(From Naples Daily News, November 10th 2021 edition written by Harriet Howard Heithaus)

George Bizet’s Carmen was a gypsy all her life. Steffanie Pearce’s Gulfshore Opera will not be, thanks to a $1 million dollar gift. 

The gift, from board member Mary McVay of Bonita Springs, has enabled the company to lease a 1,500 square-foot multi-space headquarters at 9911 Corkscrew Road,  Estero. Supporters gathered Friday, Nov. 5, to christen its five offices and studio space in Suite 105 — room for operations, ticketing office and rehearsals for ensembles up to four people.

McVay’s donation was actually made before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. It was with  the express purpose of finding a base from which the company could grow, said Pearce, Gulfshore Opera founder and general director.

“But when COVID hit, we just had to put everything on pause. We were looking for the right time to make this wonderful news public,” she explained.

Until now, the opera’s administration was spread out in various spaces. And while in its first year the organization has said it could exist without any dedicated rooms, that time is over, Pearce said. 

“You can bargain and borrow as a startup, but we’re not a startup anymore,” she said. The opera is seven years old this year. 

Long term, she continued, Gulfshore Opera is looking for a structure that could house larger rehearsals close by. “Ideally, we’re working with community partners to see that the community develops more facilities, because it’s something that Estero wants.”

Their donor, Pearce said, is someone whose philosophy is to help the community they live in. Further, Pearce said. “She understands the important role that classical music plays in cognitive development, and believes in making music education accessible to all children.”

“I believe in education. I give back to my university, Virginia Tech,” said McVay, a former partner in The Burney Management Co., a financial advisory firm. “What I liked about Gulfshore Opera was their emphasis on education.”

McVay said she was impressed with its Harmony Choir for underserved children and its Emerging Artists program for young singers. The opera recently added a Talented Teens performance class as well.

Music, she said, is key to disciplines outside itself: “My software that I use for my financial management was developed by Juilliard majors,” she said.

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The establishment of a headquarters will help logistics for a company that has grown to 34 performances this season. Many of them are concerts or dinner concerts in area churches or clubs.Your stories live here.Fuel your hometown passion and plug into the stories that define it.

However, this season, Gulfshore Opera is taking its grand opera on an ambitious large-hall tour. It will perform “Tosca” in Naples at Artis—Naples and will partner with the Naples Philharmonic for it April 29 performance there and at the April 26 Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall performance in Fort Myers. The opera opens at the Charlotte Harbor Performing Arts Center on April 23.

“The Bat’s Revenge,” which transports Johann Strauss’ comic “Die Fledermaus” to a glossy Hollywood Golden Age setting, also comes to all three counties Feb. 24-27.

“We’re smack bang in the middle of our three-county territory,” declared Gulfshore Opera board chair Stephanie Schwetz, addressing the group shortly before a Champagne toast.

“We sing from as far north as Punta Gorda down to Marco Island. In Estero we have a wonderful base in the middle, which I think makes life easier for our staff, for our audiences and, I hope, to keep in touch with you.”

She also praised the “unparalleled reception” Estero officials have given the company in its decision to locate there. “I didn’t think anyone could imagine the generosity, the support and the warmth Gulfshore Opera has had having announced its intentions to be based here.”

Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.

From Naples Daily News, November 10th 2021 edition.