By Linda Chion Kenney
A childhood fascination with opera has turned into a second job and a long-term, post-retirement goal for Alessandro ‘Alex’ Anzalone, Hillsborough Community College’s interim Brandon campus president.
Growing up as a youngster in Venezuela, Anzalone said he was age 7 or 8 when he started playing records “over and over again” in his family’s home, learning to memorize two operas by age 10: Carmen and The Barber of Seville.
“I always liked classical music, and particularly opera, because there’s a story to it,” he said.
In 1998, at age 31, he saw his first opera at the Straz Center in Tampa, and about 16 years later took his first lesson.
“We were taking my son to music lessons and my wife started taking piano lessons,” he said. “One day, she said to me, ‘Hey, you like singing opera, why don’t you take lessons?’”
And so he did; starting at age 47, the man with a doctorate degree and a longtime career in teaching and chemical engineering started his opera studies.
“It takes about five years to be somewhat decent in singing opera, and it takes 10 years to be really good at it,” Anzalone said. “That’s the normal numbers, and I’m in year six.” In September, he auditioned successfully for Opera Tampa’s 2020 season.
When it offered him a chorus role in Carmen, his childhood favorite, “it was a very happy day for me,” Anzalone said.
The opera sold out for its three-night run in February.
Through the experience, “I met a lot of amazing people I would not have met otherwise,” Anzalone said, “and it opened my world to a whole new profession.”
Now, because of the coronavirus pandemic, Anzalone said there is a halt to rehearsals for his next opera, Aida, which he had already memorized and hopes to see rescheduled.
Meanwhile, he has another memory to sustain him, a chance in February to sing on stage with Andrea Bocelli, the famed Italian opera singer, songwriter and record producer.
“They sent an email to everyone from Opera Tampa, anyone in the chorus, and said we need 60 people to sing with him,” Anzalone said. “The moment I got the email I replied, ‘Yes!’ That was another amazing experience, singing with Andrea Bocelli at the Amalie Arena on Valentine’s Day, with my family in the audience.”
Anzalone was named interim Brandon campus president in June 2019 after Nancee Sorenson left for another job. He’s one of several candidates vying for the job on a permanent basis. As for opera, it’s another venue for expanding his skill set and testing his endurance.
“Every music lesson with a teacher is one hour and in that one hour you’re sweating like you don’t believe,” Anzalone said. “You’re not moving, you’re not running, but you have to use your whole body to sing opera. It’s very hard work, but also very rewarding. For me, it’s a dream come true.”