shorn: “I go right next door [to Opera Central] to RIC CASTRO SALON.”
Where he gets his conductor garb: SACINO’S. “I have two tuxes, a few suits, a few different colored vests. And I have many tux shirts, because in a three-act opera I change tux shirts for each act. I tend to sweat and it gets very hot on stage.”
Where he polishes up his conductor smile: JUDY ROWLAND FAMILY DENTISTRY. “She plays violin in the Tampa Bay Symphony, which I conduct.”
Who massages the maestro? “I have three: MARK McCAIN, VATI AMMATRI, and also STRESS RELIEF CLINIC on 4th St.”
Why so many? “Occupational hazards: holding your arms in an elevated position a lot, standing for those long stretches — that gets to your lower back — and spending a lot of time on a laptop.”
He loves living in Tampa, but…St. Pete is so cool. There’s so much great stuff going on here. I love the arts culture, there’s such a variety of arts organizations, everybody helps each other.”
Non-opera date nights: AMERICAN STAGE, STUDIO@620, freeFALL. “And I really enjoy a great night at THE FLORIDA ORCHESTRA – it’s a great treasure.”
The pros and cons of THE PALLADIUM: “The plus is the overall size. Acoustically it’s a space where you’re able to catch all the nuances of the voice. The drawback is we don’t have the ability to fly anything of real substance and there’s not a lot of natural wing space. So you come up with creative ways of doing things — you have to think more outside of the box.”
He and Michael thinking of getting married? “You know we probably will tie the knot. But I’m a person who likes ritual and ceremony so we need some time to plan this.”
One thing’s for sure: “It’s gotta be operatic.”


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