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Opera singer's story chosen for Sarasota's One Book program
Opera singer's story chosen for Sarasota's One Book program avatar

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Daniel Bergner, author of “Sing For Your Life” will speak in Sarasota in January

Jay Handelman Arts Editor @jayhandelman

A book about an American opera singer who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds as a child to perform at the Metropolitan Opera and on international stages is the latest selection for the Sarasota County library system’s annual One Book One Community program.

Daniel Bergner’s 2016 book “Sing For Your Life” chronicles Ryan Speedo Green’s experiences growing up with an abusive and abused mother and spending time in a juvenile detention facility in Virginia because of his own violent activities. Over time, a caring teacher and her husband, among others, became guardian angels to the youth, encouraging him to pursue his music and education. He received a bachelor's degree in music from the Hartt School of Music and a master's in music at Florida State University.

After a visit to the Metropolitan Opera with other students, “he was enthralled and looked at his teacher and said I’m going to sing at the Met,” said Mona Herman, the community coordinator for the One Book program. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in the 2012-13 season in Puccini’s “Turandot” followed by several other productions. He also is a member of the Vienna State Opera.

“It’s just a really great story. He fought through obstacles that most people don’t have to fight through,” Herman said. “Sing For Your Life” follows Daniel James Brown’s “The Boys in the Boat” and a yearlong celebration of the 100th birthday of John D. MacDonald as the latest One Book selection.

The New York Times called it “an incisive portrait of a young black man from a poor and constricted home in southeastern Virginia who comes to possess, of all things, the potential for greatness at the highest levels of opera.”

A 26-member committee whittled down a long list of possibilities to make the One Book selection.

Ellen India, the library system’s adult services coordinator, said committee members “have a frank discussion about who will be the audience for this book. We want to appeal to diverse audiences. We have to think about what kinds of library programs we can do. We want to get beyond just having a book discussions.”

Bergner will take part in two programs on Jan. 26 in North Port and at the Sarasota Opera House. Various book clubs and other organizations also will be encouraged to include the book in their programs.

There are discussions to bring Green to Sarasota to talk about his experiences, with tie-ins to students and the guardian ad litem program, but India said nothing has been confirmed.

“We hope to have him come to talk with students, maybe some who have been involved in the juvenile justice system, or with the Booker VPA program, helping kids learn how they can believe in themselves and find what they love doing,” she said.

India said because of the prominence of the arts in Sarasota, “we felt the story was really able to show kind of the behind-the-scenes on what it takes to be a successful person in the opera world.”

She said that, as a librarian, “one of the things we talk about all the time is the importance of literacy and how it can help you achieve your life goals. Ryan’s story was so incredible. Not only did he have the regular literacy hurdles he had to jump over in English, now he’s got to learn Italian, French and German and he has to know how to pronounce the words and what they mean. He just has this incredible persistence and perseverance and at some point, he realized the only way his life would change if he made it change himself.”

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