Sarasota Opera is expanding its programming outside season with a new summer concert series.
Every summer, the 1,119 seats in the Sarasota Opera House remain unoccupied for many of the weeks between the end of June and the start of October.
Until now, that is.
On May 4, Sarasota Opera is debuting its new off-season concert series, titled Sarasota Opera House Presents. This group of summer performances aims to bring quality musicians of a variety of styles — not opera, by the way — to Sarasota when many arts organizations are out of season.
“We’ve made it a priority outside the opera season to do more,” says Sarasota Opera Executive Director Richard Russell. “We want more people to be using the opera house.”
The result is a lineup that will feature musicians of several styles, including American standards, jazz, rock, bluegrass, country and more.
And it’s all kicking off with the legendary Tony Danza.
Russell says he went to several conferences to see which performers would be available, and he picked Danza because he knew the boxer-turned-actor is also a talented singer and tap dancer.
Danza and his four-piece band will bring their cabaret show, “Standards and Stories,” to the Sarasota Opera House and combine ageless music with charming storytelling — and a couple soft shoe and ukulele performances.
The show will include a selection of Danza’s favorite standards from the Great American Songbook along with selections from the Broadway musical he recently starred in, “Honeymoon in Vegas,” all while interweaving personal stories about his life and connection to music.
Russell hopes the crowd will include people who wouldn’t normally come to the opera as the company ventures outside the genre.
“I want the opera house to be a great music venue,” Russell says. “Our objectives are to do nothing the other organizations are doing, and to do what’s appropriate for the venue.”
Sarasota Opera House is too small to host large-scale music acts, he says, but the acoustics are perfect for smaller concerts that allow for a more intimate experience between musicians and the audience.
He’s not trying to make the opera house the new Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Russell makes clear. But he does want people to know it’s a venue for everyone at all points of the year.
“I know of our core audience, there are more people sticking it out (during summer),” he says. “Traffic isn’t bad, you can get into restaurants — we’re no longer a sleepy retirement community, we’re more year-round.”
He is seeking out more mainstream performers to cater to the increase in year-round residents of all ages and backgrounds. The opera’s niche approach serves it well during season, he says, but this is the time of year to bring in people who might never otherwise step foot in the theater.
Sarasota Opera also hopes to bring in more audiences this summer with its two film series. HD at the Opera House will include showings of opera, ballet and theater productions from around the world every Sunday afternoon, and the Classic Movies at the Opera House series will screen favorites like “The Wizard of Oz” every other Thursday night from June through September.
Sarasota Opera House Presents will host “Ricky Nelson Remembered,” starring Nelson’s twin sons Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, Aug. 18. Show and ticket information will be available soon.