History of LIO
The Long Island Opera is Long Island’s oldest opera company in existence. The opera company, known today as Long Island Opera, began as a 1958 adult education course by a leading tenor of New York City Opera, Nino Luciano. Maestro Luciano, a resident of Long Island, had sung many leading tenor roles both at City Opera and abroad. Maestro Luciano presented opera performances which developed into an opera workshop with staged productions in costume.
Soon after in 1961, Long Island Opera became incorporated as a 501(c)3, and began performing operas such as Madame Butterfly, La Traviata, and I Pagliacci at various locales in Nassau County. Following Luciano’s leadership, Bernard Hart, another singer from New York City Opera became Artistic Director. Hart lead Long Island Opera for 27 years, and thrived under his direction. By 1985 the Long Island Opera owned the props, sets, costumes, backdrops, and scores for 26 operas and operettas in its repertoire. Since Hart’s successful management, Long island Opera has had great success as an opera company under the direction of several talented directors: Susan Hart Rosselli, Charles Bezinover, Jon Morrel, and Webster Young.
In August 2009, Joy Berta, a public relations specialist and opera singer, committed to the role of Long Island Opera’s Executive Director, dedicating her talents, leadership skills, and artistic vision to Long Island’s opera company. She believes the Arts are a key role in building and strengthening a community, and knows how invaluable it is for the future of Long Island to experience, understand, and appreciate the gift of opera. As an artist, Ms. Berta welcomes the challenging role as Long Island Opera Executive Director, and promises the community, “You will see some of the best performances you have ever experienced.” With the help of gifted conductor, Artistic Director John Mario Di Costanzo, she is confident in making this promise to the community of Long Island. She knows with the support of the community and hard work of the staff and board members of LIO, Long Island will have access to its greatest opera company, and will claim it with pride.
The opera company known today as Long Island Opera began, in its infancy, as a 1958 adult education course given in Floral Park by a leading tenor of New York City Opera, Nino Luciano. Maestro Luciano, a resident of Long Island, had sung many leading tenor roles both at City Opera and abroad in the 1950’s. For the opera course, Maestro Luciano presented opera performances which developed into an opera workshop with staged productions in costume.
During the 1960-61 season of Mr. Luciano’s presentations, a Board of Directors was formed, with Nino Luciano as President and an office in Westbury, and the group incorporated in the State of New York as “The Long Island Opera Showcase”. Maestro Luciano now staged operas such as Madame Butterfly, La Traviata, and I Pagliacci at various locales in Nassau County. The New York Times covered the start of the new company in a front page article. Newsday ran advance articles on the productions and has done so ever since.
The Long Island Opera Showcase received its Federal non-profit status in 1961. Nino Luciano later stepped down as President in order to devote his attention to creating special educational programs for children in opera, ballet, and classical music.
The company soon came under the Artistic Direction of Bernard Hart, another singer from New York City Opera. In 1976 the company dropped the word “Showcase” from its name to become “The Long Island Opera”. Under Hart’s direction for 27 years, the company grew from a workshop to full company status.
In the next two decades under Hart, LIO acquired opera sets from various sources, including the Metropolitan Opera, Stivanello Costume Company, and the estate of Michael Della Rocca, an opera buff who in a famous episode won the $64,000 question on television and used his winnings to stage operas. By 1985 the Long Island Opera owned the props, sets, costumes, backdrops, and scores for 26 operas and operettas in its repertory, and the New York Times covered the 25th Anniversary of the company.
After Bernard Hart’s passing in 1989, LIO came under the artistic direction of Charles Bezinover and expanded its performance schedule, doing many opera concerts and fully staged operas. Long Island Opera became affiliated with the State University of New York at Old Westbury in 1992. This news created a stir in Nassau County and Newsday celebrated the affiliation with a major article. LIO performed at least three operas a year fully staged at the Maguire Theater and the company was twice awarded — in 1992 and 1995– Certificates of Achievement by the Long Island Arts Council at Freeport.
The company also performed three seasons out of doors at the Chapin Rainbow Stage, Hecksher Park, and at Morgan Park in Glen Cove. The New York Times soon was covering another company anniversary — this time LIO’s thirty-fifth.
In the decade from 1985-95 the following operas were in the LIO repertoire: Tosca, La Boheme, Madame Butterfly, Cavalleria Rusticana, I Pagliacci, Manon, La Traviata, Il Trovatore, Rigoletto, La Gioconda, Lucia di Lamermoor, Don Pasquale, The Elixir of Love, The Tales of Hoffman, Die Fledermaus, The Merry Widow, The Land of Smiles, Carmen, Samson and Delilah, Faust, The Barber of Seville, Fidelio, and The Marriage of Figaro.
When New York State froze its arts funding in 1996, the result for SUNY Westbury was the temporary closure of the Maguire Theater. Charles Bezinover retired to Florida, and the LIO came under the direction of Jon Morrel. Temporarily without a theater, the LIO performed for the Freeport Concert Association, presenting Tosca and La Boheme with full orchestra. These concerts, under the direction of Thomas Carlo Bo, numbered among the highest quality musical achievements of the LIO.
In 1998, Webster Young, an opera composer and arts administrator whose family lives in Oyster Bay, was appointed by Jon Morrel and Thomas Bo to bring the company back from its cut back position. Maestro Morrel has gone on to an international career as a tenor and Thomas Bo remains on the staff of LIO guest conductors.
In three years Director Young has put the company in the strongest position it has ever been in, improving musical quality, raising more money than ever before, and developing innovative programming so that the company may present operas that do not duplicate presentations by the companies in New York City.
In November 1998 the company added new board members, three new conductors, three stage directors, and a business manager. Since then the company has made significant progress in several areas. It added the Hays Theater, in Rockville Center, and the Jean Rimsky Theater, in Port Washington, to the list of venues where the company has performed.
The new directorship of the company also made significant progress towards getting its opera productions telecast in Long Island and the New York metropolitan area. Telecasting of the Long Island Opera’s performances is now in a planning stage with Metro Arts 13 and Cablevision Channel 18. The LIO has received a “go ahead” to raise money and obtain sponsors for the telecasts which will appear on Channel 18.
In February 1999, the company inventoried all its costumes and scenery in storage, photographing and cataloguing the costumes and scenery it owns which originate from the old Metropolitan Opera House. The company restored and unveiled some of this old Met scenery in a November 1999 concert series called “The Golden Age of the Metropolitan”.
The historic scenery is from the Met’s Manon productions of 1928, 1944, and 1952, as well as a 1930’s production of La Rondine. Singers who performed in front of these historic backdrops include Benjamino Gigli, Bidu Sayao, Victoria de los Angelos, and Nicolai Gedda.
The Long Island Opera is now Long Island’s oldest and most substantial opera company. It is exploring new ways to become what its name implies: Long Island’s opera company.
In August 2009, Joy Berta became Executive Director committing her talents, skills, and passion for opera to revive Long Island Opera after period of inactivity. Ms. Berta believes the Arts are a key role in building and strengthening a community, and knows how invaluable it is for the future of Long Island to experience the gift of opera. As an artist, she welcomes the challenging lead role as Long Island Opera Executive Director, and promises the community, “You will see some of the best performances you have ever experienced.” With the help of gifted conductor, Artistic Director John Mario Di Costanzo, she is confident in making this promise a reality to the community of Long Island.