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.

Marie Cantoni Founder of Brooklyn’s Regina Opera Dies at Age 86

Marie Cantoni

Marie Cantoni was born in November 1930 in Brooklyn, at home, on 75th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues, the youngest of four children. She passed away on Saturday, October 28th at the age of 86 in Brooklyn.

Marie was introduced to opera by her maternal grandfather Giuseppe Ulla who was from Piemonte and who sang tenor in a church choir. He loved the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, which began in 1931 and would listen to them with his grandchildren.

Marie attended P.S.176 and New Utrecht High School and became a legal secretary for a large admiralty law firm. In 1957 she married Matthew Cantoni whom she had met in first grade. She quit her job and gave birth to Linda in 1958 and Mark in 1960.

In 1970, she started the Regina Opera with a neighbor Nick Tierno, whose brother was a fine tenor with no place to sing opera. The company originally gave little concerts with piano accompaniment at the Regina Pacis Youth Center. Many of the original singers were members of the Regina Pacis choir. The first full opera was La Traviata in 1971.

According to her daughter Linda, until her retirement a few years ago, “Mom did just about everything for the company except sing – casting, scenery, set decoration, furniture, props, costumes, accounting, publicity, box office, administration – you name it! She was amazingly creative and could draw, paint, sew and wield a hammer with the best of them! She made beautiful props out of household items – a candle in a tuna can, glued on a dowel stick with some plastic fence material cut into spikes, spray-painted black, became a medieval torch.”

“She and Fran (Garber) made an unbelievable team, both of them extraordinarily talented at organizing a growing company and keeping it afloat on a shoestring budget and she was the best “usher” on earth. She loved her Guild members. She was too shy to appear on stage, but once in a while she would throw on a costume and do a walk on for the good of the production.”

Judy and I, as Guild members, have been attending operas at the Regina Opera for 40 years with a large group of friends. We look forward with great enthusiasm to the works in this new season, including La Traviata, Madama Butterfly and their first Aida. Their 30 to 40 piece orchestra of splendid musicians are superb. The Regina Chorus is especially noteworthy.

Thomas Vilardo, former Met Opera baritone mentioned that Met Opera soprano Licia Albanese visited and the late basso Don Yule from New York City Opera attended many times and superbly sang Sparafucile from Verdi’s Rigoletto at the Regina Opera. Today’s Met opera super mezzo Dolora Zajick sang Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana at the Regina Opera early in her career as did baritone Mark Delavan who was an outstanding Danilo in The Merry Widow. Soubrette soprano Elaine Malbin visited this exciting company. Many of the Regina Opera stars had large followings and that still prevails today! They all followed the standard of talent and graciousness set by Marie Cantoni.

Whenever I embraced Marie upon greeting her, I felt I was in the presence of sweetness and the stuff of dreams. I am so confident that President Fran Garber-Cohen, Executive Vice President Linda Cantoni, Stage director, Linda Lehr, Maestros Alex Guzman and Gregory Ortega, Treasurer Joe Delfausse and all of the volunteers and staff will continue everything Marie started with a combination of Brooklyn grit and heavenly dreams.

State Senator Marty Golden honored Marie Cantoni in Bay Ridge some years ago and we think she felt the love and appreciation of that sold out and wonderful event! We will all miss her very much but her indomitable spirit will soar with every note in the future. Whether it be La BohèmeTosca or Aida, the tears will be half for the opera and the rest for Marie Cantoni whose passing leaves us with great sadness. She was a pioneer, a creator and a great Brooklynite. We all stand and shout “bravissimo Marie.” May you, dear and wonderful soul, rest in peace!

 

 

Beloved Soprano Licia Albanese Remembered at Special Mass

On Monday, August 14th, a special Requiem Mass was held for Metropolitan Opera soprano Licia Albanese who passed away at the age of 105 on this date three years ago. She was born in Bari, Italy on July 22nd 1909 and later became a solid patriotic U.S. citizen. On August 14th, the third anniversary of her passing, a special requiem mass and luncheon hosted by devoted friends and admirers Cesare Santeramo and Dr. Robert J. Campbell was held. Mme. Albanese was remembered and lauded for her great artistry and the warmth of her friendship.

Licia Albanese as Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly

The Rev. John Kamas spoke eloquently of Licia Albanese at the Mass which was held at St. Jean Baptiste Roman Catholic Church on East 76th Street and Lexington Avenue in New York City. Kosovo tenor Riad Ymeri sang “Panis Angelicus” in a sweet, clear and moving way. Baritone Mark Watson sang a thrilling “I’ll Walk with God” (Brodsky) from the film The Student Prince made famous by tenor Mario Lanza. (Lanza appeared with Licia Albanese in the film Serenade.) The organist led the singers and all to give inspired performances. The priests were all moved by this special tribute to a great singer and devout parishioner. There are many citizens from Bari in Carroll Gardens Brooklyn affiliated with Sacred Hearts-St. Stephens Church and the Van Westerhout Cittadini Molesi Cultural Sport and Social Club. Niccolò Van Westerhout was a 19th century composer born in Bari but whose family was Flemish. Licia Albanese was well known and loved by “Barese” everywhere.

The delicious luncheon at nearby Orsay restaurant included patrons and friends of Licia Albanese: Holocaust author and pacifist Luna Kaufmann, Sachi Liebergesell, President of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation, Father(Pastor) John Kamas from St. Jean Baptiste Church, tenor Cavaliere Cesare Santeramo, Dr. Robert J. Campbell, Joy Ferro vocal teacher, former Metropolitan Opera great and lead dramatic soprano Elinor Ross, legendary Met Opera mezzo Rosalind Elias and opera coach Corradina and Maurice Caporello. It was an afternoon of brilliant conversation and warm remembrance. We all had incomparable memories of Licia Albanese both as an artist (lead soprano at the Metropolitan Opera from 1940-1966) and a devoted and loving friend. I recalled my appearance with her on television in a tribute to tenor Mario Lanza on the Joe Franklin TV show and her frequent visits to the Enrico Caruso Museum in Brooklyn where Commendatore Aldo Mancusi named his mini theatre after her and publisher Michael Sisca. Judy and I remember her playing a vigorous game of bocce at her beloved patron and friend Louise Peluso’s home and gardens in Bayville, Long Island.

L-R: Mark Watson, Joy Ferro, Corradina & Maurice Caporello, Luna Kaufman, Dr. Robert J. Campbell, Father John Kamas, Cesare Santeramo, Judy Pantano, Rosalind Elias, Sachi Liebergesell, Elinor Ross, Nino Pantano. Photo by: Samantha Hsieh

We thank our much honored hosts Cavaliere Cesare Santeramo and Dr. Robert J. Campbell for their making this event so special. Cavaliere Santeramo who sang Alfredo to Licia Albanese’s  Violetta in La Traviata for the New Jersey Opera, suggested a future Verdi requiem as a “fund raiser” for Father Kamas’s beautiful St. Jean Baptiste Church where Licia Albanese worshiped and had her funeral mass.

The following day was the great feast of Ferragosto. Licia Albanese passed away on the cusp of the Virgin Mary’s ascension into heaven. I am certain Licia had an EZ pass and is now with the celestial voices.

 

 

 

The Giulio Gari Foundation Presents 2017 International Vocal Competition Award Winners

Metropolitan Opera Tenor, Giulio Gari (1909-1994)

On the afternoon of Sunday, September 24th, The Giulio Gari Foundation presented in concert the 2017 winners of the International Vocal Competition at the elegant New York Athletic Club on Central Park South.

After greetings from Stephen De Maio, Artistic Advisor and Chairman of the Board Gloria Gari, the program began. Our host of the evening was the brilliant much missed Brian Kellow who was greeted with cheers by his many admirers. Many “stars” of the operatic heavens were present. Former Metropolitan Opera legends dramatic soprano Elinor Ross and mezzo soprano Rosalind Elias, New York City Opera and NBC Opera star Elaine Malbin are always there to show support for the new generation on the ascendancy. I also chatted with charming guest Maria Natale whose radiant soprano and stunning appearance won plaudits in Portland, Maine as Violetta in La Traviata.

Opera Lecturer Lou Barrella & Chairwoman Gloria Gari. Photo by Judy Pantano

The concert began with “Nemico della patria” from Giordano’s Andrea Chénier sung by baritone Jaeman Yoon. Yoon did not just croon a tune but gave a robust erupting volcano concept of this dynamic showpiece. A little more shading and contrast would have given it the Italianate flavor it lacked.The voice itself is healthy and the strong  potential is there. A touch of salt, pepper and oregano will make it the savory mix it soon will be. Patrons Mr. and Mrs. Frank De Rosa presented the award.

A lighter Bizet was served with the duet “Au fond du temple saint” from The Pearl Fishers. Marco Cammarota, tenor and Kidon Choi, baritone were a strong blend in this pledge of friendship duet. Mr. Cammarota belted the top notes in a heroic manner and Mr. Choi sang strongly and this iconic duet went from the lyrical commonplace into the rare with the exciting tenorial trumpet and a visceral victory for true bonhomie. The award was presented by Dr. Barry Schenk and the fashionable Joyce Greenberg.

Right-Brian Kellow with 2017 Vocal Competition Winners & pianists-Johnathan Kelly & Arlene Shrut-Left. Photo by Judy Pantano

Soprano Nicolette Mavroleon sang “Depuis le jour” from Charpentier’s Louise. This aria is a glittering showpiece and from the legendary sopranos Mary Garden, Grace Moore and countless others and is a test of vocal endurance. Ms. Mavroleon sang some stunning stratospheric highs and gave a virtually flawless performance of this captivating aria. The composer Charpentier wrote a sequel to Louise called Julien. Immortal tenor Enrico Caruso courted his American wife Dorothy in his Julien costume. (1918) We look forward to hearing Ms. Mavroleon soon. She is of Greek descent like Maria Callas and generates a special magic! Her award was given by the Max Kade Foundation, Dr. Lya Friedrich Pfeifer, President.

“Non più mesta” from Rossini’s Cenerentola was sung by rising mezzo soprano Corrie Stallings. Ms. Stallings possesses a bright silvery voice with expressive and expansive plenitude of sound, dexterity and flexibility so necessary in producing coloratura flow and ease and gave an exciting and generous performance. Only a few feet from the stage was honored guest, famed iconic mezzo Joyce DiDonato who smiled at Ms. Stallings and whose eyes sparkled with loving encouragement and support. To me, this was a defining moment and a wonderful one! The award was presented by the Florence Belsky Charitable Fund, Dan Schneider Esq.

Singers Corrie Stallings, Maria Brea, with Honoree Met Opera mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato, Nicolette Mavroleon, Marco Cammarota & Kidon Choi. Photo by Judy Pantano

Back to Bizet with “Je crois entendre encore” from The Pearl Fishers sung by tenor Fanyong Du. A very early Caruso recording of this haunting aria (Circa 1904) was heard on the sound track of Woody Allen’s film Matchpoint. It has been a favorite of lyric tenors and Beniamino Gigli’s magical recording also stands out. Fanyong Du has all he ingredients to do this exotic and delicate aria justice. His tapering of the aria, his lingering on a finely spun phrase earned him the applause of the gods above and the audience below. The award was given by The Lissner Charitable Fund by the ever impeccable Karl Michaelis.

Shana & Issachah Savage, Sachi Liebergesell & Elaine Malbin. Photo by Judy Pantano

The concert ended with Maria Brea singing “Chi il bel Sogno” from the bittersweet operetta La Rondine by Giacomo Puccini. Ms. Brea possesses a strong caressing coloratura soprano that soars heavenward like a flock of white doves. Her nicely placed top voice sings with sparkling ease, fresh and youthful making us all feel the inner yearning for true love. Ms. Brea’s award was presented by the Max Kade Foundation, Dr. Lya Friedrich Pfeifer, President.

The guests of honor included special awards for mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato, soprano Angela Meade who had another engagement and was not there and rapidly rising dramatic tenor Issachah Savage. The indefatigable Brian Kellow introduced the special guests all of whom spoke with gratitude for such organizations and how many young singers got their start because of such help and support. Mr. Savage was accompanied by his petite and enchanting wife Shana. It was nice to see him singing along softly from the audience savoring every word.

The superb pianists were Arlene Shrut, whose peerless and fearless playing gives the feel of a full orchestra and Jonathan Kelly, who also becomes as one with the singers. (Courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera)

Stephen De Maio, Marie De Maio & Karl Michaelis. Photo by Judy Pantano

Famed and in demand opera lecturer Lou Barrella did a presentation in praise of tenor Giulio Gari including Gari’s glorious singing of “Amor ti Vieta” from Fedora and his singing of “The Lord’s Prayer.” There was also a video of praise by soprano Lucia Evangelista and other luminaries of tenor Giulio Gari (1909-1994) who sang at New York City Opera (1945-53) and the Metropolitan Opera (1953-61) and was also a much respected vocal teacher. His wife, the much loved Gloria Gari carries his torch proudly with the organization that bears his honored name along with their daughter Gayle Gari Cohen and her husband Paul E. Cohen and the Board of Directors. Their son, the late deeply loved Glen Gary is always present in gallant spirit.

Scott Barnes, Issachah Savage, Fred Cohn, & Brian Kellow. Photo by Judy Pantano

The reception and dinner afterwards afforded us the opportunity to “meet and greet” so many friends and fellow music lovers. From Opera Index, MetOpera mezzo Jane Shaulis and Joe Gasperec, Murray Rosenthal, Philip Hagemann, and Janet Stovin; opera coach and writer Scott Barnes, Sachi Liebergesell from the Liebergesell Foundation, opera manager Ken Benson, conductor Jan Wnek and tenor Keith Johnson. At our table were Michael Fornabaio from The Gerda Lissner Foundation, Maestro Eve Queler from the Opera Orchestra of New York, Robert Lombardo esteemed vocal coach, and banker financiers Joseph Sedillo and John Lawrence. We saw the ever vibrant civic leader and patron Betty Cooper Wallerstein, effervescent basso Gary Kendall, Bill Ronayne from The Mario Lanza Society located in Brooklyn and poet, Cav. Edward Jackson, Ph.D was his ebullient self. Stephen De Maio stopped by to greet our table and said that he was very surprised about three sections of praise he received in the wonderful program booklet. Mr. De Maio deserves every bit of praise for his extraordinary efforts on behalf of young singers as President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation and his work on so many others. It was nice to see Steve’s charming sister Marie De Maio, an iconic New Jersey educator for over 50 years, energetic secretary and facto tum Cornelia Beigel of the Gerda Lissner Foundation, joyful soprano Barbara Ann Testa and magnetic legendary soprano Diana Soviero, whose sublime Suor Angelica at the Met Opera still surges in my minds eye and heart. At the end of the presentation, Board member Donald Levine gave an impassioned plea for all to work together to strengthen opportunities for young singers in the opera world.

This was truly “an affair to remember.” Thank you Gloria Gari for your indestructible spirit! Judy and I are always proud to be your representatives from Brooklyn. The love you give comes back many fold. Bravo to The Giulio Gari Foundation.

 

 

 

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”!