Pensacola Opera Forty Forward is a 40th anniversary celebration

Pensacola Opera will celebrate 40 years in Pensacola with a one-night only gala concert on Nov. 12 at Saenger Theatre called Forty Forward: Celebrating Four Decades of Opera in Pensacola.

In 1983, a small group of opera admirers decided the Pensacola community deserved to be enlightened and enriched by the beauty of opera music. 

Now 40 years later, Pensacola Opera will celebrate its position in the arts community with a one-night-only gala concert Nov. 12 at Saenger Theatre called Forty Forward: Celebrating Four Decades of Opera in Pensacola. 

“There’s a reason why those diehard opera fans love it,” said General Director of Pensacola Opera Chandra McKern. “They’ve been listening to it from the time they were little kids, or maybe you’re new to it and had no idea you like opera until you actually experience it. It’s pretty magical.”

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That magic comes to life when the audience is in their seats, the curtain goes up and they see the giant sets, beautiful costumes and makeup. There are no microphones, just the natural sound of singers’ voices projecting across a 30-piece orchestra.

The Forty Forward concert will have 16 thrilling vocalists take center stage and will collaborate with other local art organizations including Pensacola Symphony Orchestra, Pensacola Opera Chorus, Pensacola Choral Society, Pensacola Children’s Chorus and Ballet Pensacola. 

The concert will include productions of Pensacola Operas past as well as never before performed productions such as Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Serenade to Music.” 

History of Pensacola Opera

Pensacola Opera was started when a small group of people interested in opera, including singers, parents of singers, singing teachers, professionals and business leaders, decided that Pensacola could use their rich local talent to produce quality opera and created a grassroots opera company called “Pensacola Chamber Opera.” 

In the beginning, they were selling the costumes, auditioning and rehearsing singers, and designing and printing the program.

In the early 1990s, Pensacola Opera moved to its current home at the historic Saenger Theatre in downtown Pensacola. A full-time office, run by volunteers, allowed Pensacola Opera to offer its first season subscriptions and to begin its outreach programs. 

The opera began its Artists in Residence program, now called the Jan Miller Studio Artist program, in 2004, bringing young professionals in for residency to tour across Northwest Florida with its education programs. That same year, Pensacola Opera was among the “fastest-growing companies in the United States,” as recognized by Opera America.

In 2008, the Opera Center added 1,100 square feet of office and conference space. In May 2009, during the 26th season, Pensacola Opera returned to the newly renovated Saenger Theatre. 

Forty years later, the company has grown into an established nationally renowned regional opera company that reaches over 50,000 people of all ages each year.

Artistic Director Corey McKern did not grow up with opera when living in Alabama, but when he was exposed to it he fell in love with the sheer power of the music. He went to Mississippi State University and started singing, hoping to make it into a career. 

As the artistic director he feels like a missionary, bringing that same sheer power to an audience and watching it hit people the same way it has influenced him. 

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For Corey McKern, opera is a place where multiple artforms come together to form one amazing show.

“It’s sort of a one-stop shop if you want to see what all of classical music and dance and acting comes to the opera,” Corey McKern said. “And so I think it’s a good thing for young people to see and it’s something they might have not experienced. It’s like classical music on steroids.”

Music Director Cody Martin describes opera as an utterly human art form where they use their bodies as an instrument, amplified by the fact that everybody is on stage. 

It’s all of the weeks of preparation leading up to the performances that make the orchestra such a breathtaking experience, including the set design, lighting and the people backstage who make sure that everything on stage runs smoothly.

“Every time I go to a performance I leave with some sense of warmth and calm like I just feel like, ‘OK, that really refueled me, warmed my soul and made me feel human,’” Martin said. “And I always come away just a little more relaxed, but also excited about what might come next, So I always hope audiences go away with that sort of feeling as well.”

Tickets to Pensacola Opera’s anniversary concert start at $25, ranging in price to $75. Tickets can be purchased online at, on Ticketmaster, and through the Pensacola Opera office at 850-433-6737. 

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