Brian Jacobson
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A tour of the new Florentine Opera space in Riverwest

By - Sep 16th, 2009 09:22 pm

scootergrassBefore you step inside, the first thing you notice is the freshly layed sod bordering a repaired street. It’s just a simple touch bestowed to the Florentine Opera Company as staffers move in materials and make plans for the stylish, 4,000-square-foot practice space on Burleigh Street in Riverwest. While they will continue to maintain offices downtown, and the grand shows are staged at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Florentine previously had to beg, borrow and steal rehearsal time from available spaces. Now, they have a home for that and so much more. (See a previous TCD article about the upcoming season and space.)

buildinglookThe next thing you notice is the building itself. It’s a scrubbed-clean, cream city brick warehouse, well-kept by former occupants (yet still adjoining neighbor) La Lune furniture makers. The exterior is what you wish all Riverwest buildings could undergo for renovations: it’s clean, freshly painted, sports new windows, landscaped, well-lit, secure and ample. Building co-owner Mario Costantini, husband of Florentine board member Catherine, and his “workmen” did a bang-up — along with assistance from Marcus Center crews.

ironworkentranceThe walkway to enter is marked by an ironwork fence and wild grape vines. When the structure came available, the Constantinis offered it as a possibility to Florentine who hoped someday to have a space. A major part of the funding was set up by board President Wayne Lueders and his wife Kristine (whom the center will be named for), and a snowball effect of generosity and in-kind donations to the renovation effort came soon followed. It will be a five-year lease that could go longer if things go well.

practicespaceArtistic Director Bill Florescu greets me and Tom Strini at the lobby, where the walls are creamy and a sort of mural, thanks to the many people who helped make it happen. Inside the main rehearsal space, you feel lighter. This is because there is a spring floor installed, transferred from another performing arts group to this space. The loft spaces are packed with steamer trunks, props and costumes. A wall-length mirror makes the room brighter, even through the gauzy white drapes that adorn the tall windows.

pianofrocksOne wall functions as a giant garage door, completely painted cream. This door made it easy to move items from storage locations, including some relieved movers who rolled in the newly donated Steinway grand piano. The brunette instrument sits quietly in the corner, attended by a gaggle of slips on a garment rack. A few feet away, a mysterious and regal chair centers the wall.

wigroomUpstairs, just past a wall of autographed photos, is a quiet wig and costume shop. The gentle framework of future appearances sit atop molded heads. Downstairs, the kitchen looks ripped from a showroom floor. Nessun Dorma recently got first-catering rights for a private event and marveled at the devices and space. Through the back door, you can only now hear the sounds of a saw from the furniture makers working. An amazing patio table and chairs from their collection sit in the middle of a shared greenspace.

basementdecorDownstairs, there is a small coaching studio with a huge, antique boiler door sticking out from freshly painted drywall. An even smaller room in this room awaits; it will become a warmup room for individuals while others practice upstairs. Many of the spaces will serve multiple purposes, especially after the resident Studio Artists moves in mid-October. The building will also be rented out to other arts groups when requested.

possiblestageWe walk to a nearby corner outside where the possibilities for staging an outdoor event is palpable. Youth and adult education programs and events will also be on the block; on October 30, the Florentine plans to hold a season preview at the facility that will be open to the public. This weekend is a good opportunity to get discounted single tickets for the season during the online “fire sale” and beat the general public to the punch.

Click on thumbnails below for larger views.

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