Executive Director & Artistic Director: Mark Sforzini
A modern-day Renaissance man, Mark Sforzini is not only a composer, a conductor, and a bassoonist, but also a visionary leader who was instrumental in the creation of the St. Petersburg Opera Co. Now in its seventh season, the company has produced twenty operas and has operated in the black throughout. Maestro Sforzini has conducted fully-staged productions with orchestra of Madama Butterfly, The Barber of Seville, Die Fledermaus, Gianni Schicchi, La Bohème, L’Elisir d’Amore, Don Giovanni, The Merry Widow, La Traviata, Cosi fan tutte, Carmen, Rigoletto, Samson et Dalila, Le nozze di Figaro, and Tosca.
In addition, he has conducted Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, Into the Woods (two productions), Sweeney Todd, and The Music Man. Sforzini conducts a full range of repertoire including symphonic music, chamber ensembles, and pops in addition to Broadway and opera. He has premiered and recorded a variety of new compositions and is particularly known for his inspirational coaching singers, instrumentalists, and composers.
Highly sought after as a composer, Sforzini has been commissioned by, among others, the Florida Orchestra, Naples Philharmonic, FloriMezzo, Palladium Theater, Pinellas Youth Symphony, Alfred T. May, Ray and Nancy Murray, J. B. Starkey Jr., The Preis Family, Marian Moorhead, Crested Butte Music Festival, Hillsborough Arts Council and City of Tampa Water Department.
His compositions have been played throughout the United States at music festivals such as the Eastern Music Festival, Crested Butte Music Festival, and Chautauqua, and by chambers musicians of the Toledo Symphony, and the full forces of the Florida Orchestra, Omaha Symphony, Alabama Symphony, Brevard Symphony, and the Tampa Bay Symphony. His Octet was performed at the inaugural concert at the Murray Studio Theater at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, FL.
Maestro Sforzini served as principal bassoon of the Florida Orchestra from 1992-2007. He was the Artistic Director of the prestigious Encore Series of chamber music at the Palladium for several years and was co-founder and Artistic Director of FloriMezzo from 2003-2008. Sforzini also served for three years as Music Director of the Pinellas Youth Symphony and many years as a composer-mentor for Hillsborough County Schools.
In addition to vocal coaching, he is in demand as an adjudicator, clinician, and chamber music coach. He still teaches bassoon to private students and as an adjunct professor at St. Petersburg College. He has played Principal Bassoon with the Crested Butte Music Festival every July since 2003 and was Composer-in-Residence in 2003. He has written and produced a number of one-act opera and music programs based on operatic repertoire and using professional singers and orchestral musicians.
Associate Director of Development: Susan Hellman Spatafora
Susan Hellman Spatafora divides her time between her arts administration and development career, and her performing career as an operatic soprano. She has a strong background in grants administration, having previously worked in New York City for the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, GHS Philanthropy Management and The Paul Klebnikov Fund, among others. Ms. Spatafora has performed several roles with the St. Petersburg Opera, most notably Susannah in Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah, Giulietta in Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Mimi in Seasonal Sparkle 2011 and 2012, and Micaëla in Carmen. Known for her winning interpretations of Puccini’s soprano heroines, Ms. Spatafora has performed Mimì in La Bohème with Palm Beach Opera and Sarasota Opera, as well as Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly with Central City Opera. She has received awards in the Palm Beach Opera Competition and Florida Grand Opera YPO Competition. Ms. Hellman received her Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University, and Master’s degree from the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati.
Production Coordinator: Karl W Hesser
As Production Coordinator, Karl is able to use his decades of experience as an arts administrator, director, writer and educator. In Florida he has worked as Executive Director of the Lake Wales Arts Council, Director of Education for Sarasota Opera, and Director of Artistic Administration for Florida Grand Opera as Director of Artistic Administration. He has also held the position of Vice President of the Wagner Society of Florida since 2008.
For St. Petersburg Opera, he has directed recent productions of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Bizet’s Carmen, and Verdi’s Il trovatore, after making his debut as the Haushofmeister in Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos. He has written and prepared projected English translations for more than fifty operas, which have been used by opera companies and symphony orchestras around the country.
He has lectured extensively on many aspects of opera for Sarasota Opera, Ringling Museum and the Wagner Society of Florida
He has been a panelist judge for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in Minnesota, South Carolina, Georgia and North Dakota. He has also served as judge for the vocal competitions of the Artists Series of Sarasota and the St. Petersburg Opera Guild.
In 1990-1991 Mr. Hesser was an OPERA America Administrative Fellow working in all phases of opera production at three of the nation’s opera companies.
Before devoting himself primarily to opera, he was active with several of the California regional theaters and spent nine years with two U.S. military community centers in Germany, working in both English and German. He has directed 28 productions including plays, musicals and operas.
Mr. Hesser received his B.A. in Theatre Arts from Loyola University of Chicago and his M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix. In addition to his lectures and seminars, Mr. Hesser has taught both the performing and theatre arts.
Mr. Hesser was married to his wife Debra for 32 years and has two children, Alyxandra, a resident of Clearwater, and Mark. Mark, his wife Lauren and their three sons live in Sarasota.
Box Office Manager: Mark Stevens
Mark’s very first opera singing experience happened last fall with the SPO when he approached the Maestro seeking a part-time accounting position similar to the one he holds at the freeFall theatre company. In that process, Maestro learned that Mark was a trained musician (Syracuse University), having sung with several groups over the years including the Grammy-winning San Francisco Symphony Chorus and the New York Oratorio Society. Since his operatic coro debut in Il Trovatore, Mark continued with the SPO in the Seasonal Sparkle concert, The Elixir of Love, and now with The Tales of Hoffmann. Mark comes from a varied background having worked with Ice Capades and later in business, legal and real estate management, finance, magazine publishing and medical meeting planning. Mark is very pleased to be immersed in the vibrant arts community of the Tampa Bay area and loves his new opera career!
Mark is here to help you with all your St. Petersburg Opera tickets, and he’s always eager to get to know you better!