In 1959, Rene Gonzalez founded the SPANISH LYRIC THEATRE as a student of the University of Tampa. As a project of the Spanish club, the company presented its first zarzuela (operetta) work in 1959 at the Centre Asturiano Theatre in Ybor City. With the vision to contribute to the continuation of Tampa's richly diverse heritage, the SPANISH LYRIC THEATRE set out to unite its community in celebration of its cultural roots through musical theatre. In 1960, the company produced its first show independent of the University of Tampa, under the name of "The Spanish Little Theatre." While teaching in the Hillsborough County school system, Rene Gonzalez continued to lead the company as Artistic Director in his spare time, and in 1964, the company added "Variedades," Musical reviews, highlighting different nationalities to its programming.
Then in 1965, the company elected a Board of directors and was incorporated as a non-profit arts group by the State of Florida and received its 501(c) 3 status. After operating for 25 years as the "Spanish Little Theatre," the group officially changed its name in 1983 to the SPANISH LYRIC THEATRE to give emphasis to its musical theatre productions. SLT received its first government funding in 1967 from the state of Florida, and our earliest corporate supporters included Jones Intercable and Tampa Electric Company.
By our 15th anniversary, in 1973, increasing professional demands and a growing audience necessitated moving SPANISH LYRIC THEATRE performances to Tampa's McKay Auditorium, and the company added Broadway musicals to its season. In 1974 the company presented "El Violinista En El Tejado" (Fiddler On the Roof) as the first time that work was ever presented in Spanish in this country. To complete our goal of becoming a truly Bi-lingual and multicultural arts organization in the Bay area, SLT presented "El Rey Y Yo" (The King and I) in both Spanish and English with the same cast in 1982.
Our 25th anniversary heralded our move to the new Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Our company was the first to use the TBPAC Playhouse for its regular season. Since then our programming has grown to include further touring of our shows around the state, and featured performances at the Florida State Fair. Our first funding from the Arts Council of Hillsborough County came in 1989 to support cultural performances for the migrant farm workers in our area.
In 1963, the Spanish Embassy in Washington D.C. recognized the Spanish Lyric Theatre as the only permanent theatrical company representing the art of the zarzuela in the United States. A Royal Command Performance was given for HRH Alfonso, Duque de Cadiz, in 1981 at the Tampa Theatre, in 1989, Her Majesty, Queen Sophia of Spain, sent the company a congratulatory letter for the three decades we had spent promoting the zarzuela art form and HRH Felipe Crown Prince of Spain sent a similar letter to mark our 40th Anniversary.
In 1996, SLT received its first UACAP grant assistance from the state of Florida for administrative assistance as an underserved minority status organization, enabling the company to hire professional arts administrators and assistants. Today SLT is governed by a Board of Directors representing community leadership from many of Tampa's longest standing families, businesses and cultural artists. A staff of community volunteers manages the daily operations and productions of the company.
SPANISH LYRIC THEATRE is the oldest Hispanic theatre group in the United States and the only group in Tampa dedicated exclusively to the production of musical theatre. Since its inception, Tampa's SPANISH LYRIC THEATRE has, without interruption, presented the best examples of Spanish zarzuelas, Viennese operettas and American musical theatre as well as ethnic popular, classic and folk music of Spain and Latin America.