Finger Lakes Opera presents the Puccini opera in Canandaigua; also, Traveling Cabaret marks a milestone at Macy's

Gerard Floriano has conducted orchestras and choral groups in Vienna, Madrid, Rome, Salzburg, New York's Carnegie Hall — to name just a few. And so, when he says that Finger Lakes Opera's production of Puccini's "La Boheme" this weekend at Canandaigua Academy is on the caliber of any big-city production, he knows of what he speaks.

"Those who have been able to get to our productions have been inspired by the quality ... it's really like going to see a production in New York or Chicago or Los Angeles — and it's right here in our backyard," said Floriano, artistic director of Finger Lakes Opera.

A stellar cast of artists, many of whom have performed extensively nationally and worldwide, helps. As does working with stage director Michael Ehrman, a veteran of the Puccini production: This weekend is Ehrman's 20th "La Boheme." "He was able to put this together in really short order — in less than three and a half weeks," Floriano remarked.

"La Boheme," arguably the most well-known and regarded opera of Italian composer Giacomo Puccini's career, tells the story of young bohemian artists living in poverty in 19th century Paris and their vicissitudes of love, artistry, privation, life and death. (That briefest of synopsis may sound familiar even to non-aficionados of opera — "La Boheme" was the inspiration for Jonathan Larson's musical "Rent.")

FLO's productions of "La Boheme" will begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 9, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 11, in the auditorium of Canandaigua Academy, 435 East St. In addition, the Rising Stars of Finger Lakes Opera Young Artist program will present a program of "Opera Hits!" at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10, at CA, featuring famous arias, duets and more from the operatic repertoire, with a bit of Gilbert & Sullivan and Rodgers & Hammerstein blended in. That group of performers presented a children's production, "Jack and the Beanstalk," last weekend.

This is the third production at Canandaigua Academy since Finger Lakes Opera relocated to Canandaigua from Geneseo in 2017; it follows productions of Puccni's tragic "Tosca" and Johann Strauss's comedy "Die Fledermaus." Floriano and Christopher Dahl founded the company on the SUNY Geneseo campus in 2012, launching the first season in 2013 with a mission of presenting a wide and diverse array of operatic works for local audiences. (Floriano is chair of the music department and director of choral activities at SUNY Geneseo.) There had been an opera company in Rochester, the now-defunct Mercury Opera, but, as Floriano put it prior to last year's production, the founders believed the western New York region would support a professional opera company presenting shows in a picturesque location like Geneseo, and then Canandaigua. Shows at Geneseo included Bizet's "Carmen," Donizetti's "Elixir of Love" and Verdi's "La Traviata."

As for "La Boheme?" "It is one of my favorities and so many people's favorite operas, really," Floriano said. The tumultuous love stories at the opera's heart, along with the friendship among the artist roommates, have resonated with audiences over the years, he said. "I think people identity with the characters, first and foremost," he said — "and the music by Puccini — this may be the greatest opera that we ever wrote."

The cast includes Elaine Alvarez and Jonathan Burton as Mimi the seamstress and Rodolfo the poet, one of the two major couples whose tempestuous stories are told in the opera. Alvarez has portrayed many leading ladies nationally and internationally with such companies as Boston Lyric Orchestra and Opera National de Bordeaux, in such operas as "Tosca" and "Ernani," and this isn't her first turn as Mimi. Burton has performed with the Austin, Knoxville, Dayton, Sarasota and Welsh National operas, as well as various symphony orchestras. The other couple, Musetta the singer and Macello the painter, are portrayed by Marlen Nahhas and David Pershall. Nahhas is a first member of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program at Washington National Opera. She will make her debut with the National Symphony Orchestra in excerpts from "La Boheme." Pershall has performed with the Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco Opera, and was a soloist in the Central Park Summer Concert Series' Opera Italiana. Rounding out the cast are Jorell Williams — 2018 winner of the Rochester Idol XII competition — as Shaunard the musician and Alex Soare as Colline the philosopher. In January, Soare traveled to Barcelona as a finalist for the 55th Francisco Viñas International Singing Competition.

That's just a sampling of the main cast's experience and accolades, which gives an idea of why Floriano is so proud and excited.

"We have assembled probably one of the best casts for 'La Boheme' that anyone has done," he said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime 'Boheme.'"

Joining Floriano and Erhman on the production staff are scenic designer Michael Lasswell and lighting designer Brian Barnett.

Tickets for "La Boheme" range from $40 to $75, with student tickets available at $25. Visit fingerlakesopera.org.

Traveling Cabaret marks milestone at Macy's

In 1990, twin sisters Phyllis and Sandy Kravetz, both members of the now-defunct Brighton Theatre Guild, decided to help the guild with its expenses by started a side project, a "Traveling Cabaret" that would perform shows and raise money for the guild's scholarships and show expenses. Eleven years later, the Traveling Cabaret went independent from the Brighton guild.

With 29 years of history behind it, the 10-member Traveling Cabaret is preparing for a milestone show — its 550th — at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10 at the main entrance to Macy's at Eastview Mall, to mark the grand opening of the department store's new "Backstage Department" outlet shopping concept. Macy's General Manager Bill Kearns will present Macy's second $2,000 grant to the Cabaret at the end of the "An Afternoon of Song, Dance & Comedy" show — the 35th total grant the group has received.

It's been 29 years of Broadway and film music, popular favories, novelty tunes and more with comedy, costumes, props and antics.

"Our main goal is two-fold," said Phyllis Kravetz of Perinton, recording secretary and public relations coordinator for the group. "To bring joy and musical appreciation to our community, and to raise money for scholarships and for the Traveling Cabaret." The Cabaret presents scholarships to college-bound high school seniors pursuing the arts upon graduation, from a broad pool of some 90 schools in Monroe and surrounding counties. Since going independent in 2001, the Cabaret has more latitude in defining "the arts," Kravetz said — fields like architecture and writing are included for consideration, as well as the performing arts.

The 549 past shows have included public and private functions, shows at senior living facilities, libraries, festivals, corporate functions and more. The cabaret members are a diverse group: The Kravetz sisters are both retired dental hygienists, and the group includes people from the fields of education, medicine, architecture, the arts and more, with members coming from Perinton, Irondequoit, Penfield and Canandaigua. (Plus sound tech Bruce Dunn, of Fairport.) Three charter members remain with the Cabaret: the Kravetz sisters and Linda Maloney of Irondequoit.

"We want to entertain, and we want to do good in the community," Kravetz said.

The group is already preparing for shows #551 and counting. Upcoming Traveling Cabaret shows in the area include:

• Aug. 17: Solstice Senior Living, 55 Ayrault Road and Route 31, Fairport, 2 p.m.

• Aug. 21: Irondequoit Public Library, 1290 Titus Ave., 7 p.m.

• Sept. 14: North Winton Village Festival of the Arts, Linear Gardens Park, East Main Street and Winton Road, 2 p.m.

• Sept. 15: Gates Recreation & Parks, 1605 Buffalo Road, 2 p.m.

• Oct. 19: Legacy at Clover Blossom, 100 McAuley Drive, Rochester, 1 p.m. (breast cancer research event)(

• Oct. 27: Pinehurst Senior Community, 1000 Pine Trail, Honeoye Falls, 2:30 p.m.

I'd hammer in the morning

The Finger Lakes Chorale will give two concerts of music from the 1960s and 70s this weekend at Finger Lakes Community College. The title, “A Concert of Peace, Love & Hope,” is reflective of the musical selections, which will include “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “If I Had a Hammer,” in tribute to the late folksinger Pete Seeger.

The concerts begin at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 10 and Sunday, Aug. 11 in the FLCC main campus auditorium, 3325 Marvin Sands Drive, Hopewell. Entry is free and open to the public; donations toward student scholarship funds are accepted.

The Finger Lakes Chorale is a community chorus based at FLCC that performs concerts in December, late spring and August. New members are always welcome; prior singing experience is not required. For more information, call director Dennis Maxfield at 585-396-0027.