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Long Island Opera hits high note at 50

Long Island Opera is marking its 50th anniversary this weekend in Southampton, where professional vocalists will stage selections from popular operas. But this is a milestone that almost wasn't. The company struggled to survive in the early 2000s, even going on hiatus for eight years.

"We want our 50th anniversary to increase the interest in Long Island for opera," says Joy Berta, the group's executive director.

WHAT'S IN STORESaturday's event, "The Golden Age of Opera: 50 Years of Passion," highlights selections from "La Bohème," "Manon," "Rigoletto," "Il Trovatore" and "Carmen" on a designed set. The professional ensemble -- two tenors, three sopranos, a mezzo-soprano and a baritone -- will perform in formal attire with piano accompaniment.

"I want to give people the feeling of being in Europe. We're taking them on a tour visually and artistically," says Berta, who also will perform.

Attendees should arrive early for an hourlong wine-and-cheese reception, as well as a viewing of opera memorabilia.

The performance begins with a prelude by three Spanish costumed dancers from the Eglevsky Ballet. The New Hyde Park-based company also is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

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THE BACK STORY

New York City Opera tenor Nino Luciano incorporated the nonprofit organization in 1961. Bernard Hart succeeded him, and the group performed fully staged classics until the 1990s, when arts funding diminished. By 2001, the company was defunct. But it has been regaining momentum since Berta arrived in 2009.

Private donations, along with a $1,000 grant from Suffolk County, helped the company get back on its feet -- last year and in February, the group performed a handful of shows in various Long Island communities.

"We've performed in wineries and libraries," says Ashley Bell, a part-time Southampton resident and soprano who has been singing with the group for two years. "I think you can take a lot of risks in those kinds of environments and try new things."

Still, Long Island Opera is working says Berta, to "change the face of opera" and "make it more modern. . . . We want more people to know about it and become a part of it."

'The Golden Age of Opera: 50 Years of Passion'

WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Saturday, Southampton Cultural Center's Levitas Center for the Arts, 25 Pond Lane, Southampton. Wine and cheese reception starts at 6.

INFO 631-772-9546, longislandoperaco.org

ADMISSION $35 ($50 VIP)

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