Florentine Opera Company

Click the image to learn more. In 2010, the Florentine Opera Company performed "Elmer Gantry," an opera based on the Sinclair Lewis novel known by the same title.

As one of Wisconsin’s oldest professional music organizations, this company earned the city national recognition for over seventy years. Formed in 1933 as the Italian Chorus at the Jackson Street Social Center, according to one source, the group originally intended to attract immigrants to English language classes that would prepare them for American citizenship.[1] Their ambition soon grew, however, when six months later the director of the Milwaukee Public Schools’ music program, John-David Anello, took the helm.[2] Anello expanded the group’s numbers and repertoire, incorporating Italian opera scenes. By 1936, they adopted the name Florentine Opera Company and were performing full operas at the Pabst Theater.[3] The company continues to bring in nationally recognized stars, which it complements with local talent, and has gained national acclaim from the music community.[4]

Footnotes [+]

  1. ^ Jeanette Hurt and Meg Jones, “Anello, Milwaukee’s Mr. Music, Dies at 85,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 7, 1995. It is also the sixth oldest opera company in the U.S.
  2. ^ Tom Strini, “Milwaukee’s Musical Visionary Anello Dies at 85, “Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 7, 1995, 1. Anello replaced previous director, Foca Di Leo. Throughout his lifetime, Anello built a grand reputation as “Mr. Music” in Milwaukee—so named by former mayor Frank Zeidler in 1957. In addition to his work with the Florentine Opera Company, he was a founder of the Milwaukee Pops Orchestra (later MSO) and he took over the Music Under the Stars Program in the 1950s.
  3. ^ John-David Anello, Sr. Musical Memories: The Universe Has Music for Those Who Listen, The Memoirs of John-David Anello, Sr., edited by Catherine McGarry Miller (Shorewood: Musical Memories Publications, 1993), 13. The name change was to honor the city where opera first started, according to Anello.
  4. ^ Ibid., 13. In the 1940s, when Anello served on the National Association for Opera, he helped launch a National Opera Festival, and Milwaukee hosted the event for the first two years. This success and Anello’s connections also led UNESCO to approach the city for hosting a worldwide opera festival, but the county was preoccupied with planning the Milwaukee Braves’ debut. Most recently, the group was nominated for three Grammy awards for the recording of their production of “Elmer Gantry” in 2012. Bobby Tanzilo, “Grammy Action is Rich with Sconnie Talent,” OnMilwaukee.com, December 2, 2011, accessed June 11, 2012.

For Further Reading

Anello, Sr., John-David. Musical Memories: The Universe Has Music for Those Who Listen, The Memoirs of John-David Anello, Sr. Edited by Catherine McGarry Miller. Shorewood: Musical Memories Publications, 1993.

Florentine Opera Company: A Series of Articles from the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel: February 3, 1942-November 16, 1970. Milwaukee: Milwaukee Journal and Sentinel, 1970.

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