"I never count the number of performances because I always want to feel the current one is the most important," he says.
Lipton's casual and expressive conversational style almost belies his imprimatur. His voice is a little raspy as he recovers a rehearsal after-party, which he admits was celebrated with gusto at Taps. The bar/restaurant is right across the street from the Straz Center — where Giacomo Puccini's famous tale about love, friendship and starving artists is being staged this weekend.
For those not in the know about La Bohème, Lipton said that it's the ideal opera to see live for the first time. The production is faithful to its late 19th century time period in Paris with lavish set props and costumes.
Lipton was particularly enthusiastic about the soloists in the production. "Every performer fits the role ideally," he says. "Not just beautiful voices and great performances. The audience will a get a feel for their camaraderie and friendship onstage."
Speaking of friendship, Lipton's new working relationships have become the highlight of his tenure here. He says that everyone has been open and welcoming, and that he's touched by the warmth of the people he's met since his arrival. "They really have become part of my life," he added.
Straz Center Judy Lisi, co-founder of Opera Tampa, is among his inner circle here. He praised her "magnitude" and credited her for Straz's growth over the past 25 years.
"She’s very, very special," he said of Lisi. "Extraordinary. Her heart is in the opera."
As the inaugural and multifaceted Florida Opera Festival draws to a close, Lipton remains upbeat. He says that Tampa offers "fruitful terrain" for growth in the arts.
Just after we spoke, his company announced its season for 2013-14 festival. Composers Bizet and Mozart, among others, will be showcased. (I'm especially excited about the upcoming production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess in January.)
In a statement to the press, Lipton said: "Next season we’ll present two of the greatest operas ever written. I am so excited. The Magic Flute will be a first for Opera Tampa since it has never been performed in our history and, as Mozart’s most fun opera, contains all the magic and humor of his genius. Carmen is certainly in the top 10 operas around the world, and we have certain surprises in store which should make this a very special production.”
What's really encouraging about Lipton's new era is his aspiration to work with other arts organizations and his inclusive spirit. He doesn't consider, for instance, St. Petersburg Opera a competitor.
"I want to work with all of Florida's opera companies," he said. He also wants to delve into events centered on the heritage of Tampa — notably Ybor City.
When asked what he'd say to opera newbies to get them to come see the La Bohème this weekend, he replied that seeing it live is "the most extraordinary experience." Seeing it on TV or film just doesn’t compare at all, and that English-speakers shouldn't be put off that it's sung in Italian. The surtitles above the stage are very easy to follow. He also said that people don't have to dress up. "Come in jeans. Come in anything —except for a bikini."
Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème can be seen today, Sat., March 9, 2 p.m. and tomorrow, Sun., March 10, 2 p.m. at the Straz Center's Morsani Hall. Visit strazcenter.org for ticket prices and other details.