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Wealth of East County opera talent on display in Sarasota

Side of Ranch: Jay Heater

Tara's Robyn Rocklein and Mote Ranch's Randolph Locke and Carol Sparrow will bring opera to life at the Sarasota Festival of Vocal Arts.
Tara's Robyn Rocklein and Mote Ranch's Randolph Locke and Carol Sparrow will bring opera to life at the Sarasota Festival of Vocal Arts.
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The conversation with Mote Ranch's Randolph Locke and Carol Sparrow focused on their second Sarasota Festival of Vocal Arts to be presented Thursday, May 17 and Saturday, May 19 at the Cook Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts.

But the two longtime Opera star performers, directors and voice coaches couldn't help but let their attention wander to the future.

The husband and wife team wondered aloud what it would be like to host a similar festival in Lakewood Ranch once The Players Centre for Performing Arts is built at Waterside Place.

That looks to be 2020 at the earliest, but the prospect is intriguing. All over the Sarasota and Manatee counties area, a wealth of artists must be wondering if the $30 million theater complex will be home to a variety of live performances.

Before Michelle Bianchi had resigned her post as CEO and managing director of The Players, she talked about allowing different fine arts groups to take up space in the new theater. That was great news, knowing the theater might host a Players' production on one night, an opera the following week and then perhaps a comedy show or a pop music hopeful.

That also was music to the ears of Sparrow, a mezzo soprano who has performed lead roles all over the world and was the New York City Opera's lead singer for three years, and Locke, a tenor who was a featured artist at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and has played opera's greatest roles worldwide. They want to bring the love of their lives to a new audience.

That wasn't quite the idea behind the Sarasota Festival of Vocal Arts because Sarasota has long been a fine arts hotbed. The couple wasn't trying to go head-to-head with the Sarasota Opera. But they did have specific goals in mind.

One was to present works primarily composed in English with the hope of attracting a young crowd that might shy away from a two-hour lesson in Italian.

The next goal was to highlight Florida-based talent, especially since they are very familiar with many local stars who pile up frequent-flier miles to land roles.

Finally, they wanted to present performances at an affordable price. How hard is it to take a shot at experiencing opera for the first time if it costs you $300 for a couple? Going to the Sarasota Festival of Vocal Arts costs $35 apiece.

"The demographics are changing here," Locke said. "There are more professionals and people are staying year round."

Which means May works well for the Sarasota Festival of Vocal Arts. They are trying to reach young professionals who might want to try something new, or students, or just about anyone.

Locke and Sparrow, who joined with Rosedale's Thomas Pasatieri to form the Sarasota Festival of Vocal Arts, certainly aren't expecting to get rich hosting two nights of performances at a theater that seats 161 patrons.

"We're giving back," Locke said. "It's how we got started, being around seasoned veterans."

Now Locke and Sparrow are the "seasoned" veterans. "We're like gypsies who help each other out," Locke said.

The two nights of entertainment will feature nine performers, including Sparrow. Locke will direct and Pasatieri will perform on the piano.

"People might not know Tom was a child prodigy," Locke said. "This is an incredible score Tom will be playing."

Locke, Sparrow and Pasatieri have a multitude of accomplishments that would fill a book, so no room here. But know that Pasatieri wrote the film score for American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Road to Perdition, The Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo, and Scent of a Woman, among others. You might have heard of those movies.

This is a talented trio if you are on the fence about partaking on May 17 or May 19.

The Thursday performance features Gian Carlo Menotti's "The Telephone" in English, staring Johanna Fincher and Luis Gonzalez. It will be followed by the world premier of Pasatieri's "Antony and Cleopatra" in English starring Tara's Robyn Rocklein and Christopher Holloway. The night also includes operatic selections.

Rocklein, who also will sing several selections the second night, said she can't wait to perform with Pasatieri. "He is so caring, generous, wonderful," she said. 

The Saturday performance features Act IV of Puccini's "Manon Lescaut" in Italian starring Stella Zambalis and Samuel Hall. It will be followed by musical theater selections. Tickets for both nights are available at 359-0099 or at