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Long Island Opera celebrates 50 years

The Long Island Opera singers and musicians performing

The Long Island Opera singers and musicians performing selections for "La Traviata." The company presents arias by Puccini, Verdi, Bizet and more at the Carle Place High School Feb. 18, 2011. Photo Credit: Handout

The Long Island Opera observes its 50th anniversary this year. If that surprises you, it also surprises a lot of other local opera buffs. The company was moribund for eight years until a new executive director came on board in 2009.

"I'm volunteering my time," says Joy Berta, a soprano who made her Long Island Opera debut singing the role of Violetta from Verdi's "La Traviata" at the Southampton Cultural Center last summer.

She returns Friday night with the company in "For the Love of Opera" - greatest-hits arias by Bizet, Puccini, Verdi and others - at Carle Place High School. "People are kind of surprised that we're around at all," says Berta, a native of Hawaii who lives in Manhattan, "but also that we're so professional." Friday night's singers, for instance, have credits ranging from the Opera Company of Brooklyn to Salzburg Chamber Orchestra recordings.

FROM THE ASHES

The Long Island Opera was incorporated in 1961, led by New York City Opera tenor Nino Luciano. The Nassau-based company performed fully staged classics. Luciano was succeeded by Bernard Hart, another City Opera singer. By 1985, the company had acquired props, sets, costumes - one worn by Robert Merrill - and scores for 26 operas and operettas in its repertoire. But by the late '90s, with government arts support waning, the Long Island Opera couldn't afford lavish operas. By 2001, it was defunct. Berta, with a flair for publicity - she earned a degree in journalism from Utah State University before studying opera in Perugia, Italy - came on board in August 2009. Her goal: to resurrect opera on Long Island.

WHY LONG ISLAND?

So what's a Manhattan soprano by way of Hawaii and Italy doing in Carle Place? Berta and her husband are frequent visitors to Wine Country, where they met fellow oenophile/operaphile Sal Diliberto, owner of Jamesport's Diliberto Winery. With his help, the reborn company presented concerts at wineries and other East End venues before venturing westward. Following an October performance at the Westbury Public Library, Berta was approached by Joe Piscitello and Steve Levy (not the Suffolk County executive), members of the Westbury-Carle Place Chamber of Commerce. They were so impressed by what they saw and heard - "We act our arias, not just sing them," Berta says - that they offered to sponsor a concert at a larger venue. Piscitello says he recalled attending operas with his parents and wants to bring that opportunity back to Long Island.

"I'd like to say we can do a fully staged opera by next year," Berta says. " 'La Bohème' maybe. But I'd be happy to do a poll. We'll do whatever the people want. All it takes is money."

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WHAT: "For the Love of Opera," Long Island Opera concert of arias, featuring tenor Paolo Buffagni, baritone Ron Loyd, mezzo Sandra Schwarzhaupt, sopranos Maryann Mootos and Joy Berta, accompanied by Fabio Bezuti

WHEN | WHERE: Friday night at 8 at Carle Place High School, 168 Cherry Lane

UPCOMING CONCERTS: May 21, Plainview Library; July 17 and Aug. 21, Raphael Winery; Oct. 30, Long Beach Library; others to be announced

INFO: $20, $10 seniors and students; longislandoperaco.org, 631-772-9546

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