Sarasota Opera Completes Verdi Cycle with a Spectacular Aida

Sarasota Opera production of Aida. Photo by Rod Millington.

The apartment of Amneris
Photo by Rod Millington

The Sarasota Opera is one of the finest venues for opera. The 1100 seat auditorium of this splendidly renovated William E. Schmidt Opera Theatre, is acoustically perfect and visually stunning. Pineapple Street in front of the opera house is now named “Verdi Way.” Conductor and Artistic Director Victor DeRenzi completed his 28 year Verdi cycle with a magnificent Aida.

The world premiere of Giuseppe Verdi’s (1813-1901) spectacular masterpiece Aida was December 24, 1871 in Cairo, Egypt supposedly to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal. After its Italian premiere at La Scala in Milan, shortly afterwards, Aida swept the world. It should be noted that tenor immortal Enrico Caruso sang Radames in Aida at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) with the Metropolitan Opera (Met) on tour on January 17, 1910 with Arturo Toscanini conducting. Caruso sang in Aida several times at BAM until 1917.

On the evening of Saturday, March 19th, before the performance, it was nice to meet and greet the staff, many of whom are or were Brooklyn residents. Executive Director Richard Russell once resided in Park Slope, Director of Artistic Administration Greg Trupiano is a Cobble Hill resident and Director of Audience Development Samuel Lowry, introduced us to his vivacious parents Bob and Becky Lowry from Eugene, Oregon. Recalling fondly Sam’s six years of living in Park Slope, they queried if the Blue Apron Foods store still existed and it does!

The Triumphal March. Photo by Rod Millington.

The Triumphal March
Photo by Rod Millington

We also chatted with August Ventura, Verdi filmmaker (Film “27”) and lecturer with his Mother Romola who resides part time in Sarasota with his Dad Eustacio. Visiting from New York, we met the effervescent Brian Kellow and Scott Barnes from Opera News.

Finally we all entered the theatre and the magic began. Maestro Victor DeRenzi, baton aloft conjured up the opening notes of this masterpiece. The curtain lifted to show us the hall of the palace of the King of Egypt.

Radames is the captain of the guards. He is pledged to Amneris the daughter of the King. Radames falls in love with the Ethiopian slave girl Aida, who in reality is the daughter of Amonasro, now also a slave but actually the King of Ethiopia. Radames gives the invading plans to Aida and is caught by Amneris and Chief Priest Ramfis. Aida and Amonasro flee to safety. Radames is put on trial and found guilty of being a traitor; he is to be buried alive. Amneris begs the judges to change their mind but to no avail. Aida has managed to sneak into the tomb where she and Radames die together with Amneris on the ground above, chanting a prayer softly.

The Radames was Jonathan Burton whose singing of “Celeste Aida” revealed a powerful tenor with lyrical grace, ending the “untrono vicino al sol” first full voice then an octave lower and softly. Burton has  real “squillo” (shine) to his voice. His heroic singing in the duet “Numi che duce ed arbitto” with the Chief Priest Ramfis concluding jointly with “Immensa Ptha” was thrilling. His third act finale “Sacerdote io resto a te,” was with golden notes seemingly held together with electrifying intensity. His confrontation with Amneris in Act 4 was a revelation, “Gia i sacerdoti adunansi” with generous and expansive bursts of glory. Burton’s “Morire si pura e bella” was lyrically done with pathos and a beautiful blend with Aida. The final “O terra addio” was sung with security and resignation. This was an extraordinary performance from a very promising tenor.

The title role was sung by soprano Michelle Johnson. Her singing of “Ritorna vincitor!” in the first act was the revelation of an Aida of the first rank. Her creamy sound, vocal ascents and vivid charismatic persona made for many magical moments. Her confrontations with Amneris and the excellent translations made one appreciate her dilemma and the brilliant score by librettist Antonio Ghislanzoni. The conflicting emotions were all seen and felt. Ms. Johnson’s scenes with Amonasro had great impact and her sense of being torn expanded into newfound courage. Ms. Johnson’s wondrous singing of “O patria mia” with its exotic vocal turns found her “inner Aida” in full bloom. Her singing in the tomb scene and “O terra addio” was flawless. Ms. Johnson was a visually radiant and vocally compelling Aida.

Amneris arrives at a temple to pray Photo by Rod Millington

Amneris and Ramfis arrive at a temple to pray
Photo by Rod Millington

The Amneris of Leann Sandel-Pantaleo was exemplary. The part of the king’s daughter, Amneris, Radames lover in waiting and vengeful, and later repentant, is truly a scenery chewing role. Amneris feigns love for her rival Aida and learns of Aida’s true love for Radames. Like a cat playing with a toy mouse, she revels in her ploy. Ms. Sandel-Pantaleo was at her “baddest” best in “L’abborrita rivale a me sfuggia” and “Gia I Sacerdoti adunansi” in the fourth act. Her rich versatile mezzo with its haunting chest voice truly made her a unique Amneris. When the priests declare Radames to be a traitor and condemn him to death, Pantaleo’s convulsive tears “Empia razza! La vendetta del ciel scendera!” wracked her very being and transferred these emotions to the audience. She took a big bite out of this juicy role and left an indelible impression.

The role of Amonasro, father of Aida and King of Ethiopia was sung by Marco Nistico whose robust baritone impressed from his opening phrases “Suo padre Anch’ io pugnai.” His singing of “Ma tu, o Re, tu signore possente” was a heartfelt plea and together with the pleading chorus made for Verdian magic. Nistico’s impassioned and powerful singing in the Schiava scene with Aida was dramatically precise. His performance so dynamic in the third act, added greatly to the drama.

The King as portrayed by basso Jeffrey Beruan was both majestic and regal. His “Salvator della patria, io ti saluto” and “Gloria all’ Egitto” revealed a mellow bass of substantial quality.

The high priest Ramfis of Young Bok Kim was sung in a strong basso and shined in “Mortal, diletto ai Numi” in the “Immensa Ptha” duet with Radames. His Ramfis had dignity and depth vocally and was a vivid portrayal of justice served and mercy ignored.

Michelle Johnson, Jonathan Burton, and Leann Sandel Pantaleo in the final scene from Verdis' Aida Photo by Rod Millington

Radames and Aida in tomb below and Amneris above
Photo by Rod Millington

Tenor Matthew Vickers was a commanding messenger in his brief moment to shine and he did indeed with vocal strength and urgency.

The Grand March with the many treasures, dazzling costumes and what appeared to be a golden calf tribute was truly spectacular! The stage was full of extras top tier and bottom with trumpeters on both sides of the stage. It was a marvelous montage, beautifully staged and free flowing with feathers and pageantry galore! The audience loved it!

The act three set design was ravishingly beautiful with its shimmering moon, river waves, barge, palm décor and pyramids.

Kudos to Conductor Victor DeRenzi whose brilliant conducting of this magnificent score from the Grand March to the gentle finale was impeccable. “Words for music” supplied the subtitles which Maestro Victor DeRenzi also translated.

The musicians of the Sarasota Orchestra were truly inspired. The final Aida of a 28 year dream will live on in memory and a final Verdi concert the next evening will complete this monumental effort.

The stage direction by Stephanie Sundine made for a stage that crowded spectacle with ease, flawless movement and striking vistas.

The scenic designer David P. Gordon created images that are unforgettable like some living breathing tableau.

Howard Tsvi Kaplan, costume designer, gave us breathtaking costumes and made us feel at home in this time and place.

Ken Yunker’s lighting design, so viable in the third act and the tomb scene also fast framed the Grand March finale like a time travel camera flash.

The ever creative hair and makeup designer Joann Middleton Weaver’s work was striking, never garish.

The chorus of Sarasota Opera’s apprentice and studio artists, under the astute hand of Roger L. Bingaman was magnificent.

The choreographer, Miro Magloire and dancers Meghan Connolly, Holly Curran, Ariana Henry, Sasha Paulovich, Nicholas Peregrino and Preston Swovelin made sense of the various dancing scenes. The dance of the priestesses and the dance of the young Moorish slaves were a pleasure to behold.

At the beginning of the excellent generous souvenir program, board Chairman David H. Chaifetz praised Maestro Victor DeRenzi for the Verdi cycle plus the board members and volunteers for their time and effort. Executive Director Richard Russell stated  “Verdi has been very good to us. Sarasota Opera has arrived! Now let’s enjoy it and get ready for the next great adventure!”

Artistic Director Victor DeRenzi wrote “I will leave the last words to the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio who wrote this as part of a poem written immediately after Verdi’s death.”

“Diede una voce alla speranze e ai tutti. Pianse ed amo per tutti.”

“He gave a voice to our hopes and to those in mourning. He cried and loved for us all.”

                  

Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ opens in NYC with ‘Brooklyn’ star Saoirse Ronan

Saoirse Ronan and Ben Whishaw in “The Crucible,” directed by Ivan van Hove. Photos by Jan Versweyveld

Saoirse Ronan and Ben Whishaw in “The Crucible,” directed by Ivan van Hove. Photos by Jan Versweyveld

When the curtain rises on the new production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” at the Walter Kerr Theater (which boasts the dream cast of Saoirse Ronan, the star of “Brooklyn;” Ben Whishaw; Sophie Okonedo; and Ciarán Hinds), the audience sees a gloomy classroom with a blackboard, dim, drab overhead lights and three rows of seated teenage schoolgirls, in prim, black and gray uniforms with knee socks, sleeveless pullovers and blazers, all facing forward with their backs to the audience.

Faintly, the spectators hear a chorus of girls’ voices, but the words are unintelligible. The setting and the sounds are both ordinary and spooky. Before there is a chance to decide which description fits best, the curtain descends, and then quickly rises again on the same set, but now fully lit, with a young girl prone on a gurney, being administered to by a clergyman. In the background stands another schoolgirl, brooding and concerned.

Theatergoers who saw last year’s “Antigone” with Juliette Binoche at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and the recent revival of Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” will recognize where they are: in Ivo-land. The Belgian-born Ivo van Hove is everywhere; last November he also directed the limited run of “Lazarus,” a musical collaboration between the late David Bowie and the Irish playwright Edna Walsh. With “The Crucible,” which officially opens this Thursday night, van Hove makes his Broadway debut.

He is, indisputably, having his New York moment.

Recently, the Eagle spoke with van Hove by telephone about his propensity for tackling the theatrical canon, his unique approach to rehearsal and, in particular, the current production of “The Crucible.”

Director Ivo van Hove.

Director Ivo van Hove.

Eagle: Nothing in the theatrical or cinematic canon — Euripedes, Shakespeare, O’Neil, Miller, stage adaptations of Bergman, Cassavettes, Pasolini, Viscounti films — seems to intimidate you. How did you become so fearless?

Van Hove: Well, you know, you only live your life once. Why not take chances? Before we begin a production, I always tell my creative team that we’re in the Olympics. Our goal should be the gold medal. The stage work and the film adaptations I choose to do are always driven by the actors, not by the beauty of the visuals or the physical design. As a novelist does through his writing, I want to express through my theatre work, my feelings, my passions.

Sophie Okonedo and Ben Whishaw

Sophie Okonedo and Ben Whishaw

Eagle: You have said about “The Crucible” that “…it is not a play about good and evil; it is about evil within goodness and goodness within evil.” Can you elaborate?

Van Hove: Now that I have done two Miller plays, what I have discovered is that he deals with ethical problems, often in black and white terms. But I don’t see things as that black and white. Take Abigail [Williams, who is the catalyst for the Salem witch hysteria and subsequent trials]. Listen carefully to what she says in the first act, when she reproaches John Proctor for ending their relationship. She really felt, for the first time in her life, respected as a woman. She’s 17. The fact that John, her first lover, rejects her is earth-shattering. She is very fragile.

For the Puritans, being a young girl meant three things: You had to always obey your parents (especially regarding even the hint of anything sexual); you had to became a servant, as Abigail was for John and Mary Procter; and you were not allowed to truly transition from a girl to a woman. Abigail is so often played as the evil villainess of “The Crucible.” But I don’t see her that way. Remember, she is the only character to escape Salem, to seek her freedom. John and Mary stay — and pay the price.

Elizabeth Teeter, Saoirse Ronan, Tavi Gevinson, Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut and Erin Wilhelmi.

Elizabeth Teeter, Saoirse Ronan, Tavi Gevinson, Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut and Erin Wilhelmi.

Eagle: Why do you insist that your actors be “off-book” from the first day of rehearsal? And why, in rehearsal, do you have your actors work steadily through the text, reaching the end of the play just before the first public performance?

Van Hove: I believe it is great for actors, in rehearsal, to discover the play. After all, that’s the way one lives one’s life —not knowing from one day to the next what is going to happen. As with life, there should be uncertainty; I want my actors to unravel the play, scene-by-scene, to react to the uncertainty as they would in real life. When I have the actors rehearse the play, day-by-day, in chronological order, I don’t have to give them a lot of instructions. They are coming to their own recognition of the text. Which also makes them more comfortable and more natural.

Sophie Okonedo and Ben Whishaw.

Sophie Okonedo and Ben Whishaw.

Eagle: Finally, since you have been so bold in taking iconic films (to cite just a few, Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage,” John Cassavetes’s “Husbands,” Luchino Viscounti’s “Rocco and His Brothers”) and transforming them into theater, when are you going to adapt “Star Wars” for the stage?

Van Hove [at first not realizing the tongue-in-cheek nature of my question]: Oh, no, I don’t think…

Ben Whishaw, Bill Camp, Tavi Gevinson and Ciarán Hinds.

Ben Whishaw, Bill Camp, Tavi Gevinson and Ciarán Hinds.

Eagle: Sorry, I was joking.

Van Hove (laughing): I may be, as you said, fearless, but I’m not reckless!


The Crucible runs through July 17 at the Walter Kerr Theater. 

Elizabeth Teeter, Saoirse Ronan and Tavi Gevinson.

Elizabeth Teeter, Saoirse Ronan and Tavi Gevinson.

Saoirse Ronan (foreground), Elizabeth Teeter, Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut, Erin Wilhelmi and Ben Whishaw (background).

Saoirse Ronan (foreground), Elizabeth Teeter, Ashlei Sharpe Chestnut, Erin Wilhelmi and Ben Whishaw (background).

Regina Opera Presents a Thrilling Lucia di Lammermoor

Lucia (Alexis Cregger) & Edgardo (Ben Sloman) pledge their love. Photo by George Schowerer

Lucia (Alexis Cregger) & Edgardo (Ben Sloman) pledge their love. Photo by George Schowerer.

On the afternoon of Saturday, March 5th, the Regina Opera’s 46th season continued with an exciting Lucia di Lammermoor by composer Gaetano Donizetti. (1797-1848) For those few precious hours, Sunset Park in Brooklyn was transformed into La Scala in Milan or Lincoln Center. Lucia di Lammermoor is based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor and is set in late 17th century Scotland. The libretto is by Salvatore Cammarano and the first performance was at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Italy on September 26, 1835.

Lucia (Alexis Cregger, center) is unwillingly escorted into the wedding hall. Photo by George Schowerer

Lucia (Alexis Cregger, center) is unwillingly escorted into the wedding hall. Photo by George Schowerer.

Enrico wants his sister, Lucia, to marry Arturo which will greatly improve the family’s financial situation. Lucia however loves Edgardo who is a sworn enemy to Enrico. By forged letters, Enrico convinces Lucia that Edgardo has abandoned her, and forces her to marry Arturo. Edgardo “crashes” the wedding, denounces Lucia, throws back her ring and is escorted out with swords drawn. Raimondo Bide-the Bent, a minister, restores the peace. We soon learn that Lucia has gone mad and has stabbed her groom, Arturo, on their wedding night. Lucia then appears with the dagger, delirious, in a blood stained gown. Edgardo goes to his family tomb, is told of Lucia’s death and stabs himself.

Lucia Ashton was sung by Alexis Cregger whose singing of “Regnava nel silenzio” was haunting. Ms. Cregger’s coloratura has a quick vibrato and a shimmering dream like quality that is beguiling. Her singing of the love duet with Edgardo “Verranno a te” was both lyrical and ardent. Ms. Cregger’s thrilling ascent in “Se tradirmi tu potrai” was golden age in its quality like a sudden burst of fireworks. Her high note finale in the famed sextet “Chi mi frena” was a wonder.

Edgardo (Benjamin Sloman, center) crashes the wedding, leading to a sword fight. Photo by George Schowerer

Edgardo (Benjamin Sloman, center) crashes the wedding, leading to a sword fight. Photo by George Schowerer.

“Il dolce suono” and the ensuing “mad scene” were sung with pyrotechnic fierceness with trills, cadenzas, highs and lows in a dazzling panorama of colors and emotions ending in “Sparigi d’amaro pianto” with a spectacular high note above the orchestra and chorus. Cregger’s Lucia was flawless and spectacular!

Lucia (Alexis Cregger, center) has shocked the wedding guests by killing her bridegroom. Photo by George Schowerer

Lucia (Alexis Cregger, center) has shocked the wedding guests by killing her bridegroom. Photo by George Schowerer.

Raimondo (Isaac Grier) supports the dying Edgardo (Benjamin Sloman, left) who has stabbed himself in grief. Photo by George Schowerer

Raimondo (Isaac Grier) supports the dying Edgardo (Benjamin Sloman, left) who has stabbed himself in grief. Photo by George Schowerer.

Edgardo di Ravenswood was sung by the rapidly rising Australian tenor Benjamin Sloman. His ardent powerful singing of “Sulla tomba che rinserra” and “Qui di sposa eterna fede” made one sit up and take notice. The ensuing duet “Verranno a te sull’ aure” with its soaring melodies had us enraptured as Ms. Cregger and Mr. Sloman rose to heavenly heights, their voices blending and a few new, trill like additions added to this captivating brew. Sloman’s top voice steely, steady and secure, combined with Alexis Cregger’s flowing sound, made for a “golden age duet.” His penetrating notes in the sextet and his declamatory power in the denunciation scene “Hai tradito il cielo e amor” made for great theatre. Sloman’s beautifully framed and poignant singing of “Fra poco a me ricovero” and “Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali” made him an Edgardo of the first rank.

Lord Enrico Ashton was sung by Seung-Hyeon Baek whose robust baritone negotiated the passages of “Cruda, funesta smania” with strength and angst. His exciting singing with Lucia of “Se tradirmi tu potrai” evoked the duet in Rigoletto with his stirring high note. He was a bad and angry brother. His remorse at Lucia’s death was genuine. Baek’s portrayal was vivid and masterful but he needs a little more “push” into getting into Enrico’s skin with a bit more angst. He is young and his future promising.

Raimondo Bide-the-Bent, a peace keeping minister was beautifully sung by Isaac Grier whose basso cantante provided the glue that literally held people together throughout the opera. His singing with the chorus of “Cessi, ah cessi” and “O meschina” and “Tu che a Dio” at the tomb scene was done with extraordinary power and beauty.

The unfortunate groom, Lord Arturo Bucklaw was sung in a sweet and strong tenor by Mario Bacigalupi. His singing of “Per poco fra le tenebre” and “Dov’e Lucia” was done with genuine conviction and lamb before slaughter was the prevailing thought.

The smaller roles were all done with vocal heartiness and aplomb. The Normanno of Ray Calderon, the excellent Alisa of mezzo Jennie Mescon, the Deacon of versatile Wayne Olsen and the notary of Thomas Geib were all of a high quality.

The conductor Dmitry Glivinskiy gave a brisk and spirited reading of this exciting and melodic score and brought out every bit of its toe tapping vigor. The 32 musicians who seemingly put their souls and skills into it followed as a unified force, his every baton movement. Plaudits to Richard Paratley who brilliantly accompanied Lucia on the flute in the mad scene, Kathryn Sloat whose harp playing evoked the angels in “Quando rapito” in the first act. Also Dmitri Barkan’s oboe solo so poignant and concertmaster Yelena Savranskaya and her magic violins.The Scottish wedding music was so joyful in contrast to the somber melodies to come.

The chorus sang with perfection strength and elegance throughout and especially in the final act.The melodies haunt me still.

Linda Lehr’s brilliant direction and staging made for vivid fight scenes, unshakable visions of the mad scene and a haunting tomb scene with the monks and mourners holding candles. Lehr’s scenes (So Gothic and mysterious) sometimes are “frozen” as in mid flight-a brilliant touch! Tyler Learned’s set lighting was truly mood evoking.

The costumes by Julia Cornely were outstanding and the red and gold gowns at the wedding scene were dazzling. Edgardo’s outfit was superb and Lucia’s blood soaked gown as she left the unseen boudoir and entered the reception was unforgettable.

The subtitles by Linda Cantoni Vice President were excellent and gave the newcomers vital dialogue.

We thank the Regina Opera for a truly splendid afternoon of opera at its best-not updated tampered with or modernized-just the brilliant genuine article. There were ovations, cheers and many bravos echoing in the hall at the conclusion. Thanks to Francine Garber, Linda Cantoni, Joseph Delfausse, Alex Guzman and all those behind the scenes who make it all possible. Bravo!

For more information about Puccini’s Manon Lescaut to be presented in May, e-mail:  info@ReginaOpera.org 

Remembering Legendary Metropolitan Opera Soprano Anna Moffo

Met Opera Star Anna Moffo

Met Opera Star Anna Moffo

On the evening of Wednesday, March 9th, Michael Lahr and Gregorij von Leitis hosted a special remembrance of the great Italian American (Born in Pennsylvania) soprano Anna Moffo (1932-2006) who passed away 10 years ago to the day. Many friends operatic, literary, legal and medical from Ms. Moffo’s legendary past stopped by to offer some insight into her vocal accomplishments as recordings of her signature roles were heard.

I was privileged to have seen and heard her amazing Violetta in La Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera (Debut 1959) where she sang countless lyric and coloratura roles such as Lucia di Lammermoor and was a legendary Liu in Turandot. Anna Moffo’s ravishing beauty served her well in Italy where she had her own TV show and made films in Italy and Germany, both operatic and popular.

Ms. Moffo’s heavy workload caused a vocal crisis and she turned to our host Gregorij von Leitis for advice and assistance. I again was among the sold out visitors at the Met Opera house to witness her “comeback” violetta in the 1970’s which was short but very sweet.

Anna Moffo was a long time member of the Elysium-between two continents advisory board and her spirit prevailed at this “swellegant, elegant party” of Cole Porter rank with excellent hosts. Good food, fine champagne and wine and the voice of the angels caressing the ear. Priceless autographed photographs were admired by all.

I am certain that Anna Moffo, opera star, actress and humanitarian would have appreciated this gathering arranged by Michael Lahr and Gregorij von Leitis and she was present in spirit. The Elysium in New York sponsors international educational programs. To live on in the hearts of those you love is to be remembered forever.

Renate Oldoerp, Gregorij von Leitis, Christine Hullman & Michael Lahr. Photo by Judy Pantano

Renate Oldoerp, Gregorij von Leitis, Christine Hullman & Michael Lahr. Photo by Judy Pantano

Stephen De Maio hosts Opera Night Live! at Columbus Citizens Foundation

 

Gerda Lissner President Stephen De Maio & President Nedra Zachary/Loren L. Zachary Society Photo by Judy Pantano

Gerda Lissner President Stephen De Maio &
President Nedra Zachary/Loren L. Zachary Society
Photo by Judy Pantano

Stephen De Maio is now “Mr. Opera” in New York City. As President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation and Artistic Director of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation to name a few, he has revitalized the operatic horizon for many awardees and brought many new arrivals to operatic careers. As host of Opera Night Live!, he is the “Ed Sullivan of opera with a really great show!” There are cocktails and finger food and a sumptuous dinner between the first and second part and dessert afterwards. Mr. De Maio decided to bring back opera nights after the passing of Dr. Frank Celenza who hosted these special soirees for years at the Columbus Citizens Foundation. The foundation is located at 8 East 69th Street in NYC and organizes the Columbus Day Parade and college scholarships for Italian American students among its many charitable duties promoting Italian American culture.

Anthony Correra from the Board of Governors introduced Stephen De Maio on Friday evening, February 26th and the program began with Mr. De Maio recognizing several special guests. Among them were soprano and Metropolitan Opera legend Elinor Ross, New York City Opera and acclaimed Met soprano and now vocal coach Diana Soviero and her husband Opera Director Bernard Uzan from Uzan International Artists, Gloria Gari from the Giulio Gari Foundation, Gerda Lissner trustee Barbara Ann Testa and patron Karl Michaelis, Nedra Zachary, President of the Loren L. Zachary Society for the Performing Arts based in Los Angeles with Peter Hubner who assists Mrs. Zachary and is a music arranger, Vice President and Brooklyn born Janet Stovin from Opera Index, author Luna Kaufman, Holocaust survivor and humanitarian, Commendatore Aldo and Lisa Mancusi from the Enrico Caruso Museum in Brooklyn, opera lecturer Lou Barrella and wife Kathleen.

Soprano Diana Soviero, Opera Director Bernard Uzan & Gloria Gari/Giulio Gari Fdn. Photo by Judy Pantano

Soprano Diana Soviero, Opera Director Bernard Uzan
& Gloria Gari/Giulio Gari Fdn. Photo by Judy Pantano

Part one began with the superb piano accompanist Mary Pinto and young soprano Amber Daniel. Ms. Daniel, who is a student of Diana Soviero, began with Vissi d’arte from Puccini’s Tosca. Ms. Daniel’s voice has clarity, strength, power and fullness. Her notes were tapered beautifully and her pause before the final “Cosi” added greatly to the drama. Her second selection was a rarity and tour de force,”Pace non trovo” from Sonetti di Petrarca, almost Wagnerian in its intensity and full of the pianistic virtuosity of its composer Franz Liszt. It resembled Liebestraum with words. Ms. Daniel sang with pathos, intensity and depth. Amber Daniel evokes memories of the great American soprano Eleanor Steber.

Australian tenor Alasdair Kent started with showstopper “A mes amis” from Donizetti’s La fille du regiment. He sang in a shimmering, vibrant, fearless and peerless tenor from the bottom to the top and forged 9 high C’s like an anvil chorus. Kent’s second number was the charming Tosti song “A vucchella” which poured out like a delicious Asti Spumanti. Enrico Caruso made a wonderful recording of this song in 1919 and Mario Lanza sang it in the 1951 film The Great Caruso. It was nice to hear it again and so beautifully sung.

Soprano Amber Daniel, Tenor Alasdair Kent, Pianist Mary Pinto & Baritone Matthew Ciuffitelli Photo by Judy Pantano

Soprano Amber Daniel, Tenor Alasdair Kent,
Pianist Mary Pinto & Baritone Matthew Ciuffitelli
Photo by Judy Pantano

The third scheduled singer could not make the performance and he was replaced by a young Italian baritone Matthew Ciuffitelli who sang “Largo al factotum” from Rossini’s Barber of Seville. He has a pleasing, plangent baritone and negotiated the fioritura and bravura of this aria looking at audience members with grand sweeping gestures. Ciuffitelli has resonance and power and sang the Don Pasquale aria “Bella siccome un angelo” with longing and good trills.

General Manager John Boden prepared a fine repast of food and wine for the dinner break. We had delicious Paccheri Amatriciana, a lasagna like pasta dish. Filet of Beef Rossini with sautéed broccolini or grilled Salmon Colombo were the entrees.

Part two was a DVD tribute to the late great beloved tenor Luciano Pavarotti. The tenor’s second wife, Nicoletta Mantovani Pavarotti, was the scheduled guest but could not attend. With the assistance of Alejandro, one of the staff members, Steve De Maio showed Pavarotti singing “Recondita armonia” from Puccini’s Tosca. It had the Pavarotti sound of clarity, generosity of voice and spirit and that marvelous top voice. This was followed by a clip from the Met Opera 1977 telecast of La Boheme and Pavarotti’s exquisite high C in “Che gelida manina” with Renata Scotto. The finale had the three tenors singing “O sole mio” and how Pavarotti stood out as both a glorious voice and a beloved personality.

I sat near Alba Mazza, piano accompanist,”stornello” tenor Antonio Guarna and photographer Anita Sanseverino. Soprano Diana Soviero reminisced to the audience about her performances with the great tenor who was anxious to eat the real chicken served at the Café Momus in La boheme.

These operatic sweets were vocal nectar to all. Afterwards we went to the intimate dining area for tiramisu, coffee, fruit and cookies. It simply doesn’t get any better than that! Bravo Steve De Maio for his wonderful program of “Opera Night Live!”