Gulfshore Opera Announces Expansion of Staff and Corporate Operations and New Board Member

Naples, Fla. – Feb. 18, 2016 – Gulfshore Opera, the flourishing regional opera company that serves Charlotte, Lee, and Collier counties, has expanded staff and corporate operations for the second season by filing newly created positions and adding an additional Board of Directors member. A successful inaugural season last year, and ambitious current season this year, required additions to corporate operations ahead of schedule.

“It seems the idea of inclusive and accessible opera has caught on in Southwest Florida. We ended the first year on budget and scheduled 65 percent growth in the second year. With an increasing donor base and foundation support from the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, I knew it was time to add an executive with a financial background. Our corporate structure is fully in place now and we mean business,” said Steffanie Pearce, Founder and General Director of Gulfshore Opera.

Recent hires include Debra Haller, M.B.A., C.P.A., Financial Director; Laura Friesen, Head Coach and Education Outreach Director; and Ariel Eliot, IT and Graphic Design.

As Financial Director of Gulfshore Opera, Haller, leads the team responsible for developing financial system and processes to support the community based, regional activities of Gulfshore Opera. She brings extensive experience in managing rapidly growing non-for-profit organizations and a passion for the performing arts.

“It is an honor to work with the dedicated, experienced team at Gulfshore Opera. Their commitment to pursuing excellence creates a bond that enriches our community and our schools,” said Haller.

Haller’s career has focused on consulting with small, growing not-for-profit organizations over the last two decades. Her organization training and development skills build team structure and processes within the finance function that provide a sound foundation for organizations as they pursue their mission. Her experience in coaching and mentoring individuals blends with her strong technical accounting background to create a unique ability to enhance an organization’s efficiency and effectiveness.

Stephanie Schwetz, Gulfshore Opera’s newest Board of Directors member, joins Anthony Fabiano, Chairman of the Board; Charles T. Ganjamie, Treasurer; Maestro Paul Nadler; and Ron Gerdel. Board of Trustees members include Eva Sugden Gomez, Lindsay Robertson, David Marshall, Marie Fabiano, Gordon Robertson, Michael Standen and Jay R. Paul. Michael Fabiano, top tenor in the world, serves as Artistic Advisor.

“Stephanie Schwetz is a great addition to our Board of Directors. She has many years of experience as a leader of a huge national non-profit organization and the social grace to be a leader in our various outreach efforts. Additionally, she is a true opera lover,” said Pearce.

Originally from the UK, Stephanie Schwetz is a resident of Marco Island and has spent winters in Florida since 2001.

Following the demerger of Granada Group, a major media and hospitality group in the UK where she was a director, she was recruited to become the Chair of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, the UK’s largest research charity supporting 200 scientists with a fundraising budget of around 18 million pounds, where she worked in a pro bono capacity for 14 years. After the opportunity to join the charity together with another complementary research organization was completed in 2015, she stepped down.

Schwetz has since chosen to give her time and experience in support of her love for opera. When living in the UK, she visited Covent Garden frequently and has seen opera in venues from Glyndebourne to Verona, from La Scala to the Ring in Bavaria and worked with a small opera company on a hilltop town in Italy, where she lives in the summer.

Schwetz has worked extensively on boards of varying sizes in the corporate and charity sectors and is “delighted to have the chance to become more involved in the community in S.W. Florida and in delivering on the very worthwhile mission of Gulfshore Opera.”

In 2000, Schwetz was made a Commander of the British Empire (C.B.E) for her services to industry with work to help young unemployed and as a Commissioner of the Low Pay Commission.

Other newly hired staff are the following:

Laura Friesen, Head Coach and Education Outreach Director
Resident Artist Program Director Laura Friesen obtained her Masters of Vocal Accompaniment and Chamber Music Degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, as a student of the esteemed Martin Katz.

Continuing to enjoy a long and ongoing career as a highly successful Operatic Coach and Pianist, Friesen has spent the past 10 years with various opera companies in the United States, Canada and Europe in addition to various international summer opera festivals. For the past six years, Friesen was principal Coach and Principal Main State Pianist at the Virginia Opera and was also appointed Musical Director of their Emerging Artist program. Prior to this engagement, she spent four years with the Pittsburgh Opera as Main Stage Pianist and Head Coach of the Young Artist Program. In addition, Friesen has worked with the Canadian Opera Company and the University of Toronto Opera Department.

“I am thrilled to be a part of the innovative and talented team which is led by Steffanie Pearce. Being able to contribute to a company whose mantra is to be “inclusive and accessible” is an honor, and to know that in addition to creating beautiful music and professional productions, we are making a difference in the community,” said Friesen.

Ariel Eliot, Information Technology and Graphic Design
Ariel Eliot, has a Master of Music degree in Violin Performance from the University of Florida, and was also a part of the graduate string quartet while a student there. She currently performs with the Orlando Philharmonic, the Southwest Florida Symphony, Gulfshore Opera, and various other ensembles throughout the state.

Eliot attended the Blanche Bryden Chamber Music Institute at the Sunflower Music Festival in Topeka, Kansas, and the Western Slope music festival in Crested Butte, Colorado. In addition to performing with Gulfshore Opera, Ariel assists with graphical design and website management for the organization. She grew up with computers, and had one of the first Macintosh systems. She is pleased to be a part of this growing organization.

“I am glad to offer my technical skills to the Gulfshore Opera family. It is rather satisfying to combine my love of the arts world with my experience with computers and graphic design,” said Eliot.

For more information about Gulfshore Opera, please call 239.529.3925 or visit

About Gulfshore Opera
Celebrating its second season, Gulfshore Opera is a regional opera company founded with core values of a community based creative collaboration. Serving Collier, Lee and Charlotte Counties, it seeks to enrich the community by presenting high quality opera-theater and classical vocal music, and promotes community well-being through musical education programs. Its mission is to make opera accessible to the general public by maintaining affordable ticket prices and a wide range of performance experiences suitable for diverse audiences. Gulfshore Opera was founded in 2014 by Steffanie Pearce, who brings 30 years of experience in the field of opera. She is a producer, director, performer and teacher of the great art form and has performed around the world.
This article was submitted by a Guest Author of the Above Board Chamber.