Marcella Sembrich Museum Gala Tribute to Caruso

The Marcella Sembrich Museum on the banks of Lake George.

Marcella Sembrich (1858-1935) was a great Polish soprano of the past whose life and career are legend. Mme. Sembrich was Gilda to Enrico Caruso’s Duke of Mantua in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto at his debut in November 1903 at the Metropolitan Opera. They also recorded the Rigoletto Quartet and the Sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor. Caruso, a skilled caricaturist, made several caricatures of his friend Marcella and they are in his book of caricatures. Mme. Sembrich bought a pink stucco cottage on the banks of Lake George, NY which became her studio where she taught voice until her passing in 1935. It has since become a museum, shrine and cultural oasis when it is open from June through mid September.

This season was an active one and was concluded with a gala honoring the immortal tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) on Saturday, September 2nd. His star has never faded and continues to shine almost a century since his untimely death of a lung abscess at age 48 in his native Naples on August 2, 1921.

Inside the Marcella Sembrich Museum

Richard Wargo, curator and music director, introduced host Barrymore Laurence Scherer, tenor Daniel Montenegro and pianist Michael Clement. Wargo then went to the old wind up phonograph and played Enrico Caruso singing “La Donna e mobile” from Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto. After Caruso’s golden voice negotiated the brilliant cadenza and finale, our tenor of the evening, Daniel Montenegro appeared, accompanied by Michael Clement and sang “La Donna e mobile.” Montenegro possesses a fine lyric tenor that is flexible, with a pleasing tone and theatrical flair. He sang the cadenza and hit the final note with ease and whetted the appetite for the remainder of the program. The intimate living room setting for the performance seats close to one hundred guests and has a Victor console and a baby grand piano.


Nino Pantano, Michael Clement, Richard Wargo,
Barrymore L. Scherer & Daniel Montenegro.
Photo by Judy Pantano

Barrymore Laurence Scherer spoke eloquently of his boyhood, his parents and how the voice of Enrico Caruso played such a large part in all their lives. Scherer especially remembers Caruso’s great recording of “Rachel quand du Seigneur” from Jacques Halevy’s La Juive which was the great tenor’s final performance at the Metropolitan Opera (Met Opera) on December 24, 1920. Mr. Scherer mentioned that while Enrico Caruso was not a matinee idol in looks, he possessed a round kindly face, a pug nose and a smile of comet wattage and his glorious voice was in the right body – He was simply CARUSO!

The operatic portion continued with “Una furtiva lagrima” from Gaetano Donizetti’s Elisir d’amore which was sung with lyricism and elan. Montenegro mentioned that Caruso suffered a throat hemorrhage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) on December 11th 1920 while singing in Elisir d’amore. Caruso did sing three times more at the Met in great pain afterwards but it signaled the beginning of the end.

“Amore o grillo” from Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly was sung with the proper bravura. “La Fleur que tu m’avais jetée” from Georges Bizet’s Carmen  was sung with admirable restraint and a pianissimo high at the finale that was both tender and caressing.

Piano accompanist Michael Clement from Skidmore College and the College of Saint Rose played the Intermezzo from Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana with all due passion and white hot inspiration.

Our erudite host Barrymore Laurence Scherer who is the opera and fine arts critic for The Wall Street Journal and the author of several books on opera, was able to speak volumes in a few short memorable phrases. What could be a better way to describe Caruso as he did than “the strength and beauty of his matchless voice?”

The concert continued with rising tenor Daniel Montenegro singing Neapolitan songs, many of which were immortalized by Enrico Caruso’s Victor recordings. Like Milton Berle who made television, it was Enrico Caruso who made over 240 recordings by use of the phonograph. The phonograph improved in quality to accommodate the demands of the public who clamored for his recordings. The first million seller was “Vesti la giubba” from Pagliacci in 1907.

Barrymore Scherer & Daniel Montenegro with
signed letter by Enrico Caruso. Photo by Judy Pantano

I first heard Daniel Montenegro in La Hija de Dr. Rappiccini (Rappiccini’s Daughter), an opera by Daniel Catán at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I praised him highly in my review in The Brooklyn Eagle.

Montenegro sang “La danza” by Gioachino Rossini and caught the tarantula spider dizzying madness ending with a sustained high note.

“Santa Lucia” by Theodoro Cottrau followed with just a hint of melancholy as Caruso did. Caruso was booed in his native Naples early in his career by a jealous claque and he never sang there again. He exclaimed he would only “go to Naples to eat spaghetti.” He always sang of Naples “Addio mia bella Napoli” and went there to die.

“Tu ca nun chiagne” by Ernesto de Curtis was sung by Montenegro, with true Italianate flair and plumbed the emotional depth and despair with a vocal frisson that was very exciting. Then we heard Core ‘ngrato written for Caruso by Salvatore Cardillo and was sung with intensity, longing and beauty of tone.

A virtuoso piano solo by Michael Clement with Rigoletto Concert-Paraphrase, Giuseppe Verdi/Franz Liszt was exciting. I thought of Vladimir Horowitz as the notes and melodies danced together and his fingers flew like winged chariots to fulfill the dynamic pulse of Liszt emulating Verdi in this virtuoso showpiece!

“L’ultima canzone” by Paolo Tosti followed, and was a favorite of Caruso contemporary-tenor Giovanni Martinelli (1885-1969) and romantic basso Ezio Pinza.(1892-1957) Montenegro sang it with generous tone, passion and pianissimo shading  combined.

Accordionist Tom Persinos. Photo by Judy Pantano

“Ideale” also by Tosti was sung with profound melancholy with a brilliant high note at the end à la Caruso. Caruso recorded a “Non t’amo piu” early in his career, (1902) written by Luigi Denza, but the one offered by Daniel Montenegro was by Tosti and has become a great favorite of tenors. Montenegro captured every bit of the gripping emotional intensity of this beguiling song in the true Italian way.

Next was the charming song “A vuccella” which Montenegro described as “the lady love having lips like a posy that simply have to be kissed.” It was the Caruso hit of 1919.

The final number by Stanislao Gastaldon was “Musica proibita” whose haunting melody was so beautifully articulated by Daniel Montenegro right up to the exciting finale.

The sold out audience insisted on an encore and the result was “O sole mio” sung not with Carusian melancholy but with Pavarottian joy with some wonderful trills more suited to Montenegro’s vocal terrain. Montenegro’s encore, true to his Latin roots was “Ay, Ay, Ay” (Osmán Pérez Freire) which was sung with brio, charm and some beautiful pianissimi.” His final outpouring was “Princesita” (José Padilla) which was sung with infectious charm. Montenegro loves to sing and shares that joy with his audience.

Barrymore Scherer made some closing remarks and concluded his lecture quoting a poem. The poem was written by me in 1963 and was printed in the Brooklyn section of The Daily News in 1971. The poem recalled the 42nd anniversary of Caruso’s death with a recorded 2 hour memorial tribute to Caruso in New York’s Bryant Park! Barrymore Laurence Scherer read the poem with great eloquence and feeling and introduced my wife Judy and myself. I was surprised, proud and humbled by the reading, the mention and the applause!

The reception before and after the gala was under a tent outdoors on the glittering shores of Lake George. The versatile fleet fingered accordionist Tom Persinos from Boston played many Italian favorites. The delicious finger food, one of which was a meatball with sauce on a toothpick with spaghetti swirled on top was new to me. It was provided by caterer Susan Minucci, owner of The Inn on Gore Mountain in North Creek, NY. It was a joy to “meet and greet” so many opera aficionados and wonderful people midst pastries and cannolis including the artists and enchanting Michelle Scherer, wife of Barrymore.

Marcella Sembrich and Enrico Caruso must have joined us on “cloud 9” because that’s where we were! We will inform Commendatore Aldo Mancusi of the Enrico Caruso Museum about this wonderful tribute. Hopefully we will have Richard Wargo come to Brooklyn, sample some good Polish food at Teresa’s on Montague Street. Then a visit to The Enrico Caruso Museum near Sheepshead Bay where Caruso sang on Labor Day for 125,000 people on August 31,1918 at the Sheepshead Bay racetrack as part of the police games. Caruso was made an honorary Police Captain at the ceremonies. A few days earlier Enrico Caruso sang at the convention hall in Saratoga.

To stroll the spacious grounds of the Sembrich after a visit to the house and museum and sit on one of the benches and “lookout” points, watching the ducks, boaters and revelers is like being in paradise.

We wish to thank Richard Wargo, our gallant and gracious host and “founder of the feast” for his flowers for Judy at the train station and his planning the “surprise” reading of my poem. Richard Wargo and staff, Beth Barton-Navitsky and Michelle San Antonio are to be commended for their efforts on behalf of making treasures from the past still so vital for today. We shall never forget the Enrico Caruso evening at The Sembrich. We also thank Barrymore Laurence Scherer, Daniel Montenegro, Michael Clement and Tom Persinos for their talent, skills, devotion and love for recalling the memory of the one and only “King of Tenors” – Enrico Caruso!

 

The Martina Arroyo Foundation Presents Potent Puccini with Suor Angelica & Gianni Schicchi

Family reading the will
Photo by Jen Joyce Davis/JJ Davis Studio

On the afternoon of Sunday, July 9th at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, the 600 plus audience was treated to two gems from Giacomo Puccini’s Il Trittico. Suor Angelica provided the tears and Gianni Schicchi the laughter. Il Trittico premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on December 14, 1918 to mixed acclaim but Gianni Schicchi was highly praised. Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica have come up from behind and have also earned praise as the masterpieces they are.

Acclaimed Metropolitan Opera (Met) tenor Richard Leech lauded the vision, talent and passion of the young singers and the importance of those who help support the Martina Arroyo Foundation. The young awardees are given an intensive six weeks of training and voice and stagecraft lessons as well as a stipend. They are then presented in opera, fully costumed with orchestra and fully staged before an audience at the Danny Kaye/Sylvia Fine Kaye Playhouse (Named after the immortal Brooklyn comedian and humanitarian and his lyricist/composer wife) as part of Prelude to Performance of the Martina Arroyo Foundation. Mr. Leech quoted from Molière, “Of all the voices known to man, opera is the most expensive.” Maestro  Willie Anthony Waters lifted his baton as conductor and the magic began, with the simple setting of a fountain, a statue of the Virgin Mary, a flower garden and the nuns. Artful in its simplicity, the nuns evoked innocence and devotion. The story takes place in the convent courtyard in Italy in the late 1600’s.

The whispering among the nuns said that Suor Angelica had come from a wealthy family and was sent to the convent seven years ago. She became the pharmacist and her herbs and potent potables were of value to her fellow sisters at the convent. A visitor arrives and word spreads that the visitor was a lady in a royal coach with a family crest. The Mother Superior sends for Suor Angelica and tells her that her Aunt, the Princess, wants to speak to her. Angelica and La Zia Principessa are given time and privacy in the Virgin’s chapel. The Aunt wants Suor Angelica to sign over her share of the property because Angelica’s youngest sister Anna Viola is getting married. Suor Angelica then asks how her young son (born out of wedlock) is. Zia tells her that he died of a fever two years earlier. Angelica screams and falls in a faint. Zia Principessa turns her back and prays. Angelica is bereft, signs the deed and Zia leaves.

Angelica mixes a poison potion for herself and drinks it but regretting her suicide prays for forgiveness. The Virgin statue glows, the stars in the heavens shine brightly, as Angelica’s child appears and welcomes her to heaven.

Michelle Johnson was Suor Angelica. Ms. Johnson’s acting was stretched to the limits but was never overdone. Her emotions were imploding and exploding yet with a sense of humility that touched the heart and tear ducts. Ms. Johnson’s exquisite singing of “Senza Mamma” had the true essence of an Italian soprano with generous volume and a  heartrending outpouring of glorious sound. Ms. Johnson hit the final note “Amore” in a  mezza voce and held it until it became a golden thread to paradise. Suor Angelica’s child (Akari Wientzen) walking towards her with arms outstretched in her final moments was indelible. The composer Puccini, whose sister was a nun, would have savored this moment, and I am certain he applauded from his domain in heaven.The touching libretto was by Giovacchino Forzano.

Rinuccio & Lauretta Photo by Jen Joyce Davis/JJ Davis Studio

La Zia Principessa was stunningly sung by Leah Marie de Gruyl whose dark penetrating mezzo and stone cold persona left a chill in the room. La Zia had the righteous might of the old testament but none of the mercy of the new! She could not forgive nor forget Suor Angelica’s transgression and the family disgrace. Once she turned to comfort but recoiled, she was incapable of doing so.

Melanie Ashkar had the proper balance of sternness and compassion as La Maestra delle Novizia. Her flexible  warm mezzo soprano was a perfect barometer for her character and assigned duties.

Molly Burke, Jenna Buck, Renée Richardson, Crystal Glen, Nicole Rowe, Yulan Piao, Amy Guarino, Wan Zhao, Hilary Hei Lee Law and Maria Zollo rounded out the ensemble and sang and acted with heavenly perfection. Their singing with the chorus of “Regina Verginum, Salve Maria” was truly the beacon to heaven’s door.

The second portion of the evening was the brilliant comedy Gianni Schicchi with a libretto also by Giovacchino Forzano. The story takes place in Florence, Italy in the year 1299.

In the middle of their mourning the death of their wealthy relative, Buoso Donati, his greedy relatives hear gossip suggesting that he has left all of his possessions to the monks of the order of Saint Reparata. Rinuccio suggests that they hire Gianni Schicchi, despised newcomer to Florence who knows the law, be chosen to help them get the money. Rinuccio is in love with Lauretta, Schicchi’s daughter. Rinuccio sings “Fiorenza come un albero fiorito.” Spencer Hamlin’s brilliant tenor rang out on the top notes ending with the name of “Gianni Schicchi” with fervor!

Donati family with Gianni Schicchi in white
Photo by Jen Joyce Davis/JJ Davis Studio

The wily Schicchi pretends to be the still dying Buoso. Before playing his role, he tells the family that to lie with wills means getting your hand chopped off and banishment from Florence. “Primo un divertimento” was robustly sung.” Schicchi indeed gives some property to family members but he leaves the main home, mules and grounds to himself waving his sleeveless hand at them whenever they protested. It ends with the greedy family leaving after attacking the house and the young lovers happily singing a love duet “Lauretta mia, staremo sempre qui” with the city of Florence in full view. Hamlin’s vibrant tenor and Ms. Whiteway’s lovely soprano soared ecstatically. Schicchi then addresses the audience that even if he goes to hell (As Dante placed him) that it was worth it!

Joshua DeVane was an excellent Gianni Schicchi and he used his warm vibrant baritone and expressive acting to the fullest. He truly relished the part!

Lauretta was in the pretty and perky package of Anna Adrian Whiteway and her singing of the iconic “O mio babbino caro” was enchanting. Ms. Whiteway’s charming soprano has a pungent fullness that made all eyes and ears, hers!

Suor Angelica with nuns
Photo by Jen Joyce Davis/JJ Davis Studio

Steven Mo Hanan was the dead Buoso and was remarkably funny with his Buster Keaton deadpan schtick!

The versatile Leah Marie de Gruyl was hilarious as Zita. Ms. de Gruyl’s amber dark mezzo has all the colors of the rainbow replete with a pot of gold!

Vincent Grana was excellent as Simone, oldest relative and the former Mayor of Fucecchio. His plangent bass-baritone and comedic gestures were truly evocative of the Italian theatre.

All of the “grieving” greedy relatives were sung and acted with aplomb including Melanie Ashkcar as La Ciesca, Nicholas LaGesse as Marco, Nicole Rowe as Nella, Hao Hu as Gherardo, Frida Werner as Gerardino, Karl Buttermann as Betto, while dual roles were played by Ben Reisinger as Spinellooccio and Notaio and Charles Carter as Pinellino and Guccio.

Suor Angelica with Zia Principessa
Photo by Jen Joyce Davis/JJ Davis Studio

Maestro Willie Anthony Waters conducted the 30 splendid orchestra musicians in a performance that was perfection from the ascending majesty of Suor Angelica to the brassy, brilliant and modernistic insouciance of Gianni Schicchi. The versatile  chorus rose to heavenly heights in Suor Angelica and captivated throughout and in Gianni Schicchi as well.

Ian Campbell’s stage direction was perfect from the calm of the convent to the merry mayhem of Gianni Schicchi!

Charles Caine’s costumes were comforting in the convent and colorful in Gianni Schicchi and brilliantly brought out two aspects of life in Italy centuries ago.

Steven Horak’s wig and make up were colorful, garish when needed and versatile. Even the dead had lustre!

Plaudits to Joshua Rose, set and lighting designer. The glowing Virgin statue still glows in memory!

The audience stood up as one and cheered to the rafters for both operas and both casts bathed in the glow of the ovations for the final bow. Opera lovers who witnessed these superb performances did better than if they flew to Milan to the opera house at La Scala. New York City and the Kaye Playhouse was the place to be for opera at its finest. No “updates,” “no nonsense,” (nunsense) – just wonderful  opera as the composer intended it to be.

It was nice to see friends from the Martina Arroyo Foundation, Met Verdi baritone and Administrative Director Mark Rucker and his wife and accompanist Sadie, Publicity, and Norena Barbella, Development Consultant, as well as many friends from Opera Index, The Gerda Lissner Foundation and others. There was a special memorial page for the much loved and invaluable recently deceased coach and accompanist Joan Krueger.

Suor Angelica with apparition of child & Statue of Madonna & child. Photo by Jen Joyce Davis/JJ Davis Studio

It was a joy to witness two incomparable performances of Puccini at his best in Prelude to Performance. The indomitable spirit of our guiding light, Martina Arroyo prevails. She is our everything and to witness this type of thrilling performance by these future stars nurtured by the Martina Arroyo Foundation makes us all ennobled and elevates humankind with the beauty and the art of opera! A “toast” to Martina Arroyo and all involved in Prelude to Performance. Here’s to Prelude to Performance 2018!

We look forward to the Martina Arroyo Gala at the J.W. Marriott Essex House on Monday, November 13th when Met opera’s great basso James Morris and promising soprano Ailyn Perez and Broadway legends, Chita Rivera and Tommy Tune will be honored!

Church of the Transfiguration Presents Modern Masterpieces An Arnold Schwartz Memorial Concert

Dr. Claudia Dumschat leading the Church Choir. Photo by Tatyana Pantano.

On the evening of Friday, June 9th at the Church of the Transfiguration (also known as The Little Church Around the Corner) on 29th Street in New York City, there was a performance of Modern Masterpieces, a memorial concert to Arnold Schwartz (1905-1979), patron and benefactor. Schwartz was born in Brooklyn and together with his wife Marie were acclaimed for their generous donations to the arts. The magnificent church organ was donated by his wife and named in his memory.

Dr. Claudia Dumschat, organist and music director of the Church of the transfiguration, planned a most ambitious and enlightening program for this concert, which included the Transfiguration Choir of Men and Boys, Girls Choir and Camerata plus the excellent Transfiguration Instrumental Ensemble, consisting of Joy Plaisted on the harp, James Kennerley at the organ and Jared Soldiviero on the timpani. The great conductor composer Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) worked with the Transfiguration Boys Choir in 1961. At that time, the choir sang and traveled extensively with some of the musical giants of that era.

Opening remarks were made by the newly appointed and youthful Rev. Father John David van Dooren. Father van Dooren, a man who cherishes the importance of music and culture in our lives, cordially welcomed one and all to this musical celebration. The program opened with “Rejoice in the Lamb” by British composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) is based on the poem “Jubilate Agno” by Christopher Smart, who was a mad poet often institutionalized. This poem is about cat and mouse. “My Cat Jeoffry” – a precursor to “Cats”? The libretto rejoices in the beauty of his cat Jeoffry and his female mouse and all of creation. “Rejoice in the lamb” was sung by Enlun Yin soprano, Joe Redd alto, Ben Thomas tenor and Alan Henriquez baritone, accompanied by the Transfiguration Choir of Men and Boys, and made for a delightful treat to Britten’s haunting, unique and flowing output.

Soloist Luciano Pantano. Photo by Tatyana Pantano.

Three Ave Maria settings followed. Everyone is familiar with Ave Maria by Franz Schubert or the Bach-Gounod transcriptions by Leopold Stokowski, but there are many others. Enrico Caruso recorded an Ave Maria by Percy Kahn in 1913 with Mischa Elman on the violin. Giuseppe Verdi composed a beautiful Ave Maria for Desdemona in his late masterpiece “Otello” (1887).

Vladimir Vavilov, using notes supposedly from Giulio Caccini (1551-1616), wrote an Ave Maria in 1970 of poignant tranquility. Composer Bill Heigen, who sang with the Choir years ago, wrote an Ave Maria. The Transfiguration Girls Choir sang this with great reverence. The soft singing made one look at the beautiful grotto in the church devoted to Mary. Heigen dedicated this piece to the choir. The Ave Maria by Franz Beibl rounded out this trio, sung “a capella” by the gentlemen of the choir in a robust, solemn and praiseworthy manner, evoking the a capella group “All The Kings Men”. Ms.Claudia Dumschat led these ascending prayers with a steady hand. The harp of Joy Plaisted made the earthbound audience become heaven bound and on the side of the angels.

The second part of the program began with soprano Sara Paar accompanied on the piano by Anabelinda de Castro in a series of Leonard Bernstein songs entitled “I Hate Music!”. In “My Name is Barbara,” a little girl seeks recognition despite her young age, saucily and defiantly sung in a strong soubrette soprano. “Jupiter Has Seven Moons,” “I Hate Music” and “I’m a Person Too” are some of the sprightly tunes that evoked the insouciance of “I Feel Pretty” from Bernstein’s masterpiece West Side Story. Ms. Paar, will be without peer in such roles as Nannetta in Verdi’s Falstaff and other roles in the lyric repertory. Ms. Paar is both beguiling and enchanting! Anabelinda de Castro was her sprightly and dexterous accompanist.

Rev. Father John David Van Dooren, Nino Pantano & Dr. Claudia Dumschat. Photo by Judy Pantano.

Joe Redd, alto, sang “A Simple Song” from Bernstein’s “Mass” which was written to honor the slain President John F. Kennedy, whose birth centenary we celebrate this year. Mr. Redd has a warm amber quality to his flexible voice and he negotiated the vocal terrain smoothly.

In early December 1963, Leonard Bernstein received a letter from the Very Reverend Walter H. Hussey, Dean of the Cathedral in Chichester in Sussex, England requesting a composition for the Cathedral’s 1965 music festival involving the setting of Psalm Two, answering the question “why do the nations rage?” From the time of Chichester Psalms sold out world premiere at Philharmonic Hall in New York City on July 15th, 1965, it was apparent that Bernstein had created a magically unique blend of biblical Hebrew verse and Christian choral tradition – a musical depiction of the composer’s hope for brotherhood and peace. From “Make a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord” to “The Lord is My Shepard,” this piece, both jazzy and traditional, has old-fashioned sweetness and more than a touch of brashness.

Chichester Psalms is more akin to Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana than to Verdi’s Requiem, yet like a pigeon and a dinosaur, they are part of the evolution of musical sound. The singers were Luciano Pantano treble, Christina Kay soprano, Tessoro Estrella soprano, Joe Redd alto, Ben Thomas tenor and Alan Henriquez baritone. All of them worked so hard to make it look easy. My grandson Luciano Pantano used his boy treble fearlessly and his voice rang out loud and clear in his solo as he sang in Hebrew in Chichester Psalms – Movement 11 (Psalm 23 and 2:1-4). We are very proud of him and his sister Leeza, who sings in the Girls Choir and is also a treble.

Sara Paar, Nikolay Klitsenko, Nino Pantano,
Dr. Claudia Dumschat & Lubov Klitsenko.
Photo by Judy Pantano.

Dr. Claudia Dumschat was truly the Maestro Supreme, conjuring up all the power and majesty of this great work. The superb organist James Kennerley made his instrument sing and soar! I thought of the great Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) playing his organ in the jungles of Lambaréné in Gabon, Africa on his mission to humanity. Joy Plaisted on the heavenly harp brought back memories of our mutual friend, the late beloved harp master Dulcie Barlow.

Chichester Psalms is a work of gentle fierceness and a plea for peace. It combines the old testament of righteousness and the new, of mercy. Leonard Bernstein is buried not far from our home in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. It is said that when Bernstein’s funeral procession arrived for the burial, the working crews in the streets of Brooklyn applauded in tribute. The large audience also applauded this work from Leonard Bernstein.

The reception afterwards in the courtyard ensured us of good conversation, food and libation. We were happy to “meet and greet” Dr. Claudia Dumschat, Rev. Father John David van Dooren, who expressed his enthusiasm for such evenings as this, Stage Director (Amahl) Richard Olson, the singers, musicians and all. Our son Marcello, his wife Tatyana, her parents from Omsk, Russia, Nikolay and Lubov Klitsenko were all there to listen and reap praise. Nikolay is a bayan (Russian accordion) master, Lubov, a choral director at their school in Russia, and their daughter Tatyana was also a chorus conductor. Our son Marcello plays the drums, my wife Judy sang in school choirs and I was “The Boy Caruso of Brooklyn”- is it any wonder there’s a song in our hearts?

On the grave of the great English American Maestro Leopold Stokowski, a Bach expert and pioneer of American music (1882-1977) (Fantasia), is the inscription “Music is the Voice of the All.” Some thought this might have been a misprint but Maestro Stokowski, whose long career began at St. Bartholomew Church in 1905 as an organist and choirmaster in New York, is correct. It was something he would have thought universal and proper.

We all applaud Maestro Dr. Claudia Dumschat, music director and organist, for this special splendid evening on a warm, balmy June night and thank her for reminding us so magnificently that “music IS the voice of the all”!

 

Paley Center Presents Elaine Malbin as Suor Angelica with NBC Opera

Soprano Elaine Malbin with daughter Amy &
Grand daughter Savannah Photo by Judy Pantano

Once upon a time, lets say 1953, they had television executives who wanted to bring culture to a wider audience in America. “General” David  Sarnoff and Samuel Chotzinoff were two cases in point. In 1937, David Sarnoff created an orchestra to lure the just retired great conductor Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957). Toscanini then led the orchestra in a series of broadcasts and telecasts for the next 17 years. (1937-1954)

The NBC Opera was also formed to promote great operas in English. Their first telecast was Amahl and the Night Visitors composed by Gian-Carlo Menotti for television and the NBC Opera. It was an enormous success when performed on December 24,1951. Other operas were Madama Butterfly, Salome and a host of others. The NBC Opera toured America but was disbanded after a few years.

Reviewer Nino Pantano with Associate Curator Rebecca Paller. Photo by Judy Pantano

Today most television producers and executives get as glazed as a dunkin’ donut when anything that is not “hip hop “or rock is mentioned. Most opera productions allow outrageous “updates” and violence to fill their coffers if not the house with the tattoo and nose pierced sets. Anything sentimental or traditional is scoffed at or is not considered politically  correct! What a pity because I believe that even the most hard hearted skeptic could not weep at the dilemma of poor Sister Angelica.

WQXR host Robert Sherman with Reviewer Nino Pantano. Photo by Judy Pantano

The great composer and man of the theater, Giacomo Puccini had a sister who was a nun. The Puccini family were church organists and composers for generations. Suor Angelica was written in 1918 as part of Il Trittico a series of three short operas. Il Tabarro is a dramatic love triangle tragedy, Suor Angelica initially dismissed as a “weak” piece and the delightful comedy Gianni Schicchi. Suor Angelica has come up from behind and is gaining new admirers for its musical elegance and overwhelming drama.

On the afternoon of Sunday, June 10th at the Paley Center located on West 52nd Street in New York City, a brief welcome and introduction was given by Associate Curator Rebecca Paller. She expressed her wonderment at the marvelous treatment given the NBC Opera done “live” with beautiful sets, excellent camera work, intimate shots and thrilling music by the orchestra which was unseen even by the singers. Ms. Paller singled out some special guests like legendary Met Opera soprano Elinor Ross, famed conductor Eve Queler and “practically everyone in  the audience!” Suor Angelica was aired in 1953 and repeated “live” in 1954.

Maestro Eve Queler with Composer Philip Hagemann. Photo by Judy Pantano

Puccini’s Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica) takes place in Italy in 1680. Soprano Elaine Malbin, a young 21 year old Brooklyn born and raised was Suor Angelica. Sister Angelica’s sweetness and innocence prevailed and she was dutiful and resilient in her being. All the nuns were sworn to obedience and just once you wanted to hear “What do you do with a problem like Maria” from The Sound of Music. Suor Angelica gathers herbs for the nuns. Then there is a special visitor for her, her aunt. Sister Angelica was from a well to do family. She gave birth to a child and her family kept the child and they placed Sister Angelica in a convent. Her aunt, the Principessa (mezzo Winifred Heidt) is on a special mission and needs Sister Angelica to sign some papers dealing with property. Angelica queries about her child and is cruelly told that a few years back the child was ill and died of a fever. Angelica reaches out to the Principessa in her anguish but Zia (Aunt) steps back and prays, always remindful of the family disgrace wrought by Angelica. Ms. Heidt was riveting and flawless in her singing and acting. Her steely taut mezzo was symbolic of Hell’s wrath. Her exit left a chill in the room.

Suor Angelica is shocked by the news and sings “Senza Mamma” (without a Mother) ending on a high note that is from her heart to God. She mixes some poisonous herbs and takes them. In her delirium, she denounces herself for taking her own life which means Hell but as she dies, the Virgin Mary appears and lifts her arms in forgiveness and her child welcomes her to heaven.

Elaine Malbin was intense, her emotion profound, not one gesture wasted, her voice a laser of silver and gold as intense as a forger of steel. The final scene had me in tears, recalling my boyhood when things like the Madonna was so venerated by my Sicilian family. The Mother Superior Abbess (soprano Virginia Viney) was vivid and authoritative, but turned a blind eye when the nuns were eating sweets. All of the nuns sang with passion and fervor and were each and every one a gem. The Zia Principessa was like the ghost of Christmas Future in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. She was a heartless unforgiving spectre. turning her back on Angelica, showing punishment without mercy – a frightening figure, brilliantly portrayed and sung in a resplendent mezzo.

Peter Herman Adler was the most sensitive conductor and Kurt Browning the superb director. The producer was Samuel Chotzinoff with the Symphony of the Air Orchestra and the NBC Opera chorus. The beautiful sets were by William Molyneux. The English translations were by Townsend Brewster. When the lights were on again, on stage there was Elaine Malbin, looking remarkably young and given a long ovation. The eloquent and knowledgeable Robert Sherman from WQXR (The Listening Room) had a Question and Answer session with Ms. Malbin. She thanked her teachers in P.S. 234 in Brooklyn for her career. One teacher in particular heard her singing and made her join the chorus.

Ms. Malbin sang “Voi lo sapete Mamma” from Cavalleria Rusticana at age 14 and sang with the great Viennese tenor Richard Tauber while still in her teens. When asked by conductor Wilfrid Pelletier where she found such adult emotion at so tender an age she said, “I just felt it through the music – that’s all!”

An early La Traviata with Lawrence Tibbett as Germont and a brief study at the Stella Adler acting studio and the Stanislavsky method which she briefly used. But in reality it was just something she possessed and did. Elaine Malbin was given one weeks notice to learn the part and you could not see the conductor or orchestra. It was all savvy, Brooklyn grit and her own special gifts that allowed her not only to survive bur thrive. She also mentioned her Broadway play My Darlin’ Aida where she sang Aida six times a week. Rudolph Bing warned her “it will ruin your voice” but it never did. She sang at New York City Opera and did coach with Brooklyn’s Beverly Sills teacher Estelle Liebling. When the erudite Robert Sherman asked Elaine Malbin about her career losing its momentum, she proudly introduced her daughter Amy and grand daughter Savannah!

Murray Rosenthal, Mark Rucker, Eve Queler, Nino Pantano, Nimet Habachy
Bill Ronayne, Ken Benson, Judy Pantano & Sadie Rucker

We then went from the Spielberg film room to the main room downstairs. A special Tony Bennett exhibit was on display showing his masterful paintings of people and places. We were pleased to chat with opera manager Ken Benson, conductor pioneer Eve Queler, Met Verdi baritone Mark Rucker and his wife Sadie from the Martina Arroyo Foundation’s Prelude to Performance, WQXR famed hosts Robert Sherman and Nimet Habachy, Opera Index treasurer Murray Rosenthal, Vice Presidents Philip Hagemann and Janet Stovin all from Opera Index. Murray Rosenthal requested this homage for Elaine Malbin and also presented the voices of several legendary sopranos on video: Callas, Caballe and Stratas all singing their interpretation of the famous “O Mio Babbino Caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. 

Dramatic soprano Elinor Ross was enjoying the party as was author Luna Kaufmann, Gloria Gari, from the Giulio Gari Foundation and Bill Ronayne from the Mario Lanza Society. Ronayne reminded us that Elaine Malbin made two recordings with Mario Lanza back in 1950 for the film album The Toast of New Orleans.

Soprano Elaine Malbin, with Janet Stovin & Murray Rosenthal from Opera Index. Photo by Judy Pantano

Unfortunately legendary soprano and “founder of the feast” Martina Arroyo could not attend but sent regrets and a reminder that the Martina Arroyo Foundation will present the young awardee singers in Puccini’s Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi and Bizet’s Carmen in early July at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College. The playhouse is named after the great funny man Danny Kaye and his wife Sylvia Fine who were both Brooklynites. Martina Arroyo’s father Demetrio supported young Martina’s musical career as an engineer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Can you imagine an America where such magnificent cultural television once reigned? Giving voice to that significant minority-the lovers of classical music and opera? Television executives who respected the taste of their viewers – even if it was 10 million instead of 100 million? Thank you Martina Arroyo in absentia and Elaine Malbin. You brought back the thrill!

The Regina Opera Presents An Amusing L’Elisir d’Amore

Adina (Hannah Stone, center left) & Belcore (Peter Hakjoon Kim, center right) among a group of villagers. Photo by George Schowerer

On the afternoon of Saturday, May 20th, the Regina Opera concluded its 47th season with the charming comedy L’Elisir d’Amore. One more performance with alternate cast the next day! The great composer Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) wrote many tragedies such as Lucia di Lammermoor, but his comedies La fille du Regiment, Don Pasquale and L’Elisir d’Amore are still a source of great delight. Donizetti was a prolific composer and a master of melody. The librettist was Italian poet and scholar Felice Romani who wrote many librettos for composers Donizetti and Bellini.

L’Elisir d’Amore premiered in Milan on May 12, 1832 and has been a favorite ever since. On a sad note, on December 11, 1920, the great tenor Enrico Caruso sang Nemorino at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. (BAM) He suffered a throat hemorrhage and the curtain came down after the first act. Incredibly Caruso sang three times more at the Metropolitan Opera in great pain. His last performance was in La Juive the following December 24th. He died on August 2, 1921 at the age 48, after a lingering illness.

Dr. Dulcamara (Luis Alvarado, center with basket) shows his potions to a group of villagers. Photo by George Schowerer

At Regina Opera, Principal conductor Maestro Gregory Ortega stepped up to the podium and the performance began. After the overture, the curtain rose to reveal a bright rustic inn and floral scene with Adina reading a book and a group of peasants nearby.

Nemorino lovingly gazed at Adina and sang “Quanto è bella, quanto è cara” about how beautiful and how dear she is. Lyric tenor Ivan Rivera, was the Nemorino for this performance. Mr. Rivera, born in Puerto Rico, has an endearing boyish appearance, is very mobile and resembles a young Cantinflas. (A brilliant Mexican film comedian) Rivera was perfect as the runt of the litter, the foil and fool, his head besot with thoughts of Adina who seemed to be totally out of his reach. He is the gnat that one slaps, a speck of dust in the eye of his unattainable beloved. Nemorino’s singing of “Quanto è bella” showed a somewhat different approach to singing, almost between his teeth-but the sound was that of a true tenore di grazie, of old, with a haunting vibrato and a full top. His interplay with Adina was most affecting and his singing of the great aria “Una furtiva lagrima” was one of the highlights of the performance. His diminuendos were exceptional, his spinning of the tone and heartfelt passages were moving. Rivera’s final cadenza, with fading and diminishing of the tone, was a marvel and his swelling of the note just before the conclusion was magical. Rivera’s comic acting with the so called “elixir” was great fun, his interplay with Belcore was like Lt. Colombo-always showing up and bothering, cloying and annoying! The finale, where he finally wins Adina’s heart, was absolute triumph and joy! A wonderful performance!


Dr. Dulcamara (Luis Alvarado, right) & Nemorino (Ivan Rivera, left). Photo by George Schowerer

Adina, a wealthy young lady, was enchantingly played by Hannah Stone whose attractive persona, lovely soprano and understated and subtle behavior made for an enchanting Adina. Her rouladescadenzas and stratospheric high notes throughout the performance made her the perfect match for her heartsick swain. Ms. Stone’s describing the story of Tristan and Isolde’s magic love potion to the peasants was dream worthy. Her sweet saucy soprano, was perfect in this role. There was exuberance as she hit her high notes with triumph in her duet with Dulcamara, “The Gondoliera and the Senator”, which was sung with delicious whimsy and abandon! Ms. Stone’s stunning singing of “Prendi, per me sei libero” with its cadenzas and vocal fireworks in the second act showed her artful best. It was a “tour de force” that was dazzling! The finale with she and Nemorino finally kissing as one made for much happiness.

Sergeant Belcore was brilliantly sung and acted by Peter Hakjoon Kim. Mr. Kim, a Regina Opera favorite, used his strong flexible baritone well – ensuring us that this braggadocio charmer would eventually get his comeuppance by the “dim-witted” peasant Nemorino. “In ciei, ingrazio, o babbino”  was sung with such scorn that it’s no wonder Belcore didn’t box Nemorino’s ears, or “bash his head” as promised. Kim’s robust singing with Nemorino in their duet “Venti Scudi” was unctuous and deliciously droll. Mr. Kim sang some great cadenzas and hit a few impressive high notes with great ease and this vainglorious “villain” loses his fiancée (and almost bride) Adina to his simpleton rival, only to march off with Adina’s friend Giannetta, his newest military “conquest.”

Belcore (Peter Hakjoon Kim, first row far right) & his fiancée Adina (Hannah Stone, to his right) with a group of villagers. Nemorino (Ivan Rivera, far left). Photo by George Schowerer

Dulcamara, a traveling “doctor”, was in the able hands of Luis Alvarado, whose generous basso-buffo ensured us of a strong performance. (I am always amazed at all the “Dulcamara’s” selling their magical cures on the Internet). After much pomp and trumpetry with descriptions of a golden coach, Dr. Dulcamara arrived with his assistant, riding a red bicycle! I recall at the old Met, the great 300 pound basso-buffo (later movie star) Salvatore Baccaloni, arriving in a balloon! Dulcamara’s singing of “Udite, udite o rustici” was sung with relish as he describes the various “cures” of his “magic elixir” warts, gone! widows rejuvenated! humps? gone! rheumatism, banished! A miracle elixir (cheap Bordeaux wine).

Alvarado’s comical singing of “The Gondoliera and the Senator,” with Adina at her “wedding” to Sergeant Belcore,” Io son ricco e tu sei bella” was most amusing. Alvarado  was a very noteworthy Dulcamara and his “patter singing” was first rate. The finale with his singing “Ei corregge ogni difetto” with chorus and company was an absolute delight.

Sharon Cheng was a most charming Giannetta with a piquant pretty soprano and a gleeful countenance.

Dr. Dulcamara (Luis Alvarado) & Adina (Hannah Stone). Photo by Sabrina Palladino

Sarah Barringer was the “quicker picker upper” as the erstwhile assistant to Dr. Dulcamara.

The chorus was in excellent form and I loved when they crossed themselves perpetually and with some glee, when they heard that Nemorino’s uncle had passed away and left him a fortune. Beloved chorister Cathy Greco’s crossing herself with such wide eyed sincerity with the others was notable. The colorful ensemble consisted of Valentine Baron, Susanna Booth, Justine D’Souza, Thomas Geib, Wayne Olsen, Raffaele Rosato, Samantha DiCapio and Cassandra Santiago.

The costumes by Marcia C. Kresge were perfect-from Adina’s rustic and lovely dresses to the peasants garb, Dr. Dulcamara’s pompous outfit, Nemorino’s somewhat threadbare outfits, and the dazzling red uniforms of Sergeant Belcore and his troop.

The Principal Conductor and Music Director, the ingenious Maestro Gregory Ortega led a strong unified and glowing performance. The 34 excellent musicians followed his invigorating beat which was truly blended to this joyous tuneful score by Gaetano Donizetti. Kudos to Jonathon Nelson on the keyboard for the parlando passages. The trumpet heralding the arrival of Dr. Dulcamara was adroitly played by Hugh Ash.


Nemorino (Ivan Rivera) & Belcore (Peter Hakjoon Kim). Photo by Sabrina Palladino

Sam Themer and Milan Rakic’s make up was flawless and Linda Cantoni’s super titles were invaluable.

The sets were beautiful and rustic, with garlands of flowers, overhanging vines, an open doorway with verdant outside, the intimacy of a small taverna and an elaborate wedding feast replete with food and fun. The versatile Wayne Olsen’s set graphics and principal flutist and set artist Richard Paratley’s painted backdrop and other artistic touches were truly admirable.

The mournful bassoon solo by Stephen Rudman in “Una furtive lagrima” deserves special mention.

Lastly, the one who infused this performance of L’Elisir d’amore with a special life is Stage Director and Set Designer Linda Lehr. Ms. Lehr’s balancing the various protagonists, freezing of images, making the action so wonderfully fluid and special whimsical touches from Belcore’s blustering to Nemorino’s “no room at the inn” gloom and doom and packaging it all into a fine surprise with a perfect gift wrap is a miracle. Dr. Dulcamara’s arrival after so much heralding, not in a golden coach but instead on a red bicycle was like the midget clowns at the circus following the giants.

We thank the indefatigable Francine Garber-Cohen, Producer and President, Joe Delfausse, Marlena Ventimiglia, Elena Jannicelli-Sandella and all the volunteers for always greeting one and all as they arrive for an afternoon of splendid opera at Brooklyn’s “crown jewel,” The Regina Opera.

Afterwards we reenacted the sumptuous dinner scene by dining at La Casa Vieja, a Mexican restaurant nearby where Lourdes Peña and company hosted us very well indeed!

See you next season – Regina’s 48th!

 

 

 

Dr. Robert Campbell & Cesare Santeramo Honored at Opera Index Spring Concert & Luncheon

Standing: Honoree Cesare Santeramo, Jane Shaulis & Joseph Gasperec-Opera Index. Seated: Sachi Liebergesell-Licia Albanese-Puccini Fdn. & Honoree Dr. Robert Campbell. Photo by Judy Pantano

The afternoon of Sunday, May 7th was a frantic one for New York and the world. The five boroughs were part of a super congesting bicycle marathon, street fairs were aplenty, France was having a controversial election and mayhem prevailed-but not at The JW Marriott Essex House in New York City. Here, all was music, harmony, peace and love. Two magnificent and important “givers” were honored and beautiful young voices prevailed with generous portions of food and wine!

Famed Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Jane Shaulis is the President of Opera Index which has been giving awards to young promising singers for 35 years. She proudly gave monetary statistics from Opera Index’s generous patrons and members that were impressive indeed! Ms. Shaulis singled out former Opera Index awardee soprano Jennifer Rowley whose recent performance at The Metropolitan Opera in Cyrano (Roxanne) won the highest praise from the critics.

Then with the excellent accompanist Michael Fennelly at the piano, the concert began.

Andrés Moreno Garcia started the concert with a fervent performance of “Salut! Demeure chaste et pure” from Gounod’s Faust. Moreno’s robust tenor voice had Italianate flair and French refinement. Moreno commands attention with his polished squillo, fine shading and a beautifully hit high C with a ravishing diminuendo which conjured up an image of his beloved Marguerite. Moreno showed us how to do this aria with ease.

Pianist Michael Fennelly & Singers Kidon Choi, Andrés Moreno Garcia, Amanda Lynn Bottoms,
Vartan Gabrielian & Opera Index President Jane Shaulis. Photo by Judy Pantano

Kidon Choi sang the popular “Il Balen” from Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi. Having heard the great American baritone Leonard Warren sing this aria, I dish out praise with extreme caution. Mr. Choi is the possessor of a large baritone voice with some fine shading and an impressive top. Di Luna is not a nice character but Verdi infused Di Luna’s love for Leonora’s aria with some of the most tender and sublime melodies ever. Mr Choi used his voice well and negotiated the passages with eagerness. Leonard Warren, looking down, is rooting for Choi and so are we!

Opera Index VP Philip Hagemann with David & Barbara Bender From Career Bridges. Photo by Judy Pantano

Amanda Lynn Bottoms in red shoes was a sultry Carmen. Her warm Amaretto mezzo made the “Habanera” from Carmen the sexy moment it should be. Ms. Bottoms did not over exaggerate or over act. She was as Carmen should be, sleek, stalking and deadly as a

rattlesnake. We hope she will grace the world’s stages soon!

Angela Vallone the soprano scheduled could not attend. However Vartan Gabrielian, bass-baritone ably filled the void with the glorious singing of Aleko’s song from Rachmaninoff’s opera Aleko! This tall imposing bass-baritone showed his inner Boris Godunov with his excellent Russian diction and emoting. Michael Fennelly’s powerhouse playing in this music took us to heavenly heights!

An encore followed with Andrés Moreno Garcia and Kidon Choi singing “O Mimì tu più non torni” from Puccini’s La Bohème. Mr. Garcia’s throbbing tenor and Mr Choi’s generous baritone went to the core of Rodolfo and Marcello’s plight – an unbearable life without their sweethearts.

Opera Index VP Janet Stovin & Mezzo-Soprano Nedda Cassei. Photo by Judy Pantano

To break the La Bohème mood of nostalgic sadness, Jane Shaulis regaled us with a Doctor-Patient song called The Physician by Cole Porter that was most amusing to hear. The doctor only sees her as a patient, never as a love interest or a goddess! Ms. Shaulis’s glorious mezzo and humorous gestures made for some wonderfully funny moments!

The two honorees were given a standing, cheering ovation by the crowd and Dr. Robert Campbell, looking quite chipper, was lovingly assisted to the podium. Dr. Campbell, a noted psychiatrist, was a clinical professor of Psychiatry at Cornell Weill Medical College and is Medical Director Emeritus of the New York Gracie Square Hospital in NYC. He is best known for Campbell’s Psychiatric Dictionary now in its 9th edition by Oxford University Press. He is a Knight of the Orthodox Order of St. John Russian Grand Priory. He has been a member of the boards of the Opera Orchestra of New York, Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation and the Ferro International Program for Operatic Scholars and Students. There is a photo in lobby of Robert Campbell and Cesare Santeramo with Princess Grace of Monaco that was breathtaking! Dr. Campbell accepted his award with a humble and witty speech in which he summarized the joys of living and the joys of giving!

Opera Index Treasurer Murray Rosenthal & Career Bridges Founder David Bender. Photo by Judy Pantano

Cesare Santeramo, was born in Newark, New Jersey and started singing in the boys chorus of his church when he was six years old. His first attended opera at the Met was La Traviata with beloved diva Licia Albanese and the great baritone Robert Merrill. He attended every Saturday performance until he was drafted into the Army. He sang with the Second Army Major Command Chorus which included concerts with Risë Stevens and appearances on the Ed Sullivan show. Santeramo had a successful singing career with the New Jersey Opera singing 15 lead roles over 25 years with the company including Alfredo in La Traviata with Licia Albanese. There is a photo of Santeramo in the lobby as Pinkerton. Santeramo was a board member of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation for 19 years. At the same time, he was Director of Conference Management and Food Services for AT&T. Santeramo is a Chancellor of of the Orthodox Order of St. John Russian Grand Priory.

Dr. Campbell and Mr. Santeramo have generously created an annual award for Opera Index with many past winners to the present. Their generosity is boundless. Cesare Santeramo and Dr. Robert Campbell are “Renaissance men” who by virtue of their talents and skills also season the world with elegance, style and grace (and to end it poetically), they make the world a better place!

Mr. Santeramo, looking the epitome of chic, graciously accepted the award with praise for his parents, for his lifelong friend Dr. Robert Campbell, for Licia Albanese and to the glorious art of opera.

Seated: Reviewer Nino Pantano & Soprano Lucine Amara. Standing: Opera Exposures Dwight Owsley, Computers George Voorhis & Opera Manager Ken Benson. Photo by Judy Pantano

In the star studded crowd were Met opera legends, soprano Elinor Ross, mezzo-soprano Nedda Cassei and long time Met soprano Lucine Amara. Ms. Amara, vibrant and witty at age 92 regaled us with many tales of the Metropolitan Opera in the halcyon Bing era and beyond. So many legendary comrades like basso Cesare Siepi who she said, loved playing practical jokes onstage, Jan Peerce short in stature but a splendid musician. Ms. Amara should write a book about her adventures in the opera world! Lucine Amara is a proud Armenian American and the Armenian bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian came to our table to chat with her and express his admiration. New York City Opera soprano Elaine Malbin was ever the soubrette in a flaming red dress and told us of her days with the NBC TV opera. Sachi Liebergesell who is President of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation is among the admirers of the two honorees. It was so nice to see her among the glitterati.

It was great to chat with Murray Rosenthal, Secretary of Opera Index and Vice President and composer Philip Hagemann whose opera Ruth was given at at the Brooklyn Music School around the corner from the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) the night before. Janet Stovin, also Vice President of Opera Index, vividly recalled her childhood in the shadow of Ebbets Field, Bill Ronayne from the Brooklyn based Mario Lanza Society, Maestro Stephen Phebus and Linda Howes, pillars of Opera Index, the sparkling Barbara Meister-Bender and David Bender from Career Bridges, Duane Prinz from Teatro Grattacielo, Brooklyn born opera manager Ken Benson and computer whiz and concert maven George Voorhis and the dashing Dwight Owsley from Opera Exposures. Helen Doctorow, Jolana Blau and author Luna Kaufman lent their vital presence. We recall their valuable work at the Elysium-Between Two Continents headed by Gregorij von Leïtis and Michael Lahr, who are presenting many events in Germany and Europe this summer. Both Dr. Robert Campbell and Cesare Santeramo were recently honored with the Erwin Piscator Award from Elysium at the Lotos Club in New York City.

Edward Jackson, poet-Cavaliere lent his ebullient persona to the mix and the radiant Maestro Eve Queler who gave so many magical opera concerts with the Opera Orchestra of New York. We said a fond farewell at the door to Opera Index President Jane Shaulis and her spouse Joseph Gasperec who help make Opera Index the perfect place to host young singers.

Another great party for a truly worthwhile cause. All the best to our gallant Knights – Dr. Robert Campbell and Cavaliere Cesare Santeramo for their many accomplishments and deserved honors!

 

 

 

 

Metro Chamber Orchestra Presents Concert & Opera Ruth at Brooklyn Music School

A review by Nino Pantano
 

Artwork in Lobby of Brooklyn Music School. Photo by Judy Pantano.

The Metro Chamber Orchestra is currently in its 14th season. Maestro Philip Nuzzo is the founder, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor, Deborah Surdi is the Executive Director and Nathaniel Chase is the Assistant Conductor. The Brooklyn Music School is located at 126 St. Felix Street around the corner from the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and has ambitious plans for its 15th season which begins in October.

 
On the evening of Saturday, May 6th, Maestro Philip Nuzzo began the concert with Siegfried Idyll by Richard Wagner. I was familiar with the piece having heard it via radio with the legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) and the NBC Symphony. Richard Wagner (1813-1883) composed this piece as a birthday surprise for his second wife Cosima,(1837-1930) who was born on Christmas Eve in Como, Italy. Originally this rustic work was performed with 13 instruments and later its orchestra size was doubled. With the sounds of nature, leaves rustling, birds chirping, one can envision young Siegfried, rubbing his eyes to horns heralding the new day. The trembling of a leaf, the fleeing of a stag, salmon swimming upstream, the silence of a deer. All were heard in this piece which was incorporated in part, in his opera Siegfried. It still remains as a testament to Richard Wagner and his Cosima, who herself was a “love child” of Franz Liszt and his Baroness mistress Marie d’Agoult.
 
One heard all this and more in the subtle, ever ascendant beat of Maestro Nuzzo who built this tone poem into a resplendent tsunami of love and spring eternal. The members of the orchestra played with intense dedication and unity.

Maestro Philip Nuzzo and Orchestra. Photo by Judy Pantano.

Next came selections from “El Amor Brujo” by Manuel de Falla. (1876-1946) It is called “Broken Love” and it features the Fire Dance. I looked at some of the musicians just before they began playing and they had a look of anticipation and exaltation, eager and ready to express the passions of this great work. Maestro Nuzzo’s strong and steady beat ensured us of a passionate reading of this sumptuous score and he and the musicians nailed it right on the head.
 
I envisioned an MGM musical with José Iturbi or an early TV show with Liberace hitting the keys on a flame filled piano!
 
The Spanish born Manuel de Falla evokes Grofé, Thompson, Copeland, Gershwin and others of his era who used vivid and graphic ornamentation to absorb audiences right into the fabric of their music. Not Hollywood type “faux” Spanish music but the “real deal,” penetrating the soul of the listener. The main theme with its dark dramatic minor key repetition and pizzicato sections triggered off the Fire Dance and carried us along this magic carpet journey.
 
The second part of the program was a concert version of a one act opera by composer Philip Hagemann entitled RUTH
According to Shavuot: “The Book of Ruth is the eighth book of the Old Testament of the Bible. A short story, it tells how Ruth, the Moabite widow of a Bethlehemite, with her mother-in-law Naomi’s assistance, married an older kinsman Boaz, thereby preserving her deceased husband’s posterity and becoming an ancestor of King David.” Ruth and Orpha are sisters and daughters-in-law to Naomi.
 

Cast of Ruth with composer Philip Hagemann. Photo by Judy Pantano.

Ruth is indeed a victim that the drama swirls around. The music by Philip Hagemann is not atonal or melodic but rather sweeping and harmonious. It is not film music but evokes and impresses. It is an opera in brief that deserves to be a strong part of the contemporary operatic firmament. Hagemann has written ten short operas and several full length ones that bear listening.

 
Jessica Mirshak used her warm mezzo and stretched the envelope to indicate the sturm and drang of her character Naomi. Ms. Mirshak is the possessor of a mellifluent mezzo-soprano. Ruth, sung by Alyson Spina’s soaring soprano, made for a vocally and histrionically satisfying reading. Ms. Spina gave generous portions of her soprano plus a blend of defiance and resignation that was noteworthy.
 
Deborah Surdi used her beautifully polished soprano and floated some really impressive notes as Orpha. 
 
Boaz was strongly sung and acted by Stan Lacy whose lyric baritone negotiated the byways of this role with passion and ease. 
 
Theodore Chletsos as the servant/Amnon showed his inner Canio with a splendid tenor of squillo and abandon.
 
Tenor Christopher Tefft joined the chorus and blended well.
 
The Greek Chorus consisted of Jessica Doolan, Amal-El-Shrafi and Victoria Rodriguez. They made for a tantalizing trio of future Rhine maidens.
 
Maestro Nuzzo did a masterful job making the singers and orchestra play as one and showing his mastery of the music and its genre. Maestro’s code seems to be “to thine own self be true” and he conducts what he likes best!
 

Back row-Dr. Jerry Stolt, Midge Woolsey, Murray Rosenthal, Ella Godfrey, Philip Hagemann, Nino Pantano Bottom Row-Deborah Surdi & Eve Queler. Photo by Judy Pantano.

In the audience were famed Maestro Eve Queler from the Opera Orchestra of New York, Midge Woolsey, spokesperson from PBS’s Channel 13 and former radio host WQXR with her husband Dr. Jerry Stolt, economist, Brooklynite Ella Godfrey formerly from the Met Opera broadcasts, Murray Rosenthal, Treasurer of Opera Index and Philip Hagemann, Vice President of Opera Index and the composer of Ruth who received an ovation. Mr. Hagemann is the longtime director of the Rockland Choral Society and is also the composer of Fruitcake, a well known whimsical and popular choral work.

 
The Metropolitan Opera included the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of its tour until 1937. All the great vocal artists appeared at BAM. On December 11, 1920, Enrico Caruso collapsed on the stage of BAM after suffering a throat hemorrhage during a performance of Elisir D’amore. After a lengthy illness, the great tenor passed away at age 48 in his native Naples, Italy on August 2, 1921. 
 
On a happier note, fabulous soprano and silent film star Geraldine Farrar as the goose girl in Die Königskinder on January 13, 1914 by Engelbert Humperdinck was dismayed when her geese ran out of the house on to St. Felix Street. (Hopefully they were retrieved by the Met staff)
 
It was a rainy chilly evening but we all went to the nearby Berlyn Restaurant to celebrate over libations and sweet edibles. It was the ever young Indiana born composer Philip Hagemann’s night and many a glass was lifted in his honor. Our waitress Anna Schumann gave us impeccable service!
 
We look forward to future performances by this superb ensemble of Metro Chamber Orchestra. Maestro Philip Nuzzo has conducted in Italy and many international venues. A tree grows in Brooklyn and tonight it was a giant oak!

Art Work in lobby of Brooklyn Music School. Photo by Judy Pantano.

 

Gerda Lissner Foundation Hosts Annual Concert & Dinner

Review by Nino Pantano

One critic wrote “you could tell the quality of a forthcoming performance by the amount of food spilled by excited fans in the local cafeteria.” This was written at the Metropolitan Opera debut of legendary soprano Magda Olivero age 65 in 1975.
 
Such was the excitement of the crowd at Zankel Hall in Carnegie Hall in New York City (but without spilled food) on Sunday, April 30th when the Gerda Lissner Foundation, in association with the Liederkranz Foundation, presented concert winners of the International Vocal Competition for 2017.
 

Stephen De Maio President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation. Photo by Don Pollard.

Stephen De Maio, President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation started the afternoon by proudly thanking his board members as well as the singers for their prodigious efforts and hard work and the Liederkranz Foundation for its joyful collaboration.

 

Famed radio (WQXR) and Channel 13 effervescent personality Midge Woolsey, was the host and spoke eloquently of her love for opera and the human voice. Her current development work is for the concert series at St. Thomas Church at 5th Avenue in New York City and her activities with the Martina Arroyo Foundation. In her spare time, Midge loves to travel with her husband, economist Dr. Jerry Stolt and is thankful for the love they have been blessed to share.

Midge Woolsey, host. Photo by Don Pollard

Metropolitan mezzo, the radiant Susan Graham was honored and regaled the audience with some of her adventures here in NYC with a cab driver right out of a 1930’s movie à la Lionel Standler with a quizzical attitude and Brooklyn-type charm. She also told the young awardees to stand back until the time is ready. Ms. Graham’s recent “fairy tale” marriage to a long time suitor Clay Brakeley made happy headlines in the wedding section of the New York Times. 
The concert began with mezzo soprano Megan Mikailovna Samarin (Second Prize-Gerda Lissner) singing “Deh! tu, bell’ anima” from Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi, generously showing the audience a clear, precise well controlled mezzo soprano singing a lush rhapsodic Bellinian line with dream like cadence. It was a bel canto journey of star struck lovers and two warring families, by Sicily’s great composer, the immortal Vincenzo Bellini. (1801-1835)

Composers Penny Leka (Knapp), Philip Hagemann and Met Opera Mezzo Honoree Susan Graham. Photo by Don Pollard.

 
Next was a spirited rendition of “Vous, qui faites l’endormie” from Gounod’s Faust sung by Joseph Barron (Second Prize-Gerda Lissner) who gave us Gounod’s devil, well served and savory. Barron’s captivating laughter had just the right balance between wickedness and cynicism. Google this aria from the 1953 filmTonight We Sing, where the legendary basso Ezio Pinza sings it. It will make one happy that this great tradition continues with Joseph Barron! We need more “dark” voices.
 
The concert continued with a “bright” voiced Maria Brea’s (Second Prize-Gerda Lissner) sparkling singing of “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” from Puccini’s La Rondine. Ms. Brea revealed a lovely, lyrical, soaring soprano who under the surface, is scratching the romantic and vulnerable heart that is behind the facade, the far away dream that represents the notion of true love. Ms. Brea captured this like a rose within a white glove and gave it to one and all!
 
Corrie Stallings (First Prize-Gerda Lissner) captivated us with “Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle” from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliet. It was sung with sophistication and elan. It was utterly Gallic in a beguiling way, evoking actress Veronica Lake in a film noir. Ms. Stallings’s dazzling coloratura cadenza ascent trill and descent took one’s breath away – visually and vocally stunning.
 
Angela Vallone (First Prize-Gerda Lissner) who continues to gather many laurels with her performances, never fails to enchant. Her sublime singing of “Azaël! Azaël! Pourquoi m’as tu quittee?” from L’enfant Prodigue by Debussy placed her “out of the commonplace and into the rare” (Stranger in Paradise Kismet) with a mood inducing, emotion ladeling, soul searching performance. Ms. Vallone’s special soprano gifts have earned her very high marks and a growing group of admirers. I see her in Puccini roles down the golden paved highway! Angela’s proud parents, Anthony and Maria and her handsome fiancee were truly overjoyed.
 
Australian tenor Alisdair Kent (First Prize-Gerda Lissner) once again proved that tapping “down under” there is vocal gold. He gave us a dazzling and magical performance of “Je Croix Entendre Encore” from Bizet’s early work Le pecheurs de pêrles. Mr. Kent has a voice of incredible sweetness, subtly seductive with sublime pianissimi and conjured images of a brilliant bubble floating towards the heavens creating moments of total immersion in the delicate and beautiful.
 
The excellent piano accompaniment of Jonathan Kelly (Courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera) ensured perfection and strong support.
 
After a brief intermission, part two of the program began with “Weiche, Wotan weiche” from Das Rheingold by Wagner sung by mezzo soprano Suzanne Hendrix. (Second Prize-Liederkranz Foundation) Ms. Hendrix is the possessor of a dark rich powerhouse mezzo with cavernous sound. One thought of Helen Traubel or the equally cherished Ernestine Schumann-Heink (1861-1936) whose Met farewell at age 71 was as Erda in Das Rheingold-then off to Hollywood for her screen debut in Here’s to Romance with dashing Met Opera tenor Nino Martini in 1935.
 
Polish soprano Alexandra Nowakowski (First Prize-Gerda Lissner) sang “Où va la jeune Hindoue” (The Bell Song) from Delibes’s Lakmé. This aria was sung in the past by coloratura soprano Lily Pons (1898-1976) whose piquant voice and chic elegance catapulted her to Hollywood fame. Before her appendectomy, Pons exposed her navel in Lakmé and also won raves. Ms. Nowakowski has a large coloratura sound à la Joan Sutherland but is capable of some wonderful shading and fine spun pianissimi. Her formidable trill was golden age in its execution. Polish diva Marcella Sembrich was the possessor of a phenomenal trill. The Semrich Museum in Bolton Landing on Lake George is open in summer and is a gem! Mme. Sembrich (1858-1935) would have been very proud of Alexandra Nowakowski. Mme. Sembrich was the Gilda in Caruso’s Met debut in Rigoletto November 1903.
 
Emily D’Angelo mezzo soprano (First Prize-Gerda Lissner) sang a sly, coy and saucy rendition of “Contro un cor che accende amore from Il barbiere di Seviglia by Rossini. Her marvelous subtle acting evoked the gamin presence of Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli. She conquered the machine gun staccato and coloratura passages of this whirlpool piece and sealed it with an adroit combo of stylistic grace, virtuoso caprice and warm amber intonation. It was a Rossinian revolution and revelation! 
 
Lawson Anderson bass baritone made an indelible mark in Wagner’s “Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge” from Das Rheingold. Anderson is an Atlanta, Georgia native. He had a striking Teutonic-God like appearance and his richly textured bass had a rare combination of nobility and power perhaps unheard since the legendary Friedrich Schorr. No wonder he was given first prize by the esteemed Liederkranz Foundation.
 
Andre Courville, (the top prize Liederkranz Foundation winner), regaled the audience by strolling down the aisle singing “Air du Tambour-Major” from Le Caid by Ambroise Thomas. Courville then climbed on stage with athletic grace and serenaded my wife Judy (in the first row) in a brief unforgettable moment before resuming his triumphant march onstage. His flourishes, dazzling coloratura and posturing, vocal power appeal made him a true disciple of the genre. It was an energizing treat and a vocal firework show! Mr. Courville who hails from Louisiana will help restore the tradition started with legendary Met basso Pol Plancon. His top prize Gerda Lissner award was proudly presented by Barbara Ann Testa, trustee.
 

Lastly, Vanessa Vasquez (top prize Gerda Lissner Foundation) was presented with the award by Susan Graham. The familiar “Un bel Di” from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly was her offering. She sang this aria as a personal testament, bringing the audience along the journey. She followed the musical line perfectly as if you were reading her personal thoughts. Her whispers flew through the house like pellets of doubt but were cast aside by triumphant and hopeful ideas. Ms. Vasquez sang on the word as the great past Butterfly, Licia Albanese would have strongly recommended. By the time she hurled out her final notes, we were already part of Butterfly’s journey. Ms. Vasquez transformed herself from a Colombian beauty to that petite Japanese girl. She was so in character that it took a while for she and the audience to regain composure. A stunning performance! A grand ovation!

Last Bow, Winners of the Gerda Lissner/ Liederkranz International Vocal Competition. Photo by Don Pollard

The pianist for the second half of the program was the indomitable and gifted Arlene Shrut. Her husband Gary Kendall is her number one fan and his robust  basso laughter gives Mephistopheles some competition! 
 
A this point, the audience strolled two blocks to celebrate these future stars of opera at a sumptuous dinner at the New York Athletic Club on Central Park South. There were several hundred guests at this event and what a joy to “meet and greet before we eat” at this formidable happening. We spotted photographer Don Pollard and reviewer Meche Kroop. Cavaliere and Perugia’s poet Edwardo Jackson, Mario Lanza Society’s Bill Ronayne, opera lecturer Lou Barrella and wife Cathleen, the ever youthful Brooklyn born soubrette soprano Elaine Malbin, soprano-lecturer Jane Marsh, Gloria Gari from the Giulio Gari Foundation, Met Opera legend dramatic soprano Elinor Ross, Kennedy Center honoree and pioneer Martina Arroyo whose foundation paves the way with “Prelude to Performance” at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, “Mr. Opera” broadcaster vocal coach Ira Siff and Hans Pieter Herman whose recent cabaret show entitled “The Flying Dutchman” was delightful and a big hit at the Pangea Club in New York City. We missed Ira Siff’s great character, Madame Vera Galupe-Borszkh from La Gran Scena Opera who surely would have been among the opera legends of the evening. 
 
It was great to see the gallant Glenn Morton, Artistic Director from Classic Lyric Arts, Brian Hunter, President of the Musicians Club of New York and of course the industrious and ever busy Stephen De Maio, President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation with the ebullient Michael Fornabaio, Vice President and Treasurer, the effervescent Cornelia (Conny) Beigel, Secretary and Trustee, Karl Michaelis ever dapper and the affable Barbara Ann Testa, Trustee. Ever chic Joyce Greenberg, who as competition assistant was the herald calling so many young singers before being judged and Sonja Larsen, also competition assistant. Diva and ageless Met legend mezzo Rosalind Elias and unforgettable ever vibrant Met soprano and now coach Diana Soviero. Famed Met mezzo and Opera Index President Jane Shaulis with husband Executive Director Joseph Gasperec, Vice Presidents Janet Stovin and composer Philip Hagemann, Treasurer Murray Rosenthal and Christine and Alfred Palladino from the Columbus Citizens Foundation added their special vitality to the mix!

Seated-Gerda Lissner Vice President Michael Fornabaio & Liederkranz General Manager Philipp Haberbauer.  Photo by Don Pollard

It was nice to see Philipp Haberbauer, General Manager from the Liederkranz Foundation, vocal coach Robert Lombardo, impressaria Diane Curci from Bensonhurst, beacon and pioneer Maestro Eve Queler from the Opera Orchestra of New York and Maestro Jan Wnek, vocal coach Arturo Colaneri, proud Brooklynite, opera manager Ken Benson, vocal coach Tami Laurance with rising young tenor José Heredia, evocative soprano Patricia Kadvan, from the New York Grand Opera, tenor/actor Anthony Laciura, opera autograph’s Bill Safka, Betty Cooper Wallerstein glowing patron and community activist, sparkling Don di Grazia, head of the Met Opera’s Patrons Box Office and charming wife Chi hosting her sister Lily Rudel.  
 
We thank Stephen De Maio and the Gerda Lissner Foundation for their noble quest to find and nurture operatic voices and Joseph Pfeifer of the Liederkranz Foundation and the Max Kade Foundation, Dr. Lya Friedrich-Pfeifer, President.
 
The superb dinner was by Openskies Hospitality Catering Service. Judy, myself and our guests will carry happy memories of this almost surreal exposure to a world of harmony, love and beauty for years to come! Gerda Lissner’s dream continues to come true as young talented future opera stars take off like dazzling fireworks to grace the future operatic heavens and ensure us of many more glorious sunrises! 

 

Martina Arroyo Foundation Hosts Spring Luncheon

Review by Nino Pantano
 

On the afternoon of Sunday, April 2nd at the JW Marriott Essex House in New York City, the Martina Arroyo Foundation held its Spring Luncheon. The luncheon featured a special cabaret performance by Marilyn Maye and Mario Cantone with present and past Prelude to Performance artists. The glittering crowd consisted of the shakers and breakers in the world of Broadway, opera and fashion. A dazzling potpourri of the doyennes, legends and admirers. It was a love boat that took us to exotic ports and entertained us royally. The auction featured everything from rock guitars to music memorabilia.

 

Doug Wood of the Ford Foundation & Soprano Martina Arroyo. Photo by Kevin Alvey.

The concert began with mezzo soprano Magda Gartner singing the “Seguidilla” from Bizet’s Carmen. Ms. Gartner’s voice has exceptional clarity, agility and a “cutting edge” that rivals how Carmen can cut a man and discard him like a shucked clam! Slam bam, shucked clam man! A very tantalizing hors d’oeuvre of what Ms. Gartner’s complete Carmen will be!
 
Saucy soubrette soprano Shana Grossmann was a particularly engrossing, piquant and ingratiating daughter as she sang an exquisite “O Mio Babbino, Caro” from Gianni Schicchi with subtle winsome gestures that made for an unforgettable operatic moment. Her clinging to the final “Pieta” made for great theater and a tiny humble gesture of appealing to her Daddy was the whipped cream on the Sunday, sundae!
 
Tenor Woo Young Yoon will soon be “the triumphant tenor talk of the town” for his splendidly lyrical and heartfelt singing of the Flower song from Carmen. His high note was caressed, swelled and diminished beautifully and the tender side of this future erupting volcano was bared unashamedly for Carmen, his delicious arsenic soaked peach! How could she not be moved by his singing of this aria? I know the audience was!
 

Shana Grossman (from left), Woo Young Yoon, Marilyn Maye, Mario Cantone & Magda Gartner. Photo by Kevin Alvey.

Metropolitan Opera conductor Steven Crawford was the brilliant piano accompanist.
Opera Index Treasurer, the erudite Murray Rosenthal, made opening remarks. He introduced the young singers and paid special recognition to legendary opera soprano Brooklyn’s own, Elaine Malbin, ever the soubrette in a dazzling red dress. Ms. Malbin sang the “Butterfly duet” with film tenor Mario Lanza for the recording of the film, The Toast of New Orleans and vividly remembers how beautifully Mario sang and how nice he was to her and her mother who flew out to Los Angeles. (she was only 19 years old ) A special event for patrons of the Martina Arroyo Foundation will be an upcoming showing of the March 7, 1953 telecast ofSuor Angelica starring Elaine Malbin at the Paley Center for Media on Saturday, June 10th at 3:00pm hosted by Rebecca Paller. Martina Arroyo will host a segment on golden age sopranos. Ms. Malbin sang with the New York City Opera and was a pioneer of opera on television with The NBC Opera. At our table, Elaine regaled us with many tales of both her operatic and Broadway career. (My Darlin’ Aida (1952-3) and Kismet (1955)
 

The salad was served as we recalled our “salad days” followed by a chicken dinner as we watched a cool young “red hot mamma”, Marilyn Maye and her superb trio for an afternoon of CABARET! The Marilyn Maye trio with Jeff Davis on piano, Tom Hubbard on bass and Daniel Glass on the drums took us back to the days when cabaret was where one took his date. 

Marilyn Maye, Martina Arroyo, Mario Cantone Anthony Laciura & Ailyn Pérez. Photo by Kevin Alvey.

 
Marilyn Maye, looking dazzling, admitted to being 89 which just defies mortality. It might have well been sweet 16, legal 21 or sizzling biological “peak” at 39. Her fulsome singing-and I mean SINGING, showed a voice of clarity and power, elegance and finesse, singing on the word and belting them out like Caruso, Ethel Merman and Babe Ruth – a home run every time!
 
For a starter, a rousing “It’s a Most Unusual Day” and a medley of the familiar and not so familiar, “It’s Spring Again” awakened one as “O Paradiso” from Meyerbeer’s “L’Africana” would – full of newfound joys of new horizons! Her youth became our adrenalin in “That’s All!” which was a blend of irony and insouciance and Artie Butler’s “Here to life ” was a rich tapestry of all that was and is yet to be. “Somewhere over the Rainbow” took us to that rainbow and was sung with all the hopes and dreams of mankind and the colors of the rainbow in her voice, so fresh and full of hope. Marilyn Maye had us all lift our glasses in a salute to life! An unforgettable moment!
 
Then to everyone’s delight, she shared the stage with the brilliant comedian whose Broadway one man show was acclaimed, as well as his television and film work. Mario Cantone sang “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die” with all the enthusiasm of a tarantella at a Sicilian wedding! Mario and Marilyn sang “When You’re Smilin’ ” with real pizzazz. It’s one of my favorite “old” songs and was the theme of “The Alan Courtney” radio show (WNEW)  back in the 1940’s.
 
Mario Cantone and Marilyn Maye thrilled  us with “Life is a Cabaret”, I never want to be “Alone in my Room.” Mr. Cantone lives up to his name and is a very fine singer and in a way, a Sicilian “pop” tenor with a robust voice that is strong and clear. Bravo Mario! To hear this dynamic duo conclude “Life is a Cabaret” in full voice with such exuberance and joy was a catharsis for all. The young singers, soprano Shana Grossman, tenor Woo Young Yoon and mezzo Magda Gartner joined in. The bravos echoed through the corridors of the Essex House Hotel and literally “shook the chandeliers!”
 
It was a pleasure to meet and greet the young opera singers and the seasoned Broadway “stars.” I told an Artie Butler story, having met him (A transplanted Brooklynite) in Los Angeles.  Artie is a renowned composer (Here’s to Life) who wrote  the music for a brilliant  Broadway show several years ago called The People in the Picture. Artie told me he was in awe of no one but one day he gave a lift to an elderly man who was huffing and puffing near his home. After a few moments of silence, the man said, “you know who I am?” and Artie Butler burst out with joy and love. “I loved your show, watched it every Saturday for years!” His “lift” was Moe Howard of The Three Stooges! The other Brooklyn born stooges were Moe’s brother’s Shemp and Curly. (Larry Fine was from Philadelphia)
 

Host Stephen Mo Hanan, Opera Index Treasurer Murray Rosenthal & Maestro Eve Queler. Photo by Kevin Alvey.

We had a lovely table with our special host Murray Rosenthal, composer Philip Hagemann, soprano Elaine Malbin, Met mezzo Jane Shaulis and President of Opera Index, her spouse, Executive Director Joseph Gasperec, Vice President Janet Stovin and Maestro Eve Queler of The Opera Orchestra of New York. 

Met Baritone Mark Rucker & Sadie Rucker. Photo by Judy Pantano.

In the crowd, we chatted with acclaimed Met Verdi baritone Mark Rucker who also coaches the awardees for Prelude to Performance and his invaluable wife and accompanist Sadie who helps promote the great Martina Arroyo Foundation as well as the effervescent Norena Barbella who is the Producer of Talent, Music & Live Entertainment. Andrew Martin-Weber and Beatrice Disman are active Board Members of the Foundation also.
  

Talent Producer Noreen Barbella & reviewer Nino Pantano. Photo by Judy Pantano.

Of course legendary Met opera soprano Martina Arroyo was present, and welcomed all at the beginning of the program, the founder of the feast, looking radiant and proud and we paid special homage to this great lady and recipient of the Kennedy Center honors. We all look forward to Prelude to Performance in July at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College with Carmen and Gianni Schicchi. Both Bizet and Puccini are brilliantly served by the young and gifted nurtured awardees of the Martina Arroyo Foundation. Martina’s Dad Demetrio, was an engineer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to support his family and assist young Martina’s career and music lessons.

It was nice to chat with Maestro Stephen Phebus and his wife Linda Howes, Cavaliere Eddie Jackson, spectacular soprano Ailyn Pérez, Met Opera tenor comprimario and television star Anthony Laciura and his wife Joel. He is a fellow Sicilian also lovingly called “Ninutzu” as a child by his adoring family!
 
Judy and I honeymooned at the Essex House Hotel nearly 51 years ago! So to me, at least two events at this venue, fifty years apart will forever be enshrined in my memory bank!

 

Elysium Between Two Continents Presents The Thirtieth Annual Erwin Piscator Awards

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Review by Nino Pantano

Erwin Piscator

On the afternoon of Thursday, March 30th, Elysium Between Two Continents Presented The Thirtieth Annual Erwin Piscator Awards at the intimate and elegant Lotos Club in New York City. This program is to benefit Elysium’s International Educational Programs “Art and Education without Borders.” The Lotos Club gathering that afternoon evoked memories of a musical soiree at the Kennedy White House when President Kennedy said it was “the most illustrious gathering of intellects since Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

Maria Ley Piscator

Movers and shakers notwithstanding, the “big bang” theory goes back to 1985 when Gregorij H. von Leïtis instituted the Erwin Piscator (1893-1966) award honoring Erwin Piscator’s artistic and humanitarian legacy and his lasting influence on theater on both sides of the Atlantic. Piscator was convinced that “art achieves its purpose only when it contributes to the improvement of man.”
 
The interesting program booklet included greetings from Dr. Kerstin Weinbach, City Councilor and Head of the Cultural Department forthe Magistrate City of Marburg, March 2017. The letter announced a newly opened cultural institution bearing the name Erwin Piscator Haus. Piscator went to school in Marburg and returned there in 1951.The new building replacing an older one proudly bears his name and continues his work.
 
After the wine and cocktail reception, the program began with soprano Jeannie Im singing “An die Freude” (Ode to Joy) music by Franz Schubert from a text by Friedrich Schiller. Ms. Im has been with Elysium since 2000 and was in the premiere performance of Ernst Krenek’s “What Price Confidence” at the Teatro dell’ Opera di Roma co-produced by Elysium. Among her many performances under the auspices of Elysium, were concerts of works by performers who were exiled or killed in World War II. Matthew Lobaugh, who is the Music Director of the New York City Wide Youth Opera, was her versatile piano accompanist. Ms. Im strolled through the tables and sang in a clear commanding soprano with joyful abandon.
Michael Müller, the Mayor of Berlin had his representative, Ms. Katja Weisbrock Donovan, who is the head of Cultural Affairs at the German Consulate in New York, bring greetings and speak of the cooperation of the two cities – Berlin and New York. She mentioned the Kellen family who were forced to flee Berlin during the era of the Nazis and the importance of Erwin Piscator and Maria Ley Piscator to the world. The New York Theatre Workshop founded by James C. Nicola a pivotal influence as well. Michael Lahr was the Program Editor and key to this joint effort and of the of the two countries under the banner of art and enlightenment. The dream turned into a reality of Gregorij H. von Leïtis and Michael Lahr.
The welcome was given by Gregorij H. von Leïtis who truly was monarch of all he surveyed. His cherubic demeanor could not disguise his tremendous commitment to evoke the theme of peace and justice through art. Mr. von Leïtis then
proudly introduced the chairperson of the luncheon committee, Louise Kerz Hirschfeld, whose late beloved husband Al Hirschfeld, was the Da Vinci of caricaturists. Ms. Hirschfeld’s energetic defense of the arts and its importance to all, made one think of “The Line King” a wonderful, whimsical documentary of her late great husband.
A fascinating musical excerpt followed, colorfully sung by soprano Jeannie Im “Lied von der Tünche” (Song of Whitewash) with music by Hanns Eisler and a text by Bertolt Brecht. The music evoked the German cabaret offerings of Lotte Lenya and the school of cabaret in the style of The Threepenny Opera. Matthew Lobaugh’s facile accompaniment made the two, one.
The salad was served and now the “salad days” prevailed. Michael Lahr, the erudite and industrious Chairman of the Erwin Piscator Awards Committee spoke. As a specialist of Erwin Piscator, the founder of the political and epic theater, Lahr brilliantly curated the exhibit Erwin Piscator: Political Theater in Exile andit traveled to Bernried, New York, Catania, Salzburg and Munich. Lahr spoke of the great joy and importance of the occasion and introduced the famed playwright Tony Kushner.

Tony Kushner, Doug Wright, and Michael Lahr. Photo by Letizia Mariotti.

Mr. Kushner alluded to the dark days we have been witnessing of late  and how the arts will pave the way for better days ahead. He referred to an earlier era in Greenwich Village and elsewhere when Belafonte, Brecht and Brando championed causes and spread the word of enlightenment and creativity. They knew where they were going artistically and emotionally as did James Nicola in his early days at the studio, which has become a kind of mecca, a place “Where one can roll up in like a blanket” (Fanny). Tony Kushner spoke in staccato sentences like a prizefighter hammering away at the evils of the world and praising the good in his introduction for James C. Nicola.
 
Gregorij von Leïtis made the presentation to James Nicola,”for his enormous contributions to the American theater by producing and cultivating artists whose works inspire and challenge the public.” As Artistic Director of the New York Theater Workshop since 1988, Nicola has forged a unique community of theater artists, a group of writers, directors, designers and actors who form the core of NYTW’s artist development activities. Many plays, premiers including Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” and “Homebody/Kabul” as well as Tennessee William’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” were performed.
 
James Nicola spoke intimately and passionately about his boyhood desire to excel in theater and his lack of concentration on other subjects. Nicola’s somewhat perturbed parents granted him the right to pursue his goals but he had to measure up academically to attain them. Nicola feels theater is “a sacred light” and that it illuminates the soul. Artists are encouraged to play their chosen destined roles. A force of nature illuminated by a “splendid torch,” a force of nature not to be denied. James Nicola is motivated by a sacred flame and that light has brightened the world.

Heather Randall (from left) with James Nicola and Louise Kerz Hirschfeld. Photograph by Letizia Mariotti.

With so much at “stake” we proceeded to enjoy our delectable choice of steak (or salmon), having feasted on brilliant words and deeds from the hearts and minds of the mighty.
 
Vartan Gregorian is the 12th President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, a grant making institution and is also a past honoree of the Erwin Piscator award. He is best known for his outstanding service as President of the New York Public Library. (1981-89) His services have earned him nearly 70 honorary degrees.The brilliant Mr. Gregorian spoke eloquently on behalf of honoree Marina Kellen French. With joyful abandon and as Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote “How do I love thee?” Mr. Gregorian alphabetically listed all of Marina Kellen French’s virtues practically from “A to Z” and why she is so admired. Whether it be art, music, medical, literary, educational, she is there to lend support, advice and encouragement!
 

Gregorij von Leitis with Marina Kellen French. Photo by Letizia Mariotti.

Gregorij von Leïtis presented Marina Kellen French with the Erwin Piscator award “for so generously giving of her time and talent to support so many artistic, cultural and educational organizations both here in New York and in Berlin.” Ms. French spoke of the joys of giving and that it must be earned and of her two unforgettable years as a student in Berlin, the land of her parents birth. The art of philanthropy and of aiding mankind is her mission.” What good is leaving the earth with accumulated wealth but having done little or nothing to help ones’ fellow humans?” That is also the mission of Gregorij von Leïtis and Michael Lahr. That is the path chosen by Marina Kellen French. The honorary Erwin Piscator award of 2017 was in memory of Maria Ley Piscator. (1898-1999) In 2014, Ms. French was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany at the residence of the German Consul General Brita Wagener in New York City. 

In a proclamation printed in the program, Governor Andrew Cuomo praised James C. Nicola for his “creative vision to American arts and culture” and Marina Kellen French “for her generous work in perpetuating and preserving a legacy of great art in the world.” Mayor Bill de Blasio also congratulated the awardees and Elysium – between Two Continents in the program with a special proclamation.
 
Jeannie Im accompanied by Matthew Lobaugh sang a lively “Good-Bye Trouble” with music by Mischa Spoliansky and text by Frank Eyton. “I’ve put on my hat, I’ve locked up my flat; the dog’s at the vets, I’ve settled my debts” and concluding with “And if I could design a world, I shouldn’t plan a finer world.” Ev’rything in it I see as it passes Thro’ wonderful rose colored glasses. Good-bye Trouble! I’ve finished with you, Trouble!” With that special “Thank you for coming” from Louise Kerz Hirschfeld, the afternoon drew to a upbeat close as we were enjoying the desserts and sweets of the luncheon – almost redundant when one considers the real “sweets” offered by the words and deeds of the day! 
 
Judy and I were happy to speak to many of the awardees and presenters. James Nicola and I share Italian heritage. His family were Piedmontese from Northern Italy, mine were Sicilian from the South. We laughed about the “rivalry” between Sicilians and non Sicilians. Marina Kellen French is also on the Board of the Metropolitan Opera Guild. I mentioned the great tenor Enrico Caruso singing “Vecchia Zimarra” in “La Bohème”, with the Met Opera on tour in Philadelphia when the bass, Andrés de Segurola lost his voice with the audience unaware. Caruso whispered to his friend, “turn your back to the audience and I’ll sing it for you!” The mighty tenor made a recording of Colline’s famous Coat aria at the insistence of the cast and his friends in 1916 – it is marked “Tenor-Bass.”

Vartan Gregorian was affable and most gracious. He is the “Energizer battery” redux! Louise Kerz Hirschfeld spoke of her husband’s zest for life and creative output. I told her that I especially admired his caricature of the matchless tenor Enrico Caruso (A former Lotos Club honoree in 1916) and the fact that Caruso, who caricatured as a hobby, published several volumes of caricatures. It was nice to chat with Jolana Blau, Vice Chairperson, who was also chatting with Martin Dvorak, Consul General of the Czech Republic in New York, Austrian Consul General Georg Heindl and his wife Neline Koornneef Heindl and the effervescent Midge Woolsey from both WQXR and PBS and her husband economist Dr. Jerry Stolt. Last year’s honoree, President of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation Sachi Liebergesell, was present with General Counsel Brian O’ Connor Esq. and his wife Maura. The lovely intimate Lotos Club is a New York treasure and the perfect venue for this stellar occasion.

Sachi Liebergesell & Vartan Gregorian Photo by Judy Pantano

 
We wish to thank Gregorij H. von Leïtis, President and Michael Lahr, Vice President for the pursuit of a peaceful world through art and artists and for being such gracious hosts and extraordinary humanitarians. As always, their friendship is treasured. If John Kennedy appreciated Thomas Jefferson dining alone, what about his being in a room full of people – men and women who match that ideal and are gregarious and fun as well.

I conclude with a quote from George Bernard Shaw that was referred to during this event, “You see things and you say, “Why?” But I dream things that never were and say, “Why Not?” Bravo to “Elysium – Between Two Continents for daring to ask “Why not?” and for keeping the work and spirit of Erwin Piscator and his wife Maria Ley Piscator alive, ongoing and thriving!

Soprano Jeannie Im. Photo by Letizia Mariotti.