Today, Athlone Artists is pleased to welcome soprano Susan Hellman Spatafora to its roster. Celebrated by Opera News for her “perfect yearningly optimistic coloring—golden and radiant,” and by Classics Today for her “impressive instrument,” Spatafora has performed with Palm Beach Opera, Opera Tampa, Sarasota Opera, St. Petersburg Opera, The Glimmerglass Festival, Central City Opera, South Florida Lyric Opera and Green Mountain Opera.
A fixture on opera stages throughout Florida, Spatafora stars this spring in two Opera Tampa productions of socially distanced, outdoor performances. In March, she makes her role debut as Leonora in the company’s 90-minute reduction of Il Trovatore and in April she appears as Cio-Cio-San in “Butterfly’s Flight.”
In December 2020, Spatafora “sparkled” as she “let (Rosalinde’s) intelligence shine through” (Orlando Sentinel) in Opera Orlando’s Die Fledermaus, the country’s first staged opera production since the pandemic.
“These magical roles – Rosalinde, Leonora and Cio-Cio-San – that I have had the opportunity to play during the time of COVID will always hold a special place in my heart,” says Spatafora.
“I was originally hired to sing the role of Rosalinde in Gulfshore Opera’s Die Fledermaus opposite (fellow Athlone Artist) Gabriel Preisser. I had rarely sung comedic roles like this one before. Mostly I get to be sad and serious, to die of horrible diseases or perhaps by my own hand (which I adore, of course, because there is absolutely nothing that sounds more gorgeous than a good operatic death)! While I was learning the role, Gabe – who concurrently runs Opera Orlando – called to see whether I could do the role on short notice for their socially-distanced, COVID-protocol-enacted production of Die Fledermaus a couple of weeks later. It turned out to be one of the best experiences I’ve ever had – and not just because I got to be on stage with wonderfully talented friends and performers after all of this time, but because comedy is so much fun! It allowed me to tap into a part of a self-assured personality that I rarely show on stage (let alone off). While the Gulfshore Opera production had to be postponed due to COVID, I cannot wait to perform the role again!”
“I will always say yes to singing any Puccini that my voice is capable of singing,” Spatafora says. “though his storylines can be wildly problematic (see Madama Butterfly), I cannot help but be enamored with his music.” Her affinity for Puccini is evident in her “blazing performance” (Talkin’ Broadway) in the title role of Suor Angelica for the St. Petersburg Opera in 2019. “I had always wanted to sing that heartbreakingly beautiful music, and to tell her story. I love to inhabit a character who is pure and true, and who will sacrifice herself – be it emotionally or literally – for a just cause.”
Spatafora will certainly bring her uncommon pathos to the role of Cio-Cio San this spring. “Cio-cio-san was the very first role I was offered in my very first professional young artist program at Central City Opera. I was still in my mid-twenties, and certainly not fully ready to perform the role – but ever since, I’ve longed for the day when I might fully be able to embody Cio-Cio San’s character. Which sounds funny, insofar as she is supposed to be a 15-year-old Japanese girl (Seriously. Such a disturbing story). I have had several opportunities to perform selections from Madama Butterfly and was looking forward to bringing Madama Butterfly to life on the Opera Tampa stage this season. Alas, COVID had other plans, but I look forward to performing excerpts from this gorgeous piece in April, and perhaps one day have the opportunity again when I’m not too much further from 15.”
In November 2020, Spatafora sang Marcos Balter’s Ear, Skin, and Bone Riddles in the New World Symphony’s virtual program, Adams X Adams, which she “delivered with a rich timbre, bell-like high notes and great clarity” (South Florida Classical Review).
Spatafora will perform a concert with Opera Orlando in May and the role of the Governess in Britten’s Turn of the Screw with IlluminArts in October 2021.
During the 2019-20 season Spatafora sang the title role of Suor Angelica with the St. Petersburg Opera Company and performed the roles of Micaëla in Bizet’s Carmen with Opera Tampa and Mimì in Puccini’s La Bohème with Lakeland Opera. Other recent roles have included in Leïla in Les pêcheurs de perles, Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly, Giulietta in Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Clotilde in Norma, and Anna in Puccini’s Le Villi. Spatafora can also be seen in the title role in the world premiere video recording of Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah, with St. Petersburg Opera, released on Naxos in 2017.
A frequent guest artist with the Tampa Oratorio Singers, Spatafora was recently seen as soprano soloist in Verdi’s Requiem, Mozart’s Mass in C minor, Bach’s Magnificat, Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and Handel’s Messiah. Other appearances as guest soloist have included a quartet version of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (Liszt) and Brahms’ Liebeslieder-Walzer with the Dranoff International 2 Piano Foundation; Andrea Clearfield’s The Long Bright with the North Carolina Women’s Voices Chorus; the world premiere of Allan Friedman’s With Perfect Faith with the Duke Vespers Ensemble; “Solveig’s Song” from Peer Gynt with the Tampa Bay Symphony; and Whispering Pines 10, an installment of artist Shana Moulton’s internet soap opera with music by Nick Hallett. An avid art song recitalist, Spatafora has performed concerts with IlluminArts at the Bass Museum, Miami Center for Architecture & Design, and in the virtual concert “Unmasked” in collaboration with ICA Miami and Girl Power in December 2020.
Spatafora has won prizes in competitions including the Florida Grand Opera Young Patronesses of the Opera competition, the Palm Beach Opera International Vocal Competition, and the National Society of Arts and Letters Voice Competition. A graduate of the master’s program in voice at the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati and bachelor’s program in voice from Indiana University, Ms. Spatafora has been a participant in the EPCASO and Opera Lucca programs in Italy, as well as young artist programs at Central City Opera, Sarasota Opera and the Glimmerglass Festival. Spatafora now makes her home in St. Petersburg, FL.