by Laura Graesser
St. Louis should be thankful that Gina Galati didn’t excel in her college economics class. Had she continued on her business degree path, our town would be missing out her operatic talent, as well as Winter Opera St. Louis, the nonprofit company she founded in 2007.
“Getting into opera was kind of an accident for me,” says the 38-year-old Galati, who performed at The Muny as a child but never had taken voice lessons before being accepted into Washington University’s music program.
Her foray into opera may have been accidental, but Galati soon found a love for the genre. “I just love the music and the stories,” she says. “I enjoy learning about the characters and a lot of the operas are based on true stories, so there’s always something you can relate to in the character you’re playing.”
After college, Galati studied and sang in Italy under famous tenor Carlo Bergonzi, then performed with various operas around the country. It was in Philadelphia, while a homesick Galati was singing Rigoletto by Guiseppe Verdi, that she first conceived the idea of presenting an opera in St. Louis.
“It was a great production, and I thought it might be good to bring to the Italian community on the Hill,” says Galati, the daughter of Dominic’s on the Hill owner Dominic Galati. “In Europe, a lot of operas are held in churches, so I thought St. Ambrose could be a nice setting.”
Galati quickly realized the best way of bringing her idea to fruition was to start a nonprofit organization, at the time called New Opera St. Louis. Rigoletto was performed in February 2008 and the production was an instant sold-out success. It was more than Galati ever expected, and it spurred her to do more. “It was never my intention to start my own opera company. I just thought people might enjoy this production, but we were such a success, I wondered what we could do next.”
Since then, Winter Opera St. Louis has held three productions each year, performing where it can find the space, from Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel Synagogue to the St. Louis Woman’s Club. In the off season, Galati also organizes opera night fundraisers at Dominic’s. She is hopeful that the company will soon have a permanent home, possibly at the new Chaminade College Prepatory theater where it will open its fifth season in November.
Galati performs in at least one of the productions each season and continues to sing around the country, most recently at Miami Lyric Opera. She enjoys the challenges that opera presents. “The singing is not the hardest part: It’s learning the part and really allowing yourself to become the character by letting go and not having any fear. You have to give yourself over to the art form.”
With no monetary payback from the opera company as of yet, Galati also teaches voice lessons and works part time at her parents’ restaurant. The little free time she has left over is spent with her family, boyfriend and dog, Luca. “My dream is to one day be able to support myself with my singing and the opera company,” Galati says.
Until then, Galati looks forward to the continued growth of Winter Opera St. Louis, with hope for a children’s education program and greater appreciation in the community, as others see what she sees in opera. “I really believe we bring joy to people’s lives with opera,” Galati says. “I think it really enriches people’s lives.” LN