The Regina Opera Presents a Thrilling La Traviata

On the afternoon of Saturday, November 18th, in its 48th season, the Regina Opera presented a beautiful La Traviata. This opera has long been a favorite of mine dating back to the early 1950’s when I received an RCA LP as a 21st birthday gift. The principals were the idolized soprano Licia Albanese as Violetta, popular American tenor Jan Peerce as Alfredo and beloved Brooklyn baritone Robert Merrill as Germont, and conducted by the iconic Arturo Toscanini and featured the NBC Symphony Orchestra. The opera was a gift to audiences by the legendary composer Giuseppe Verdi! In many ways it was a tribute to his second wife (soprano) Giuseppina Strepponi, who to many, was the inspiration for the opera.

La Traviata (The Fallen Woman) premiered in Venice, Italy in March 1853 at La Fenice Theatre and was based on the play by Alexander Dumas fils. La Dame aux Camelias with a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave was a failure. The soprano, Fanny Salvini-Donatelli was too fat to be a consumptive and the audience was befuddled at its contemporary look. Verdi did some rewriting and got another soprano, and the opera became a great audience favorite and has remained one, worldwide, ever since. Note that composer Giuseppe Verdi also composed Rigoletto and Il Trovatore in the same time period. The great 1936 film Camille, starring Robert Taylor and Greta Garbo, is based on the same story and La Traviata is utilized in the popular film Pretty Woman with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts.

La Traviata was the first full opera by the Regina Opera in 1971 and many thought of the recent death of Marie Cantoni who founded the company so long ago. This opera is a fitting tribute to her love of opera and the Regina Opera remains a true and eternal monument to her blessed memory.

The ever elegant Maestro Gregory Ortega made his entrance, the musicians readied themselves for his baton, the houselights dimmed and the magic began.

The beautiful Prelude with its sound of strings, grips one right from the start. The Maestro and the musicians have set the mood; the curtain lifts and the gaiety of the party prevails.

Violetta Valéry was portrayed by soprano Christina Rohm, whose vocal gifts were a constant source of pleasure and filled the hall with full and generous sound. Her sublime singing of “È strano… Ah, fors’ é lui” moved the heart, and her full throated singing of “Sempre libera”literally tore down the house. She did not hit the stratospheric high e-flat at the end of the aria, but hit one high enough to thrill with the expansiveness and strength of her instrument. Ms. Rohm’s scenes with Germont were touching. Ms. Rohm’s interaction with Germont in their scene that begins with “Pura siccome un angelo” was sung with such feeling, as was “Ah! dite alla giovine,” that you cannot forget her heartache. Catholic priest Father Owen Lee once said on a Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast “Violetta was Una Santa”- she was truly a saint. Her reaction to Alfredo’s terrible mistreatment to her at Flora’s party melted the heart.

The final act with “Addio del passato” and “Ah! gran Dio! Morir sì giovine,” was like witnessing the execution of an innocent person. Her “Parigi o cara” with her grief – stricken Alfredo, was sung with tenderness and compassion. The finale with “Prendi, quest’ è l’ immagine” with Violetta, Alfredo, Germont, Annina (Violetta’s maid) and Dr. Grenvil was sudden and shattering. Christina Rohm was for me and for the audience, one of the most vital Violetta’s ever. Her performance is now inscribed in the minds and hearts of all who were lucky enough to witness such glory! Giuseppe Verdi must have been there and rejoiced in the perfection of this very unforgettable performance.

Center/Thomas Massey as Alfredo Germont & Christina Rohm as Violetta Valéry & Kristen Behrmann as friend Flora Bervoix
with party guests. Photo by Sabrina Palladino

I had the privilege of thanking Christina Rohm, this wonderful artist and singer, for all of her previous superb performances, as well as for this powerful emotion-filled Violetta.

Alfredo Germont was sung by Thomas Massey whose soaring lyrical tenor and boyish charm made him a vital and vibrant addition to this exceptional performance. His singing of “Libiamo”with principals and chorus at the beginning of the first act was exuberant and stood out. Massey’s robust singing of “De’meie bollenti spiriti” at the beginning of the second act was among the very best I can recall, and his clarion and vibrant powerful tenor negotiated the myriad paths of the aria beautifully. Massey’s rage and heartache in the gambling scene made one want to console him. His throwing money at Violetta in the gambling scene never made him the fool, only the fooled. His angst was shown in the power of his voice and his humiliation by his father denouncing him, and also made him the victim of the bourgeois ego. Massey’s beautiful singing in his duets with Violetta “Un dì felice” in the first act and “Parigi o cara” in the last were indicative of his high hopes soon to be dashed by cruel fate. His remorse at the finale became our remorse.

Scott Lefurgy as Giorgio Germont Père with Violetta. Photo by Sabrina Palladino

Baritone Scott Lefurgy was an excellent Germont Père. His warm and expansive baritone was utilized to perfection. Lefurgy’s voice is not an overly large voice but he knows how to project. His beautiful singing of “Di Provenza il mar, il suol” was among the highlights of the performance. Lefurgy’s singing in the second act with Violetta was moving but never hypocritical. His emotions were perhaps a bit self-serving regarding “family honor” but his affection for Violetta was sincere, especially his “Piangi, Piangi” and his being the responsible one for her death was among the sadder aspects of this tale. Yes, Father Owen, Violetta was far more than a courtesan; she WAS a Saint! (Una Santa)

Baritone Samuel Bowen portrayed Baron Douphol. He was at his best in challenging Alfredo to a duel at the end of the second act. His indignation was justifiable. Kudos to the Regina for making the Baron’s duel challenge moment a visible one. His useful and warm baritone and dignified appearance was well served.

Alfredo & Violetta & party guests. Photo by Sabrina Palladino

Kristin Behrmann was Flora. Her warm mezzo was pleasing, her affection for Violetta touching, her fabulous parties rivaled Ethel Merman as Perle Mesta in Call me Madame. (No pun intended)

Violetta & Alfredo with party guests. Photo by Francine Garber-Cohen

The more minor roles were securely played by Danny Oakden as Marquis d’Obigny; Rick Agster as Dr. Grenvil with a warm basso voice and persona; vibrant soprano Angela Aida Carducci as Annina, Violetta’s loving and sympathetic maid; Justin Randolph was Gastone, Viscount Letorières; Thomas Geib was Giuseppe a servant; and veteran comprimario Wayne Olsen, an elegant first rate commissioner.

Samuel Bowen as Baron Douphol & Violetta. Photo by Sabrina Palladino

The dancers at the party scene were the excellent and graceful with Wendy Chu as the gypsy and Kelly Vaghenas as the boastful impassioned matador. Both were colorful and exciting attractions in the party scene.

The ensemble was glamorous: stunning Shelly Barkan as Gastone’s girl; Thomas Geib (a “moving man”); chorister Catherine Greco beguiled and amusing as a fortune teller; Tareva Moore (Gaston’s girl); Wayne Olsen (Violetta’s Butler) Raffaele Rosato (a “moving man”) – all vital, vibrant and colorful!

Germont Père, Violetta & Dr. Grenvil/Rick Agster. Photo by Sabrina Palladino

The chorus sang with exuberance and sympathy. The orchestra of 35 plus superb musicians were led by Maestro Gregory Ortega, whose genius gave us a well balanced and inspired interpretation. The familiar Prelude and Interlude were fresh and familiar – like old friends and good wine. The violins were haunting thanks to Concertmaster Christopher Joyal. Violinist Diana Barkan was outstanding and her husband Dimitri Barkan was the excellent oboist. Richard Paratley, principal flutist, was also the Michaelangelo-ish set painter.

The costumes by Marcia C. Kresge were brilliant and colorful. The sets were sheer perfection. Flora’s party was elegant and extravagant with paintings, large garden window and great intimacy as well. Violetta’s party in the first act had a lovely “Libiamo” with all the color and fun synonymous with such settings.

Germont Père, Flora, (Blue Gown), Violetta (Black Gown), Justin Randolph/Gastone -Toreador, Richard Agster/Dr. Grenvil, Danny Oakden/Marquis & ThomasMassey/Alfredo. Photo by Francine Garber-Cohen

Lauren Bremen’s lighting design added to the mood swings, the marvelous supertitles by Linda Cantoni contributed greatly by their sophistication and explanation. Graphic design was by the multi-talented Wayne Olsen.

The stage direction by Linda Lehr is always unique and fulfilling. The camera is on Violetta but the bouquet also includes strong glimpses of the despair of Alfredo and Germont. The entire production is praiseworthy and we were thankful for it.

Final scene – Alfredo & Violetta. Photo by Francine Garber-Cohen

I am thankful that my guests including family and friends were given this precious gift of Violetta’s life and demise. The great music of Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) whose long life and great career thrill, thanks to the late beloved Marie Cantoni and her still living dream – The Regina Opera.

Thank you producer Francine Garber-Cohen, Linda Cantoni, Linda Lehr, Maestro Gregory Ortega, the singers, costumers and all who made this La Traviata so memorable! BRAVI!

We and our guests went to Casa Vieja Restaurant nearby for a delicious (Mexican) dinner à la Violetta’s and Flora’s soirèes.

 

 

 

Martina Arroyo Foundation Presents Its Thirteenth Annual Gala

On the evening of Monday, November 13th, the Martina Arroyo Foundation held its 13th Annual Gala at the JW Marriott Essex House in New York City. Martina Arroyo’s great appeal not only makes it an occasion of great singing but also has outreach to Broadway and fashion as well. It truly is a night that both glitters and sings!

Gala Host Terrance McKnight. Photo by 8salamander productions

Terrance McKnight was the excellent host and is known through his unique charm hosting classical music on WQXR radio and his Langston Hughes program “I, Too, sing America.” He is a producer of several music programs for public radio and is also an esteemed professor at Morehouse College. In 2010, he was honored with an ASCAP Deems Taylor Radio Broadcast Award.

Honorary Gala Chair, the exuberant Andrew Marin-Weber, resplendent in his festive floral jacket, kept an eye on the fabulous bustling crowd while pianist Eric Yves Garcia played beautiful romantic music for the guests.

Honorary Gala Chair Andrew Martin-Weber
& Choreographer Tommy Tune. Photo by 8salamander productions

Martina Arroyo was escorted to the stage where she thanked all for attending and mentioned the sad passing of Joan Krueger “2004 Coach of the Year” which was noted in the beautiful souvenir program.

The first honoree was famed bass-baritone James Morris who recently sang his 1,000th performance at The Metropolitan Opera. Mr. Morris was introduced by Gala Chair Garry Spector who described Morris’s long career and friendship with Martina Arroyo. His performances in Verdi, Puccini and Wagner are legendary and his debut in Aida in 1973 placed him with Martina Arroyo as Aida. They go back far but remain near. Mr. Morris studied with the great American soprano, the immortal Rosa Ponselle. She made her debut at age 22 with Enrico Caruso and Giuseppe De Luca at the Metropolitan Opera in 1919 in Verdi’s La Forza del Destino. James Morris spoke eloquently of Martina Arroyo and her extraordinary work on behalf of young singers of today through her Prelude to Performance series. Mr. Spector was an energizing host with knowledge and humor and with a special affinity towards his formidable and kindly subject.

Soprano Ailyn Pérez, Bass-Baritone James Morris,
Dancers Chita Rivera & Tommy Tune. Photo by 8salamander productions

The second award went to soprano star Ailyn Pérez. Ms. Pérez was hailed by the New York Times as “a beautiful woman who commands the stage and she is a major soprano.” Ms. Pérez humbly accepted her award from board member Gary Spector and appeared to be ready for her great future. She spoke of “time being of the essence for a career and being in the right place at the right time.” She has the beauty of Rita Hayworth and the voice of an angel and one wishes to have been present at her La Scala debut as Violetta in La Traviata and her peerless Mimi in La Bohème. Her Liu in Turandot at the Royal Opera in London and her Thais and Juliette at the Metropolitan Opera were ambrosia to fans thirsty for such a sumptuous sound coming from an oasis of Latina beauty. Ms. Pérez is a Chicago native, the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her album debut is “Poeme d’un jour” a program of French and Italian songs on Opus Arte label. She was a winner of the Richard Tucker award in 2012, the only Hispanic to do so in 35 years.

Two Prelude to Performance artists sang. Rising soprano Jessica Sandidge sang “E strano …Ah, fors’ è lui” and “Sempre libera” from La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi. Ms. Sandidge reminded one of several stunning Violetta’s at the Met Opera decades ago including Mary Costa and Anna Moffo and television’s Marguerite Piazza who were blessed with beauty, stage presence and voice. She sang with lyric charm and dramatic coloring and nailed the high note in “Sempre libera.” Her excellent accompanist was Maestro Steven M. Crawford who has conducted several New York City premieres including A Chekhov Trilogy by composer Richard Wargo. Mr. Wago is also curator of the Marcella Sembrich Museum on the banks of Lake George in upstate New York.

Bass DeAndre Simmons & Soprano Jessica Sandidge.
Photo by 8salamander productions

Mr. McKnight then introduced bass DeAndre Simmons, who sang “Il Lacerato Spirito” from Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra accompanied by Maestro Steven M. Crawford. Mr. Simmons has earned a reputation worldwide for his vocal appearances including singing for royalty, U.S. Presidents and Pope John Paul II. The aria is mighty and imposing. Mr. Simmons’s voice is currently a bit too high for this majestic undertaking. If he waits several years his basso will darken further. Perhaps “Non piu Andrai” from The Marriage of Figaro would have shown him at his very best. Nonetheless, DeAndre Simmons’s voice, personality and spirit are there in abundance and his stage presence is most ingratiating.

A delicious steak dinner was served followed by a “live” auction hosted by auctioneer Katie Jacobs who has been benefit auctioneer for Christie’s Auction House since 2007. She is also a wine connoisseur and manages Christie’s luxury online auctions globally from wines to jewelry and watches. Who could resist two tickets for Hamilton, lunch for six at Martina Arroyo’s house, beautiful jewelry or a week-long trip to London?

Martina Arroyo presented the Michel Maurel award, named after her late husband to Martin L. Jeiven. The Martina Arroyo Foundation thanked Marty Jeiven and Anatoli Jewelry for their generous donation to The Martina Arroyo Diva Jewelry Collection.

Graciela Daniele made the presentation to honoree, famed dancer/choreographer Tommy Tune. Tommy Tune has won Astaire awards, Tony awards and is truly a Broadway legend. Despite his height, tall Tommy can “float like a butterfly” and is a Ferrari on his feet! He accepted his award and told the audience that he has always been an opera fan and saw LULU three times as a novice! He mentioned a dinner he had early in his career with the great actor Sir Laurence Olivier who tried to answer the gnawing question, “Why do we do what we do? Is it narcissism? Whatever it is – it’s all alright!” Tommy then praised Martina Arroyo for all she has done and continues to do in helping young singers achieve their operatic goals.


Choreographer Tommy Tune, Met Opera Soprano Martina Arroyo, Dancer Chita Rivera. Photo by 8salamander productions

Graciela Daniele introduced the next honoree, the legendary Chita Rivera. A double dose of “something wonderful.” Ms. Rivera told the audience how her parents encouraged her in her dancing in Puerto Rico leading to her career in Call Me Madame and Nine with Antonio Banderas and West Side Story. She met composer conductor Leonard Bernstein who asked her to sing and he chuckled at her efforts. She exclaimed, “after all NOT all dancers can sing” but she did O.K. Her fabulous career on stage and in film has led to many awards and adventures and to the Presidential Award of Freedom in 2009. Her comments “God has been very good to me” are a reflection of her inner spirit which gives her super grit and talent with a reflective and humbling edge!

Tommy Tune and Chita Rivera are touring with their show “Chita and Tune.” Ms. Daniele, a famed choreographer who venerates both legends, told the audience her own love of theatre combined with luck, gave her all she wanted in her notable career.

Terrance McKnight made his closing remarks and introduced the great jazz saxophonist & clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera with Daniel Freiberg accompanist. Paquito’s ensemble which featured cellist Jisoo Ok, bandoneonist Hector Del Curto and his eight year old son Santiago Del Curto, a clarinet player, who performed with enthusiasm and played royally. Paquito is a composer of some enchanting jazz compositions and his heart, generous personality and inspired spirit can liven up any party. Brio Latino! Ole!

Cellist Jisoo Ok, Bandoneonist Hector Del Curto, Clarinet Santiago Del Curto, Clarinet/Saxophone Paquito D’Rivera. Photo by 8salamander productions

The great lady herself, Martina Arroyo appeared, resplendent in regal purple attire who always sends her greetings to her Brooklyn Eagle (Discovery) admirers. Her Dad Demitrio worked as an engineer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to help her succeed in her operatic yearnings. Despite fine dining since then, Martina’s memories of hot dogs at Ebbets Field with her Dad still pop up and entice!

It was nice to meet and greet so many friends and acquaintances. Mark and Sadie Rucker, the dynamic duo who always make the world seem brighter, through his glorious baritone and her pianistic accompaniment and their efforts towards making Prelude to Performance the wonderful success that it has become.

Met Opera Mezzo Soprano Susan Quittmeyer-Morris,
Met Opera Baritone Mark & Pianist Sadie Rucker. Photo by Judy Pantano

Also great to greet Gala Producer the sparkling Norena Barbella and Deborah Surdi, Administrative Director from the Gala Committee (Deborah is from my old neighborhood of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn) who made this an exciting event.

Pianist Eric Yves Garcia & Gala Producer Norena Barbella. Photo by Judy Pantano

At our table was Stephen De Maio, esteemed Advisory Board member and much respected President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation, the formidable Michael Fornabiao, Treasurer of the Gerda Lissner Foundation, Eve Queler, great Maestro from The Opera Orchestra of New York, ever charming Gloria Gari from the Giulio Gari Foundation and Gari Treasurer Lud Mayleas as well as enchanting fellow opera enthusiasts Louise Simmons and Robert Funk. It was nice to chat with the radiant Advisory Board Member Midge Woolsey and her husband economist Dr. Juergen “Jerry” Stolt, Opera Index Treasurer and Broadway investors Murray Rosenthal and composer Philip Hagemann, Opera Index Vice President Janet Stovin, also from Opera Index Robert Steiner and Faith Pleasanton, Career Bridges glamorous couple Barbara Meister Bender and husband David, opera manager Robert Lombardo, financial consultant and excellent chef Paolo Petrini, Anthony Laciura Met Opera tenor, actor and fellow Sicilian, poet scholar Cavaliere Dr. Edward Jackson and fellow writer the esteemed Meche Kroop.

The Martina Arroyo Gala is among the treasures of New York. It is now a wonderful memory and if we ever have a “dull” moment, Judy and I will pause and remember the fun! We “honeymooned” at the Essex House in 1966 and we add more golden memories at the Martina Arroyo Gala in 2017.

We thank everyone who made this gala so outstanding and of course, the great and radiant Martina Arroyo truly “the hostess with the mostest!”

 

Opera Index Presents Annual Membership Buffet & Recital

Michael Fennelly, Leo Radosavljevic, Emily Pogorelc, Jane Shaulis, Andres Benavides Cascante, Jaeman Yoon. Photo by Meche Kroop

On the evening of Wednesday, November 8th, Opera Index presented their Annual Membership Buffet & Recital at The Community Church of New York in Murray Hill, New York. This annual dinner concert is a way of enjoying some of the award winning young singers in an informal setting. The food is volunteered by the members and it is easily one of the great parties to be a part of.

Host Jane Shaulis, who is President of Opera Index and a Metropolitan Opera mezzo, welcomed us all and proudly mentioned the $55,000 that was raised for scholarships in the last year. She called them “talented young artists and stars of tomorrow with blossoming careers.” Future Opera Index events include their annual gala on January 21st honoring the great Met Opera mezzo Mignon Dunn, their Spring Lunch honoring patron Karl Michaelis and Maestro Eve Queler’s 50th anniversary of her legendary career with The Opera Orchestra of New York.

Michael Fennelly & soprano Hayan Kim.
Photo by Judy Pantano

The recital began with the appearance of the gifted accompanist Michael Fennelly and the petite and charming soprano Hayan Kim. It united in her singing of “Je veaux vivre” from Gounod’s Roméo and Juliette. Her soprano is full and she sang of love in a light, lively and spirited manner with some adolescent awakening and carried us all with her newfound joy. Ms. Kim was a delightful Juliette of bright vocal potential and a visceral Veronese enchantress.

Bass-baritone Leo Radosavljevic sang “Riez, Allez” from Don Quichotte by Massenet. He is a fine singing actor as well. His voice was better shown in his encore of “Song of the Black Mass” which allowed him to twist his instrument into a beguiling bellow in the quest for the perfect evil! A good show!

Robert Steiner, Christopher LiGreci & Robert Ohlerking. Photo by Judy Pantano

Andres Benavides Cascante’s vibrant singing of “Hai già vinta la causa” from Le nozze di Figaro by Mozart made one snap to attention. His is a dark baritone and his internal actions attached to his vocal giving made for a super magnetic interpretation. His “encore” offering was the Zarzuela selection “Mi Aldea los gavilardes” which was thrilling, topped by a B flat that I haven’t heard since the late immortal baritone Leonard Warren. Mr. Cascante brought back the thrill!

Cesare Santeramo & Dr. Robert Campbell. Photo by Judy Pantano

Soprano Emily Pogorelc, sang “O quante volte” from I Capuleti e I Montecchi by Bellini. Her bright soprano was sincere, heartfelt, with lovely tapering, following the Bellini line, with some lovely highs, solid coloratura and a heaven bound quality. Her encore was “Kiss Me Again” by Victor Herbert and her voice, rich with longing, beautifully transformed us to Hollywood of the romantic 1930’s.

Baritone Jaeman Yoon sang “Nemico della patria” from Giordano’s Andrea Chénier with relentless power, precision and perseverance. His constant projection made the finale less than it could have been. A tad more softness earlier would have infused this overwhelming outpouring into something more. None the less, the ingredients are there and a little polishing will no doubt bring full shine to it.

Michael Fennelly was superb in his accompaniment – light for the Juliette and passionate in the Zarzuela and elegant and transforming in every note he played. Bravo to all!

Composers Penny Leka Knapp & Philip Hagemann. Photo by Judy Pantano

The reception and dinner was just as wonderful. It was so nice to “meet and greet” friends and fellow opera lovers. Executive Director Joseph Gasperec at the door inviting guests to join in and they did! Met Opera great soprano Elinor Ross, opera manager Ken Benson and friend computer wizard George Voorhis, Lois Kirschenbaum, celebrating her special birthday this month, composer/conductor Steve Phobeus and Linda Howes, Vice President Janet Stovin and family, Award donors Cesare Santeramo and Dr. Robert Campbell, several underwriters were Robert Steiner, Jessie Walker, Meche Kroop, Doris Keeley and John David Metcalfe; new member and opera artists manager Robert Lombardo, Faith Pleasanton, psychotherapist Ursula Brown, Jane Le Master, Cavaliere and poet Edward Jackson and Brooklyn friends Bob Ohlerking, Christopher LiGreci and Bill Ronayne from the Mario Lanza Society and Dianna De Martino, whose pasta with pumpkin sauce was heavenly.

Ken Benson, George Voorhis & John David Metcalfe. Photo by Judy Pantano

We missed Murray Rosenthal who had another engagement but it was nice to see composers Philip Hagemann and Penny Leka Knapp who co-wrote the whimsical and popular choral work “Fruitcake.”

What a great night! To quote Cole Porter, “What an elegant, swellegant, party it was!”

 

 

The Gerda Lissner Foundation in Association with the Liederkranz Foundation Presents Lieder/Song Vocal Competition Winners Concert 2017

On the evening of Friday, November 3rd, The Gerda Lissner Foundation in Association with The Liederkranz Foundation presented its Lieder/Song Vocal Competition Winners Concert of 2017. It showcased its retinue of young and talented singers which allowed the distinguished and discerning audience an opportunity that was both enticing and gratifying. The presence of Stephen De Maio, industrious President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation, with Michael Fornabaio, the formidable Vice President and Treasurer, Cornelia Beigel, the effervescent and valued Secretary and Trustee, Karl Michaelis vibrant and urbane Trustee, and soprano, the devoted Barbara Ann Testa, treasured Trustee and chic auditions announcer Joyce Greenberg added to this esteemed and cordial group of Lissnerites!

President Stephen De Maio introduced our hostess for the evening by just mentioning her illustrious places of employment: WQXR radio and PBS Channel 13 where her eager speaking voice, love of music and personal charm have made her name synonymous with all things good for the soul and spirit. Midge Woolsey mentioned that madness was the recurring theme of the evening (like Sir Noël Coward’s song Mad About the Boy). Love madness dominated the performance. She also thanked her beaming economist husband, Dr. Juergen “Jerry” Stolt for perfecting her German in the proceedings. She then introduced the piano accompanist, Arlene Shrut and singled out this gifted accompanist as an artist whose versatility and passion for 25 years are a source of veneration and inspiration.

Midge Woolsey, Stephen De Maio, Arlene Shrut, William Guanbo Su, Justin Austin, Nathan Milholin, Alexandra Nowakowski, Leo Radosavljevic, John Chong Yoon Noh, Emily Pogorelc, Helena Brown. Winners not in photo are: Jacob Scharfman, Brian Vu & Heather Stebbins. Photo by Judy Pantano

In the elegant auditorium of The Kosciuszko Foundation on East 65th Street in New York City, the concert began. We saw the great soprano Metropolitan Opera legend Elinor Ross, the extraordinary pioneer conductor Eve Queler, the radiant Gloria Gari from the Giulio Gari Foundation and the suave Glenn Morton from Classic Lyric Arts, whose evening the night before with his Italian and French trained singers, also gave a happy look toward the future of opera. It was nice to greet music lover Mario Cesar Romero who seemed to be quite happy with the prospects of this special evening.

The concert began with Brian Vu, baritone who sang “Le manoir de Rosemonde” by Henri Duparc. Duparc who passed away at age 37 had many moments of madness both medical and musical. Brian Vu sang with passion, his high baritone on the threshold of heaven leading us on a quest that reaches the door. A brief journey made plangent and pleasant by this fine newcomer!

Baritone Justin Austin sang “Chanson èpique” from Don Quichotte a Dulcinee by Maurice Ravel.The great Russian basso Feodor Chaliapin sang in the 1930’s film with music by Jacques Ibert since Ravel’s music was not entirely used. Mr. Austin sang with expression and strong lyrical thrust. This prayer to St. Michael and St. George had the outburst of the heart that makes one whole, a subtle and intimate revelation.

Nino Pantano, Gary Kendall, Jane Shaulis, Arlene Shrut, Joseph Gasperec & Karl Michaelis. Photo by Judy Pantano

Bass baritone Nathan Milholin sang “Die Mainacht” by Johannes Brahms. This expanding, increasing and unceasing run of terror made for heart grasping nightmarish fears! Mr. Milholin’s summation was unforgettable. His powerful declamations were truly chilling. His utterances of “Mein Fatha” were indelible.

Emile Pogorelc sang “Wasserrose” by Richard Strauss. Ms. Pogorelc has a truly lovely soprano that carries strong and well. Richard Strauss wrote this “intimate” piece with some magical high notes, yet draws one in by its singular emotion. Ms. Pogorelc’s versatile and expressive singing was compelling and unifying.

Next was Leo Radosavljevic, bass baritone in “Fühlt meine Seele” by Hugo Wolf. An impassioned, all out selection in caressing tone, fine diction and many moments of the voice and piano being passionately united in urgency, conviction and harmony.

Baritone Jacob Scharfman sang “Nachts” by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, proving himself to be a captivating performer of great concentration. He is an architect of sound and builds a song very effectively, each vocal brick properly paced and placed. His baritone is warm and strong and it won’t be long before his “song” takes him far and wide in the universe of singing!

John Chong Yoon Noh had the unique standing of being the only tenor of the evening. He sang “Heimliche Aufforderung” by Richard Strauss in a fervent and inspired interpretation. Noh has a fine, embracing tenor that has a special quality and warmth.

Midge Woolsey & Dr. Juergen “Jerry” Stolt. Photo by Iwona Juszczyk

Soprano Alexandra Nowakowski sang “Villanelle” by Eva Dell’Acqua. Midge Woolsey told the audience how much she admired the recording by Beverly Sills as a youngster, but had never, until now, actually heard it sung “live.” I think Madama Marcella Sembrich would also have admired the magical way it was sung that night. Ms. Nowakowski, a 2014 Marcella Sembrich award winner, sang with high angelic lovely scales, an instrument fueled by Sembrich and Sills. We got “high on highs” and were heaven bound. Marcella Sembrich’s charming house and museum in Bolton Landing is on the banks of Lake George in upstate New York.

Bass William Guanbo Su sang” Erlkönig” by Franz Schubert, in a bass that was both intimate and cavernous. He was the first prize winner but knew that his prize was easily shared by this illustrious group of fine, promising young artists, all of whom radiated charm and talent.

Nino Pantano, Iwona Juszczyk, Gary Kendall &
Alfred Palladino. Photo by Judy Pantano

We then all went to the delicious reception where we partook in some splendid “finger food” and delicious wines and pastries managed by the ingenious Philipp Haberbauer. It was great to vocally spar with basso Gary Kendall, find a comfy table and chat with Alfred Palladino from the Columbus Citizens Foundation, greet Met mezzo soprano Jane Shaulis, Joseph Gasperec and Janet Stovin from Opera Index, opera manger Ken Benson, Jane Marsh from the Opera Guild, vibrant patron Betty Cooper Wallerstein, Father John Kamas, pastor of St. Jean Baptiste Church and event manager Iwona Juszczyk from The Kosciuszko Foundation.

Here’s to the “same time next year!” Thank you President Stephen De Maio, The Gerda Lissner Foundation and The Liederkranz Foundation for a feast for the palate and the ears showing the good that still remains to uplift and inspire.