Classic Lyric Arts Celebrates Fall Benefit Gala

The Kosciuszko Foundation in New York on Thursday, November 8th was the scene of Classic Lyric Arts Fall Benefit Gala. Glenn Morton, President, and Artistic Director, graciously welcomed the audience to a wonderful evening of young opera artists. “Classic Lyric Arts (CLA) is a nonprofit organization that supports the training of young artists in the field of opera, offering immersive programs each summer in France and Italy.” Glenn Morton spoke of the tremendous importance of these programs and how they influence the young singers as a catalyst for creation.

Singers from Classic Lyric Arts with Artistic Director Glenn Morton. Photo by Yifu Chien

There are in the program quotes that best describe going to France and Italy to prepare for a career in singing. Each year, Classic Lyric Arts offers about a dozen students a 3-week intensive training program focused exclusively on French opera and song. “The French sing more through their words than through their music. The singer becomes a painter, describing a landscape, suggesting an emotion, one must use the entire palette of colors of the voice.” Michel Sénéchal Co-Founder of Classic Lyric Arts France (1927-2018)

CLA Italy trains 25 singers in the “bel canto” traditions and techniques of singing in Italian. Ubaldo Fabbri, principal coach of CLA Italy, noted that “The great singers who become true legends are, not by coincidence, those who have impeccable diction, one that is intrinsically connected to their vocal technique.”

Gaspare Pacchierotti, castrato, (1740-1821) said: “Our language is so melodic that when it is pronounced precisely, its practically sung.”

The program began with “Pace, pace, mio dolce tesoro” from Mozart’s (1756-1791) Le Nozze di Figaro. The singers holding each other, some in whisper, some in trepidation, some in confusion, stolen kisses, misplaced vows, unfounded jealousies and ultimately expressions of true love and forgiveness.

The young singers were an ensemble in upheaval, disorientation and happy tears of harmony. Chantal Brundage, Sarah Bacani, Aleea Powell, Melanie Dubil, Leah Israel, Travis Benoit, Fernando Cisneros, Ari Bell, Yongjae Lee, with Mina Kim as the excellent accompanist. They were never Stepford wives in their perfection of voice and movement, but happy, gleeful youth, performing Mozart with truth and ardor.

Taicheng Li, tenor and Stephanie Guasch, soprano (L’amico Fritz). Photo by Yifu Chien

Next was the Cherry duet from Pietro Mascagni’s (1863-1945) L’amico Fritz. According to the program notes, “Fritz, is a wealthy landlord, determined to being a bachelor who meets Suzel the daughter of one of his tenants. As they are harvesting, she and Fritz begin to fall in love, while enjoying the abundance of Springtime.” Stephanie Guasch as Suzel and Taicheng Li as Fritz with Lochlan Brown as the pianist. Pietro Mascagni’s gentle, lyrical opera is quite a contrast to the mega-hit Cavalleria Rusticana, but it is equally resourceful in its sweetness and beauty. Guasch and Li are following a special line of lyrical singers. Recommended listening tenors, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Beniamino Gigli, Tito Schipa, Luciano Pavarotti and their female partners left us with enchanted recordings that will live forever. Ms. Guasch has a lovely soprano, never forced and able to negotiate the upper reaches with elegant yearning and awakening. Taicheng Li sports a fine tenor that showed the hearts awakening and yearning. Later on, the duet ends with almost stratospheric pianissimi at loves blooming. It ended before that happened. Nonetheless, it was a joy to hear it once more. I remember seeing “Fritz” at the wonderful Amato Opera on the Bowery and recall two chirping man-made birds singing along. It is such a gorgeous duet.

Classic Lyric Arts Singers. Photo by Yifu Chie

“Soave sia il vento” from Cosi fan tutte by W.A. Mozart was sweetly sung by Sarah Bacani, Rosario Hernandez and Ari Bell with Marianna Vartikyan as the pianist. Mozart’s group of duets, trios, and ensembles always enter the heart and mind with eagerness and they were a joyful blend. Don Alfonso Rosario Hernandez, laughs at the two-faced escapades of women, deliciously and devilishly sung by Sarah Bacani and Ari Bell.

“Venti scudi” by Gaetano Donizetti’s (1797-1848) in Elisir d’amore has Nemorino (Ganson Salmon) desperate for money to buy the famous elixir of love that will assure the affection of Adina, the girl he longs for, agrees to join the army for Venti Scudi (Twenty pennies). His braggart bellicose rival Sergeant Belcore makes him an offer “he dare not refuse.” Ganson Salmon has a lyric tenor voice that carries well and has additional resonance in the upper reaches. This duet offers tenorial opportunities to really shine and Mr. Salmon by virtue of a good technique did just that. Xiaomeng Zhang took advantage of his foolish rival in some strong baritonal outbursts which added to the fun. Nemorino is always endearing and seemingly naive and Belcore is always self-assured and cynical. The blending and clashing of these two rivals for Adina is in its own way heartwarming. Required listening-Venti Scudi by Enrico Caruso and Giuseppe De Luca in 1919. Caruso’s voice darkened in his later years and he “lightened” it for Nemorino. Sadly, on December 11th, 1920 Enrico Caruso suffered a throat hemorrhage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in Elisir d’amore and the curtain came down after Act One. The greatest of tenors sang three times more at the Metropolitan Opera, his final performance being in La Juive December 24, 1920. He died in Naples, age 48, on August 2, 1921. The whole world mourned.

Xiaomeng Zhang, baritone, and Ganson Salmon, tenor (L’elisir d’amore). Photo by Yifu Chien

The program ended part one with two alumni reminiscing, tenor Ganson Salmon-Italy 2017 and Xiaomeng Zhang who gave it two thumbs up. The proof lay in the Italianate interplay in Venti scudi. In order to be more Italian in his interpretations, the great and sacred Bronx born American baritone Leonard Warren studied with Italian Baritone  Giuseppe De Luca.(in NYC) Warren died on stage at the Met in La Forza del Destino in 1960. He is a legend and an immortal. The critics noticed the tremendous difference in his singing from the Italianate studies with De Luca.

Part two of the program opened with the iconic “Au fond du temple saint” from The Pearl Fishers by Georges Bizet (1838-1875). Recently it was sung by Andrea Bocelli and baritone Bryn Terfel on PBS. Zurga and Nadir two pearl fishers in love with the same woman. Both are torn by their desire for Leila the Princess of Brahma. Even with Enrico Caruso, Giuseppe De Luca, and Frieda Hempel, the original 1916 production won critical praise and the”opening night” gala was a major social event-it was gone by the next season and did not return till a few years ago. Tenor Beniamino Gigli’s recording with Giuseppe De Luca of this duet is a classic. Enrico Caruso’s 1904 recording of Nadir’s aria “Mi par d’udir ancora”(Caruso made another “Darker” recording of this aria in 1916) was played in Woody Allen’s film Match Point other great interpreters were Beniamino Gigli, and Corsican tenor Tino Rossi. Each one gives the listener a learning experience. Zachary Goldman has a sweet lyric tenor that eases its way into darker territory with some strong outbursts. Sunyeop Hwang has a pleasing baritone that rang out in the dramatic portions and caressed in the strength of their friendship.

Next the religious lust combo of the “Te deum” from Giacomo Puccini’s masterpiece (1858-1924)Tosca. (1900) Still current with the “casting couch” but one must remember the ruthless, evil Scarpia is a man of sophistication and charm. I saw baritone Tito Gobbi in 1965 as Scarpia with the legendary Renata Tebaldi, his voice and performance haunt me still. Running a feather on Tebaldi’s back at the Palazzo Farnese and his entrance in the Church was frightening. His moderate sounding voice became huge when he made his entrance, he made you jump out of your seat in the theatre. Charles Laughton’s unexpected entrance in the Barretts of Whimple Street had everyone jump with fear. Those are things that must be learned like in cooking, a dollop of ricotta is not a large tablespoon, so too with singing.

Fernando Cisneros, baritone and Chantal Brundage, soprano (Le Nozze finale). Photo by Yifu Chien

Baritone Fernando Cisneros is the handsome seducer and when I saw him climb the stairs to get onstage, he was already Scarpia. Scarpia could not focus on the “Te deum” since he had a dual purpose to his overt religious spirit. It was heat for Tosca, the sign of the cross was a blessing to his steed loins to find a new rider, Tosca, and to rid her of her lover, his soon to be prisoner Mario Cavaradossi. Tosca was the lamb to be on the plate for Baron Scarpia, Chief of Police at the Palazzo Farnese. Travis Benoit and the chorus sang fervently and Mina Kim was the spirited conductor and pianist. The choristers who passed by earlier sang in earnest. The proximity of singers and audience made us all part of the experience.

The Septet from the Tales of Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880) is described thusly, “Hoffmann has agreed to forfeit his shadow, his reflection, his essence, for his lover, the courtesan of Venice, Giuletta. She, in turn, abandons him for another.” The Septet, Blair Cagney, Daniela Magura, Zachary Goldman, Ganson Salmon, Sunyeop Hwang and Ari Bell with Cherie Roe as the dynamic accompanist. I suggest the Tales of Hoffmann’s 1951 film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger whose hit about ballet in” The Red Shoes”  is now an iconic classic. This film version of Hoffmann is magical, grotesque and passionate and deserves its cult immortality. Filmmakers George Romero and Martin Scorsese were profoundly affected by this film. Each would rent it at the same record store and knew the other had it. City Opera tenor Robert Rounseville stars as Hoffmann and many notables of ballet and opera provide other voices – highly recommended. Sir Thomas Beecham is the conductor. Ballet star Robert Helpmann is Hoffmann’s “sworn enemy.” Ballet dancer Moira Shearer is Olympia, Ann Ayars is Giuletta and Leonide Massine gives a haunting balletic sequence as well. A must see!

Gran pezzo concertato from Il Viaggo a Reims by  Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) “On their way to Reims for the coronation of Charles X of France, a group of European aristocrats, officers and a poetess (Lochlan Brown – conductor, Mina Kim Pianist) prepare to attend the royal festivities.” The entire company was outstanding. Victoria Policht and her lovely soprano were especially noteworthy. The cast shined and brought the light of art and music to all of us. They were Rachel Querreveld, Stephanie Guasch, Melanie Dubil, Emily Hanseul Park, Shan Hai, Yue Huang, Travis Benoit, Taicheng Li, Nathan Seldin, Fernando Cisneros, and Ari Bell. Each one a brilliant jewel on this musical necklace.

The finale, honoring the centenary of the late Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990 ) conductor and composer. “Make our Garden Grow” from Candide. Pangloss the world’s greatest philosopher declares that “We live in the best of all possible worlds.” The singers here were Rachel Querreveld, Bela Albett, Rosario Hernandez, Travis Benoit, Nathan Seldin, Ari Bell, chorus and Jonathan Heaney, conductor and pianist.   

The great Leonard Bernstein is buried in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery not far from our home in Carroll Garden’s South Brooklyn. The people on the street applauded his funeral hearse in Brooklyn since he composed West Side Story, Candide and On the town. Louis Moreau Gottchalk, a favorite of Bernstein, is also at Greenwood and the Pantano family! l will be in great company!

We were happy to attend the reception and to see so many singers and friends from the world of opera. The Gerda Lissner Foundation with Stephen De Maio as President received special thanks for supporting tonight’s gala. Cornelia Beigel, Gerda Lissner Secretary, was in attendance as well as contributors Alfred and Christine Palladino, Maestro Eve Queler, composer Philip Hagemann, Vocal Programs Joy Ferro, International Concerts Diana Corto and writer Meche Kroop were some of the friends and opera lovers present.

Artistic Director Glenn Morton. Photo by Yifu Chien

Glenn Morton, Artistic Director spoke to the singers at the concerts’ end and one felt the devotion that he inspired in the young singers. Through him, they enter the journey of the beauty of opera and the tranquil and exciting world it promotes in hearts and souls of their audiences.

We thank Glenn Morton President and Artistic Director, John Hunter, Vice President and Board Chairman, Alan Frankel, Secretary, Charles Perrier Treasurer, and Kathryn Stone. This evening will long live in cherished memory. Some “before the holidays” fun and a very gratifying look towards the future with such an abundance of young fresh talent!

Opera Index Presents Annual Membership Buffet & Recital

On Wednesday, November 7th, Opera Index presented their Annual Membership Buffet & Recital at The Community Church of New York in Murray Hill. It was a mild breezy evening and everyone came in with a smile because these events provided great food and peerless singing. The auditorium was soon filled up and aided by Joseph Gasperec, Executive Director and Jane Shaulis Metropolitan Opera mezzo and President of Opera Index. She began the program with pride in the accomplishments of Opera Index and its mentoring so many successful young singers over the years.

Jane Shaulis & Joseph Gasperec (Opera Index)
Photo by Judy Pantano

 

The recital opened with “Dich teure halle” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser by soprano Helena Brown. The darkness in the sound of her voice goes right up to brilliant highs and is quite thrilling. The triumphant quality of her voice greatly enhanced the thrill of the endless pouring of Wagnerian gold offered in this amazing piece. Ms. Brown is in good hands and is ready for the big time.

Michael Fennelly, Hubert Zapiór, Xiaomeng Zhang, Jane Shaulis, William Guanbo Su, Felicia Moore & Helena Brown. Photo by Judy Pantano

The second awardee was baritone Xiaomeng Zhang who sang “Vy mne pisali” from Tchaikovsky’sEugene Onegin. Zhang sang with elegant lyricism and with Russian melancholy. He sang it in Russian with outbursts from Onegin’s somewhat ambiguous nature. Zhang caught the mood and spirit of the piece and sang it with exuberant spirit. Dmitri Hvorotovsky, of blessed name, who was a great Onegin, would smile in opera heaven, knowing that such dedication and love is making an Onegin for future generations.

“Vous qui faites l’endormie” from Faust by Gounod was sung by bass William Guanbo Su. His laugh was quite the thing and Satan relished the mischief’s he was doing. The thing one must remember is that despite the devil’s spirited laughter, he is pure evil. Mr. Su was able to enchant and captivate his audience with his rich voice and made us willing participates in his devilish schemes. Well done, bravo! See Tonight we sing a 1953 film (About the life of Impressario Sol Hurok) starring the great Ezio Pinza as Russian bass Fyodor Chaliapin for whole episodes of Faust with Roberta Peters, tenor Jan Peerce and Pinza as Mephistopheles.

Stephen Heiden, Linda Howes & Stephen Phebus Photo by Judy Pantano

“Est gibt ein Reich” from Ariadne auf Naxos” by Richard Strauss was exuberantly sung by soprano Felicia Moore, who has a lovely, shimmering frolicsome top voice, caressing legato, climbing scales, expanding trills and a radiant upper extension so vital to the music of Strauss.This Strauss was a tantalizing bit of future glory! I thought of the great soprano Eileen Farrell, who married a cop, sang jazz and settled in Staten Island. What a glorious voice. Thanks for evoking the thought, Felicia Moore.

Cesare Santeramo & Dr. Robert Campbell
Photo by Judy Pantano

Last but not least, was the rising Polish baritone Hubert Zapiór, who sang the spirited “Largo al factotum” from Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. I have heard this aria many times and I vividly recall my mentor and beloved voice teacher Bertha Lang playing the recording sung by the immortal American baritone Lawrence Tibbett and teaching it to me phonetically. I sang it at age 13 on The Ted Mack Amateur Hour and for the great bandleader (Rhapsody in Blue) Paul Whiteman on his coast to coast television show in 1949. I loved singing it and ironically Lawrence Tibbett (1896-1960) who also was a film star, sang the role only once in his lifetime. I got to see Tibbett when he replaced Ezio Pinza in Fanny on Broadway in 1956. I have seen Mr. Zapiór before and was impressed with the nobility of his voice but never saw him in such an exuberant piece. I loved his contrasting “Col Cavaliere” with “Colla Donnetta” and his mock soprano fun singing. His precision was seemingly at ease and the precision was perfect. By the time this tour de force was over, the audience was wild with enthusiasm. I had tears in my eyes to hear it so beautifully rendered. I became the 13 year old boy baritone hearing Tibbett’s recording for the first time. Bravo Figaro-bravo Zapiór.

Marion Schumann, Philip Hagemann, Penny Lepka Knapp. Photo by Judy Pantano

Michael Fennelly was the brilliant and enthusiastic accompanist for this group of singers. He is as good as it gets, and being a Californian, he brings pianistic sunshine to all.

Jane Shaulis announced some surprise encores. Helena Brown sang a riveting “Since My Man’s Gone” from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and used both upper and lower reaches of her voice to get us all emotionally entwined in her profound grief. Once again, like in Elisir d’amore I shed “Tre Furtivi lagrimi” at least three tears. Powerful stuff!  

I heard the great bass Ezio Pinza sing “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific at Lewisohn Stadium and again at Madison Square Garden in 1951. William Guanbo Su sang it beautifully, without the pianissimo ending. It is such a wonderful song and the richness of Su’s basso at such a young age was very satisfying and romantic.

Cavaliere Edward Jackson, Doris Keeley & Ursula Brown. Photo by Judy Pantano

Now that our ears were filled with the sound of beautiful music, it was time for a delicious dinner provided by the members.

John David Metcalfe & Ken Benson
Photo by Judy Pantano

Judy and I lived in Murray Hill in 1965-6. It was with renewed joy that we returned for such a splendid evening thanks to the folks at Opera Index.

It was nice to share some time with legendary Met mezzo Rosalind Elias, soprano Jane Marsh, artists managers Ken Benson, Robert Lombardo, and Michael Rosen; George Voorhis, Mark Moorman, Jesse Walker, Robert Steiner, Faith Pleasanton, Janet Stovin, Ellen Godfrey, Cavaliere Eddie Jackson, resplendent in a black velvet cape, the elegant Cesare Santeramo and Dr. Robert Campbell, looking well in his wonderful red leather coat, Linda Howes and Maestros Stephen Phebus and Eve Queler, Ursula Brown, Doris Keeley, William Goodhue, Jane Le Master, the brilliant opera lecturer Lou Barrella, composers Philip Hagemann and Penny Leka Knapp (Fruitcake) antiquarian horologist John David Metcalfe and famed MetOpera standee Brooklynite Lois Kirschenbaum, now immortalized in a recent film documentary.

Former Met Mezzo Rosalind Elias, Lou Barrella,
Guest, & Nino Pantano. Photo by Judy Pantano

Three special guests of Phil Hagemann and Murray Rosenthal were Marion Schumann, Mary Pierce and Marion’s sister Margaret, all from the Pegasus Opera Company in Brixton, London, England. They presented two of Phil’s performances that were well received and the women enjoyed the festivities at our Membership recital and dinner. Each and every one a star and all friendly – not distant stars.

Mary Pierce, Marion Schumann &
Philip Hagemann. Photo by Judy Pantano

Thank you Jane Shaulis for being our congenial host, you truly are “the hostest with the mostest!”

 

Gerda Lissner Foundation in Association with the Liederkranz Foundation Presents An Evening of Lieder & Song

The Gerda Lissner Foundation in association with the Liederkranz Foundation presented the 2018 Lieder/Song Vocal Competition Winners Concert. The event was held on Friday, November 2nd at the Liederkranz Foundation in New York City. The Gerda Lissner Foundation has long been a source of assistance and scholarships for young talented singers. Stephen De Maio President, Michael Fornabaio Vice President and Treasurer, Cornelia Beigel Secretary and Trustee, and Karl Michaelis and Barbara Ann Testa, Trustees who are a part of opera history. Steve De Maio introduced host Midge Woolsey and he received much applause after several months absence. Steve also introduced the gifted accompanist Arlene Shrut.

Dashuai Chen, Arlene Shrut, Rebecca Farley, Christine Lyons, Alice Chung, Justin Austin, Amanda Bottoms, Helena Brown, Xiaomeng Zhang, Hubert Zapiór & Midge Woolsey. Photo by Judy Pantano

Midge Woolsey, looking exuberant and joyful introduced the first singer, soprano Helena Brown, who sang “Hat dich die Liebe berührt” (If love has affected you) with depth from the heights with her beguiling serpentine soprano which envelopes the listener with its depth, richness, and power. She seemed equally at home in the upper and lower registers of her voice and this enhanced the text as smoothly as a trip at dusk on Schroon Lake in autumn. Ms. Brown can sing either Aida or Amneris – or both – lie in waiting for this talented young lady. She is versatile and has real style!  

Amanda Lynn Bottoms, mezzo soprano tugged at the heartstrings with “Kdyz mne stará matka zpívat ucívala” (“Songs my Mother taught me”) by Antonín Dvorák. Ms. Bottoms sang with such emotion following the rhythm of this song without overt sobbing, one could hear the passion and conviction in her tone. Many years ago my mother-in-law, Regina Zigman bought me a gift – it was an LP of legendary Spanish soprano Victoria de los Angeles. One of her selections was “Songs my Mother taught me.” It always brought tears to my eyes.”Ms. de los Angeles had a special poignant quality that Amanda Lynn Bottoms brought back with her lovely rendition.

Jane Shaulis & Joseph Gasperec (Opera Index)
Photo by Judy Pantano

Next was Rebecca Farley whose radiant soprano sang “Apparition” by Claude Debussy. Ms. Farley has a beautiful upper register, exotic tonality and an inner spirit that can lead to unlimited possibilities.

Alice Chung mezzo-soprano sang “George” by William Bolcom. Judy and I saw Bolcom’s passionate opera A View from the Bridge at the enterprising Vertical Player Repertory opera in their Court Street loft in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Ms. Chung sang it with insouciance, whimsical tone, good humor, strong dialogue, power and passion and carried us all away with this bedazzling piece wanting us all to hear more!  

Christine Lyons used her captivating soprano and sang this familiar song “Ständchen” by Franz Schubert with freshness, sentiment and a sprinkling of vocal stardust. The great Danish heldentenor Lauritz Melchior sang this to Esther Williams in the MGM musical Thrill of a Romance in 1944. It is so tender and melodic that it resonates in my mind from that film for over 70 years. Ms. Lyons has a rare power of expression plus a lustrous soprano that should carry her far.

Nino Pantano, Brian Hunter & Maestro Per Brevig. Photo by Judy Pantano

Part Two of the program began with baritone Xiaomeng Zhang from Shanghai, who sang “An die Leier” by Franz Schubert with an abundance of beautiful tone and whetted the appetite for more Schubert.

Tenor Dashuai Chen was introduced by the exuberant Midge Woolsey by his choice of singing an ITALIAN song, the well-known tenor selection “Mattinata” (“Morning”) written for Enrico Caruso by Ruggiero Leoncavallo, the composer of Pagliacci. Caruso made a recording of it with the composer at the piano on April 8, 1904, in Milan, and practically every tenor has sung it since. Ferruccio Tagliavini (1913-1995) made a heavenly recording of it in the early 1950’s and on the Voice of Firestone on early television. Tagliavini had a sweet lyric tenor and a resourceful top. Such songs as “Anema e Core” and countless others dazzled the public. I saw him at his return to the Metropolitan Opera in 1962 in an enchanting La Bohème and Elisir d’amore plus a concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. These legendary and iconic singers had instantly recognizable voices and personalities that endeared them to the public. That is what we hope for with this new group of talented singers. Mr. Chen sang in a delightful tenor with an Italianate edge emphasizing the high tenor notes that rang freely through the room. In Thrill of a Romance. MGM introduced Lauritz Melchior to its film audience with his face singing a few bars of “Mattinata.” Mr. Chen will not be forgotten since he was one of the great highlights of the evening. As recommended by Midge Woolsey, I googled Joan Sutherland and heard her, a woman, sing a brilliant and delightful “Mattinata” – thank you Midge!

Foreground Michael Fornabaio & Maestro Eve Queler. Photo by Judy Pantano

Baritone Justin Austin sang “Pace non Trovo” by Franz Liszt. Liszt was always torn between the boudoir and the monks robes and had a lot of passion in his works.” I find no peace” was the inner theme of this selection. A combination of brilliance and despair that had us mesmerized. Justin Austin is a singer of strength and passion. The brilliant accompaniment of pianist Arlene Shrut was the beat of Mr. Austin’s heart. Midge Woolsey, our radiant host exclaimed, “if I could ever be another person, I would be Arlene Shrut!” We second the motion, brava Arlene Shrut!

Arlene Shrut & Glenn Morton
Photo by Judy Pantano

Hubert Zapiór, Polish baritone, winner of the Gerda Lissner award for 2018 sang a song written by Polish patriot, President, and piano virtuoso “Polaly sie lzy me czyste” by Jan Paderewski. Mr. Zapiór is a baritone with strong high notes and a vocally congenial physicality. His voice was reassuring in its versatility from thrilling highs to burnished lows. I thought of the great Polish bass baritone Adamo Didur who sang during Caruso’s time. Google his “La Colunnia” also Google soprano Marcella Sembrich whose museum near Lake George at Bolton Landing will fill you with Polish opera pride.

Karl Michaelis, Michèle Classe, Gloria Gari,
Lud Mayleas & Anthony Classe. Photo by Judy Pantano

I was happy to be seated next to the MetOpera legend mezzo Rosalind Elias, who offered me a mint when something had me coughing. Thank you so much! We also saw Gloria Gari and Lud Mayleas from the Giulio Gari Foundation, Jane Shaulis, Joseph Gasperec, Murray Rosenthal and Philip Hagemann, all from Opera Index; Maestros Eve Queler and Per Brevig with his wife Berit, Export consultant Michèle and Anthony Classe, Alfred and Christine Palladino from the Columbus Club, Deborah Surdi, from the Martina Arroyo Foundation, Glenn Morton from Classic Lyric Arts, Brian Hunter from the Musicians Club of New York, Diana Corto from International Concerts, sculptor Dionisio Cimarelli, Don DiGrazia formerly from the Metropolitan Opera Tickets with wife Chee, and opera lovers Emily Hsiung and Reiko Osumi.

Jerry (Juergen) Stolt, Jane Shaulis, Murray Rosenthal, Philip Hagemann, Midge Woolsey, Joseph Gasperec, Nino Pantano. Photo by Judy Pantano

The delicious finger foods and wines were sumptuous and we returned to Brooklyn with happy musical memories. It was probably a taxi like vehicle but it was a brightly lit magical pumpkin taking us home from the ball!

Martina Arroyo Foundation Celebrates its 14th Annual Gala Anniversary

On the evening of Monday, October 29th, the Martina Arroyo Foundation celebrated its 14th Anniversary at the JW Marriott Essex House in New York City. The program honored Simon Estes, Metropolitan Opera bass-baritone and Rufus Wainwright, singer songwriter and composer, and Maestro Anton Coppola, conductor and composer who received the Michel Maurel Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Rufus Wainwright, Martina Arroyo, Anton Coppola & Simon Estes. Photo by Sean Smith

Martina Arroyo welcomed one and all and truly is a beacon of light for the promotion of young opera singers. “The mission of the Martina Arroyo Foundation is to prepare and counsel young singers in the interpretation of complete operatic roles for public performance.” This is accomplished through  Prelude to Performance which showcases the singers progress.

The Gala chair was Gary Spector, who spoke briefly and introduced the host for the evening, the iconic Nimet Habachy from WQXR radio whose honeyed speaking voice has charmed millions for decades.

Dr. Joan Taub, Nimet Habachy & Suzan Habachy
Photo by Judy Pantano

The first awardee was the great bass-baritone Simon Estes who hails from Centerville, Iowa and began his career in the 1960’s. He recalled his memories of iconic soprano Shirley Verrett and the charming, witty great Italian basso Cesare Siepi. Mr. Estes regretted not singing with Martina Arroyo. In earlier days on the rise, he recalls singing for 84 companies. His grandfather was a slave and Simon always used his grandfather’s love of the Church to enhance his belief that “justice is stronger than injustice.” Helping children and giving them spiritual nourishment makes him a messenger of good today. He teaches master classes throughout the country and currently is a professor at Iowa State University. I remember Simon Estes when I was a young man in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and I loved the special richness and power of his voice. To me, he was always a pioneer and a hero. It was humbling to meet and greet the great Simon Estes.

The second awardee was Rufus Wainwright singer, songwriter and opera composer. He was introduced by musicologist Cori Ellison who admired  Mr. Wainwright’s love of opera and his work. I was surprised and inspired by his opera Prima Donna which evoked some of the best in Louise by Charpentier and Tosca by Puccini – but had its own distinct sound and momentum. His newest opera, Hadrian was favorably reviewed by The New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini. Mr. Wainwright, looking Mephistophelian in red including his shoes, told the audience of his talented singing parents and his boyhood in Toronto, Canada. “There were tenors aplenty” on the phonograph and he especially recalled the great Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli. Music was all around the house and opera gave them all harmonic happiness. He loved Giuseppe Verdi’s music. Wainwright’s enthusiasm and his friends were all there to lend support.

Soprano Maria Brea sang the wondrous aria “Depuis le jour” from Gustave Charpentier’s (1860-1956) Louise. Ms. Brea sang with a lovely mezza voce and rhapsodic full voice. She floated tones heaven bound and reached ecstatic vocal climaxes that dazzled and thrilled. Maestro Stephen Crawford caught all of the color and sparkling radiance of the music in his superb accompaniment.

The great Scottish-American soprano Mary Garden (1874-1967) who dazzled the French with herLouise in 1900 was the rage of Paris. Louise was a unique opera and composer Gustave Charpentier wrote a sequel called Julien but it never surpassed Louise. Enrico Caruso courted his American bride Dorothy in his Julien costume. Mary Garden made a haunting recording of “Depuis le jour” in 1926. As a young woman she lived on President Street in Brooklyn near Park Slope. I met her at The Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1951. She was in her late seventies and lecturing on her autobiography that was just published. In 1920, she became the head of the Chicago Opera. Her film of Thais made her even more notorious. She never sang as a member of the Metropolitan Opera but had a long career in Chicago and she did appear with Enrico Caruso in concert. I kissed her hand and years later Maria Jeritza’s hand. Two legendary divas and Martina is next, that’s for sure.

Soprano Maria Brea & Tenor WooYoung Yoon
Photo by Sean Smith

“O soave fanciulla” followed sung by soprano Maria Brea and tenor WooYoung Yoon. Puccini’s La Bohème never fails to captivate the listener but this particular moment was special. Judy and I honeymooned at Essex House in 1966 and to see and hear two such singers so rhapsodically entwined recalled the memory. Their voiced blended beautifully and Mr. Yoon was an ardent suitor and she equally so. They ended the duet arm in arm leaving the room with two rhapsodic high C’s with power and loving brio! Stephen Crawford’s accompaniment was like a full symphony of life and love!

The next performance was by tenor WooYoung Yoon. The familiar “Ah mes amis” from La Fille du Regiment which catapulted Luciano Pavarotti to fame with 9 high C’s in the early 1970’s at the Metropolitan Opera. Mr. Yoon has a sweet and vibrant tenor with good projection and even flow. He added embellishments to embellishments giving us a double thrill. His upper voice is manly and stratospheric and he seems very comfortable in those high altitudes. But that did not remove the “frisson” that makes this aria so exciting. One must “conquer” the 9 high C’s and that he did. Stephen Crawford ably accompanied Mr. Yoon and the thrill was brought forward with this partnership.

Maestro Anton Coppola now 101 years of age attended with his beloved wife Almerinda. We met them at the Columbus Club a few years before when he wrote a song for her, a former ballerina he married long ago. We also met Maestro Coppola at a Verdi Festival at the Casa Duse, where Joan Sutherland lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He was always a phenomenon and when asked how he has lived so long he replied, “Pasta Faggioli” (Spaghetti with beans). Bravo Maestro! Maestro Coppola was given the Michel Maurel award for Lifetime Achievement named after Martina’s beloved late husband.

Ellen Godfrey, Nino Pantano, Murray Rosenthal, Elaine Malbin
Janet Stovin & Philip Hagemann Photo by Judy Pantano

Maestro Coppola was given a mike and he addressed Martina Arroyo with some hilarious repartee in a loud clear voice. She responded with wit and wisdom and the audience in on the joke laughed heartily. In Coppola’s new finale for Puccini’s Turandot, Empress Turandot guesses Calaf’s name and he gets his head chopped off with the others. I personally don’t care for a “headless” Calaf but it suits the flavor of our times.

Robert Lombardo, Maestro Anton & Almerinda Coppola & Maestro Eve Queler. Photo by Judy Pantano

A superb dinner followed and much good talk. We chatted with Met mezzo Jane Shaulis, President of Opera Index, Murray Rosenthal treasurer and composer Philip Hagemann (Popular choral composition Fruitcake) and Janet Stovin who fondly recalled living close to Ebbets Field and the great Brooklyn Dodgers. Janet recalled Jackie Robinson’s ascendancy with the team of blessed memory. Former Met mezzo, the effervescent Nedda Casei, was with us as was her most charming friend Diane Gallagher.The debonair Robert Steiner and Faith Pleasanton were also at our table. It was so nice to see the talented soprano Victoria Miningham from the New York Grand Opera. We spoke of the great Maestro Vincent La Selva and his incomparable operas free every summer in Central Park. We discussed recipes with Paolo Petrini and Rigoletto with opera coach Robert Lombardo. Soprano Elaine Malbin still looking every inch the youthful soubrette, Maestro Eve Queler and Cavaliere Eddward Jackson, Met tenor Anthony Laciura and his wife Joel and writer chef Meche Kroop. I discussed Beniamino Gigli with Rufus Wainwright and friends and told him that I saw Gigli at his return and farewell at Carnegie Hall in 1955 when the 65 year old tenor sang his heart out with a dozen arias and another dozen songs from opera and his films, including Mamma and Quanno ‘a femmena vo’ where he did a “bump.” (No grind)

Nino Pantano Faith Pleasanton, Robert Steiner
Edward Jackson & Judy Pantano. Photo by Sean Smith

We thank Martina Arroyo, Deborah Surdi (From Sicilian Bensonhurst like me) and everyone who planned this glorious and wonderful event. Her father, the late Demetrio Arroyo, worked as a supervisor at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to help pay for his talented daughter and who today is the great Metropolitan Opera legend, pioneer and source of delight as a teacher and head of the Martina Arroyo Foundation. Her special award at the Kennedy Center Awards made us all proud. Brava!

Legendary Met Opera Soprano Martina Arroyo at the Kennedy Awards Center in 2013

The Giulio Gari Foundation Presents Winners of the 2018 International Vocal Competition

On the afternoon of Sunday, October 21st, The Giulio Gari Foundation presented the Winners of the 2018 International Vocal Competition. The gala event was held at the famed New York Athletic Club in New York City across from the now autumnal Central Park.

Giulio Gari as Calaf in Puccini’s
Turandot

The colorful and informative program reminded us that the mission of the Giulio Gari Foundation is to discover and encourage young classical singers of the highest quality. They received their awards at the annual Gala Winner Concert and dinner which introduces them not only to the public but to the professional world of opera and classical music. Creating the Giulio Gari Foundation was the inspiration of Stephen De Maio and Licia Albanese who admired Giulio Gari (1909-1996) not only as an artist but as a human being and friend. His years as a lead tenor was at the New York City Opera (1945-1953) and the Metropolitan Opera (1953-1961). His generous spirit lives on with his wife Gloria Gari and family, all of whom share the glory of his legacy by helping young singers perform for a public that thirsts for the beauty they offer. Thanks to the Giulio Gari Foundation there will be no roses blooming in the desert unknown and sight unseen.

Scott Barnes, SeokJong Baek, Dangelo Diaz, Jaeman Yoon, Ken Benson, Marlen Nahhas, Helena Brown, Jana McIntyre, Cesar Delgado, Kidon Choi, Hubert Zapiór. Photo by Judy Pantano

The concert began hosted by Ken Benson of Columbia Artists Management and the Met Opera broadcasts and co-hosted by Scott Barnes, Broadway expert, director, judge and coach. Brian Kellow who passed away on July 22nd of brain cancer was married to Scott Barnes and both Benson and Barnes paid tribute to Brian’s brilliance as a writer, opera host and warmth as a human being. Scott was an erudite host and found strength in the ever loving spirit of Brian Kellow. There is a special section in the program booklet “In Memoriam” dedicated to Brian Kellow with touching photos of Brian and Scott.

The program began with “Ah! Je ris de me voir…” from Gounod’s Faust sung by soprano Marlen Nahhas. Ms. Nahhas soaring soprano had a safe, secure technique and a strong top. It whetted the appetite to hear her in other repertoire like a treasure chest submerged and full of mystery. A very fine job! The award was given by Barry Schenk.

“Largo al factotum” followed from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia and was sung by baritone SeokJong Baek. Mr. Baek had a range that allowed him to take the liberties that iconic baritone Lawrence Tibbett had at his disposal: stunning cadenzas, roulades, and flourishes that energized this great aria to special heights. Ironically Tibbett (1896-1960) sang the Barber only once in his entire career. Mr. Baek sang it with ringing freedom, stratospheric highs, dazzling scales, and “Italianate” abandon. Tibbett would have been proud and so was I! The award was given by Louise Simmons and Robert Funck.

(I sang this aria as a youngster at age 13 and was a winner on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour in 1949. I was also a protege of bandleader legend Paul Whiteman (The American Idol) way back then. I learned it phonetically and heard it on record by the great American baritone, Lawrence Tibbett.)

Soprano Jana McIntyre was next with “O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn” from W.A. Mozart’s Die Zauberflote. It evolved into a spinning wheel of coloratura, power, elocution and dynamic structure that made us see the essence of the divine Mozart. The award was given by Frank DeRosa in memory of Lucia DeRosa.

Tenor Dangelo Diaz sang “Pourquoi me réveiller” from Werther by Massenet. Mr. Diaz has a pleasing voice, one that wants it to be less laid back in lyricism and more in impassioned thrust. I sensed like a skier, he was mulling the next climb rather than just overtaking it with seeming ease. I have heard Franco Corelli and Alfredo Kraus, differing voices with different techniques sing the heck out of it with both lyrical and dramatic intensity. A little more intensity and Diaz can be listed in that unrivaled list of Werther’s. He’s got the goods – just get out of the woods. His award was given by Jack and Anna LaPadula in memory of Lucia DeRosa. Any relation to famed accordionist Johnny LaPadula – family friends from long ago?

Another sampling from Massenet was “Pleurez! pleurez mes yeux!” from Le Cid sung by Helena Brown. Her burnished mellow soprano had power, fury, allure and an inner mezzo soprano. The great American soprano, Rosa Ponselle had mezzo like darkness and sang Carmen at the end of her career. I kept thinking Amneris more than Aida. Time will tell! Helena Brown is a force of nature. The award was given by Joyce Greenberg.

“Nemico della patria” from Andrea Chénier by Giordano followed. Jaeman Yoon has a strong secure baritone and worked hard to capture the Italianate brio that goes with this role.The immortal Leonard Warren studied with legendary baritone Giuseppe De Luca and the Bronx born Warren, captured the Italianate style. Dr. Philip Frezzo gave the award.

“No puede ser” from La tabernera del puerto by Sorozabal was sung by tenor Cesar Delgado. This Zarzuela piece is a “must” for high Spanish tenors and can capture one’s heart by its blazing intensity. Surprisingly it is one of Placido Domingo’s best encores and always gets a rousing roaring reception. Mr. Delgado has some burnished low tones and throbbing high tones. He aimed for “rapid execution” at the finale but slightly missed the mark. Some of his extra “highs” were a surprise and I long to hear him in a concert of Spanish favorites. Like the great Alfredo Kraus, he has the goods. His award was given by Scott Barnes in memory of Brian Kellow.

Next was Verdi and from Rigoletto, “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata” sung by Kidon Choi whose fulsome baritone had soothing diminuendos, soaring high notes, strong legato phrasing, evoking sympathy and giving thrills. His musicality allowed the Italian phrasing and vocal flourishes to take over and the final “Pieta” was vivid both as a work by Michelangelo and a phrase by Choi. It was very well done. Bravo! The award was given by the Lissner Charitable Fund and was presented by the impeccable Karl Michaelis.

The final selection by first prize winner Hubert Zapiór was “Or dove fuggo io mai?”… “Ah per sempre” from I Puritani. His well-placed baritone negotiated the Bellinian line with the proper flourishes and sad momentum. His cadenzas and legato were flawless and just a tad more melancholy would create the perfect cocktail  – the Bellini! Bravo! The award was given by Max Kade Foundation Dr. Lya Friedrich Pfeifer, President.

Sopranos Sharon Sweet, Carol Vaness &
Tenor Giuseppe Filianoti
Photo by Judy Pantano

The brilliant accompanist was Jonathan Kelly from the Metropolitan Opera. His pianistic virtuosity was like a heavenly orchestra!

In between the singers’ performances, three great artists were honored. Soprano Sharon Sweet looking as lovely as she did when I heard her Leonora at her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1990. I thought to myself, Ms. Sweet is in the great line of Verdi sopranos, Ponselle, Milanov, and Sweet. It was so nice to meet and greet Sharon Sweet and her husband John Sweet. She is a Professor of Voice at Westminster College in Princeton, New Jersey. Ms. Sweet accepted her award with pride and humility, advised the youngsters to never lose hope and to enjoy the musical journey. Sharon Sweet showed us all her persistence, endurance and a sense of vibrant family life with a delightful sense of humor.

Carol Vaness, Metropolitan Opera and international soprano I saw and heard in Tosca with Luciano Pavarotti. Her 30-year career was a wonder to behold. She now teaches and mentors a new generation of singers and is as vital and vibrant as one can be at the Jacob School of Music at Indiana University.

Giuseppe Filianoti has been a noteworthy tenor since his debut in 1998. I remember his brilliant Edgardo in Lucia at the Metropolitan Opera in 2005, a sweet lyric voice with dramatic color. It was like a Mario del Monaco surrounding a honeyed tone. He still sings, makes CD’s and gives master classes and is youthful and pleasant to talk to.

Sopranos Carol Vaness & Diana Soviero &
Mezzo Jane Shaulis. Photo by Judy Pantano

The souvenir program had a beautiful poetic tribute to the late  Glen Gary who was “a Prince of Players” by Steve De Maio.


Soprano Elaine Malbin, Maestro Eve Queler,
Tenor Giuseppe Filianoti & Sachi Liebergesell. Photo by Judy Pantano

The concert was followed by a brief fascinating film, edited and compiled by opera lecturer Lou Barella, with footage by Glen Robert Gary and Ron Harris. Some of the highlights of the film showed the great basso Jerome Hines singing “Ol’ Man River,” magnificently in his old age. Soprano Elinor Ross singing a glorious Gershwin’s “Summertime” at a Gari Gala years after her retirement, soprano ever youthful, Elaine Malbin wonderfully singing “Meine Lippen Sie Kussen So Heiz” from Lehar’s Giuditta, Jerome Hines’s wife Lucia Evangelista and Giulio Gari in golden duet from La Traviata, grand soprano immortal and  sorely missed Licia Albanese belting out two final notes from The Star Spangled Banner from one of her superb galas and Giulio Gari in a ringing, heroic “Celeste Aida.”

Michael Rosen, Bernard Uzan, Diana Soviero, Jane Shaulis, Rosalind Elias, Gloria Gari & Jonathan Kelly
Photo by Judy Pantano

At this splendid affair, it was nice to see Artistic Director Stephen De Maio President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation and his sister Marie De Maio, extraordinary educator, Gari Board members, dapper Karl Michaelis and ever stylish Joyce Greenberg, Cornelia Beigel from Gerda Lissner, legendary Met mezzo Rosalind Elias, unforgettable Met soprano Diana Soviero and impeccable impresario Bernard Uzan, saucy soprano Elaine Malbin from New York City Opera, Met mezzo soprano the sparkling Jane Shaulis, who is also President of Opera Index and Joseph Gasperec, Executive Director from Opera Index, soprano Barbara Ann Testa, vocal coach Tamie Laurance, talented conductors Maestro Eve Queler and Jan Josef Wnek, very chic Sachi Liebergesell former President of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation, affable lawyer Brian O’Connor, Artists Personal Managers agent Michael Rosen, Betty Cooper Wallerstein, the great civic activist, Anthony Laciura, Metopera tenor and television actor and charming wife Joel, industrious Bill Ronayne from The Mario Lanza Society and classy Michèle Classe export consultant and husband Anthony added their vibrant presence.

Maestro Jan Wnek,Tamie Laurance, Sachi Liebergesell & Brian O’Connor. Photo by Judy Pantano

The delicious dinner with Butternut Squash Ravioli and succulent chicken, potatoes, and vegetables gave us all the opportunity to wine and dine in fine splendor. We think about past and present and contemplate the “stars,” both the ones on view in the heavens and the young awardees with stardom in their future. Thank you beautiful Gloria Gari, family, staff and awardees for this incomparable and unforgettable gala event.

Gloria Gari, Photo by Judy Pantano

 

Elysium between two Continents Celebrates its 35th Year

On the evening of Wednesday, October 10th, Elysium between two Continents celebrated its 35th Year at the NY Lotos Club. According to the program notes included, “Elysium – between two continents fosters artistic and academic dialogue and mutual friendship between the United States of America and Europe. Elysium fights against ignorance, discrimination, racism, hatred, and anti-Semitism by means of art.”

“Elysium was founded on October 11, 1983, by Gregorij H. von Leïtis as a theater company in New York and presented numerous American premieres of German language plays in English translation. Theater and the arts were used for the integration of the socially marginalized groups: Gregorij von Leïtis worked with the children of Puerto-Rican immigrants in the East Village and initiated the program Theater for the Homeless. In 1993, the Elysium Theater Company was transformed into the trans-Atlantic cultural exchange organization, Elysium – between two continents. Over the past few decades, the focus has been on the rediscovery and presentation of music and literature created by artists who were persecuted by the Nazis. Elysium’s theme and banner is ‘Hate is a failure of the imagination.'”

“Elysium’s history is closely linked with Erwin Piscator and his groundbreaking ideas of a politically and socially relevant theater. Erwin Piscator believed that “art only achieves its purpose when it contributes to the improvement of man.” In 1985, Gregorij von Leïtis founded The Erwin Piscator Award Society to honor and commemorate the artistic and humanitarian legacy of the great theater man Erwin Piscator and his lasting influence on theater on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Lahr von Leïtis Academy & Archive in association with Elysium presents ‘Art and Education without Borders.’ Their belief is that education and art can empower and enlighten the younger generation through free lectures, seminars, workshops, and master classes. They want to familiarize young people with the treasures of exiled art to help them create a meaningful future that incorporates the lessons learned from history.”

The program began with an introduction by Michael Lahr, Program Director and Treasurer. He proudly hailed the many accomplishments and the sense of all good things that have progressed in the 35-year history of this noble dream of Gregorij von Leïtis, founding Artistic Director and President.

The first speaker was Dr. Helmut Boeck, the Consul General of Austria who spoke of the art and idealism pursued by Elysium’s founders and supporters.

Gregorij von Leïtis, Austrian Consul General Dr. Helmut Boeck & wife Barbara Boehm-Boeck & Dr. Michael Haider, new Director of the Austrian Cultural Forum
Photo by Letizia Mariotti

The next speaker was Jens Janik, Deputy Consul General of The Federal Republic of Germany who had high praise for Elysium and its words and deeds and unshakable idealism during these current challenging times.

Michael Lahr, Jens Janik, Deputy Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany & Gregorij von Leïtis. Photo by Letizia Mariotti

Corey Friedlander, who handles public relations for Elysium, spoke with zeal about the presence and prescience of Elysium and how needed it is today. I am not a theologian but “blessed are the peacemakers for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” seems appropriate.

Corey Friedlander, Public Relations
Photo by Letizia Mariotti

The radiant and always vital Jolana Blau, Vice President of Elysium and Gregorij von Leïtis, Founder and President, gave a touching thank you to all. Their affection and respect were presented with warmth and love in the finest sense of the word. A recent Erwin Piscator awardee, Jolana Blau, is a concentration camp survivor who is a symbol of betterness replacing bitterness. Her sparkling smile is like the warming sun and a new dawn for a weary world.

Elysium’s supporter Katherine Goldsmith & Jolana Blau
Photo by Letizia Mariotti

The playwright David Hirson, the baritone Peter Clark, who has worked with Elysium in the past (he sang one of the parts in Gregorij’s production of Ernst Krenek’s opera “What Price Confidence?” at the Rome Opera House, and also was part of the world premiere of Egon Lustgarten’s opera as a work-in-progress at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, also directed by Gregorij). Peter lives in Brooklyn.

Playwright David Hirson, baritone Peter Clark & Elysium’s Michael Lahr with Corey Friedlander in the background. Photo by Letizia Mariotti

The reception gave us the pleasure of speaking to the honorees and friends. Michael Lahr and Gregorij von Leïtis just returned from several months in Europe presenting through Elysium programs, many lectures, and creative and hopeful plays.

Grazina Michneviciute, Cultural Attache at the Consulate General of the Republic of Lithuania in New York, Michael Lahr & Gitana Skripkaite, Acting Consul General of Lithuania in New York
Photo by Letizia Mariotti

It was nice to see tenor and humanitarian Cesare Santeramo, always elegant, witty and charming. We wish his partner, Dr. Robert Campbell, well and missed his presence. Both were honored by Elysium at the Lotos Club a few years ago.

Elysium Supporter Cesare Santeramo & Gregorij von Leïtis. Photo by Letizia Mariotti

We greeted the gifted photographer Letitzia Mariotti and discussed the talent of famed  Corsican tenor Tino Rossi who, next to Napoleon Bonaparte, is a legend from Corsica. Just Google his recording of “Un violon dans la nuit” or his hit “Vieni, vieni.” Letitzia has a family link to Napoleon.

We chatted with young Italian-American Gary Guarinello whose family is from Campagnia and Palermo, Italy and who expressed an interest in seeing his first opera. My wife Judy and I suggested Verdi’s Aida or Puccini’s La Bohème or Franco Zefferelli’s spectacular Turandot at the Metropolitan Opera. We spoke to newlywed coloratura soprano JeanMarie Garofolo and husband Helder De Sa (of Portuguese descent) who are on the threshold to a happy musical and harmonious future. It was a pleasure to chat with Corey Friedlander who eloquently spoke earlier and does publicity for Elysium. I mentioned the “old” saints revered by my grandmother, particularly St. Anthony of Padua comparing them to our “new” saints – Michael Lahr, Gregorij von Leïtis and Jolana Blau who have accomplished and continue to accomplish miraculous good deeds through Elysium the last 35 years, in today’s unsteady world.

Board member Oliver Trumbo, with Elysium’s supporters, David Goldstein & Gail Reisin. Photo by Letizia Mariotti

The excellent wines and foods at the illustrious Lotos Club were worthy of this joyous celebration. Michael Lahr and Gregorji H. von Leïtis deserve such acclaim. They are now SUNG heroes in my eyes, after 35 years of spectacular and newsworthy “happenings” with Elysium. We are truly blessed to applaud and share this wonderful event. In many an opera, “Esperanza” is what is taught. As long as we have Elysium we have HOPE in abundance.

We thank Program Director Michael Lahr, Founder Gregorij H. von Leïtis and Vice President Jolana Blau. We wish you all at least CENT ANNI and continued great success!

 

The Rockaway Post Theatre Company Presents A View From the Bridge

The Rockaway Post Theatre Company presented an exciting production of Arthur Miller’s play A View From the Bridge on Saturday evening, October 6th. The company is located in Fort Tilden, an old historic Army installation between Riis Park & Breezy Point in the Rockaways. This whole area is now part of Gateway National Park along with Floyd Bennett Field, which was a prominent airfield in World War I & II.

A View from a Bridge was written by Arthur Miller in 1955 as part of a two short play production. He re-wrote it as a two-act play the following year. At this time in our history, this play about immigration is very à propos. My wife Judy and I saw it as an opera a few years ago at The Vertical Player Opera on Court Street in Cobble Hill Brooklyn. We were profoundly moved by this as an opera by William Bolcom and now we see it as the magnificent play, a work of understanding and genius. Arthur Miller, a renowned Brooklynite (1915-2005) lived in Brooklyn Heights and we would sometimes see him or author Norman Mailer walking amidst the citizenry of that fabled Brooklyn area. Arthur Miller and his wife Marilyn Monroe often dined at Cafiero’s Restaurant, a legendary eatery that is now an artist’s loft nearby. My father Santo (Sam) Pantano had a Florsheim Shoe Store on Columbia Street for many years in the 1940’s and 1950’s and he was privy to the gangsters and characters of Red Hook, South Brooklyn. Judy and I have lived on President Street for 35 years just across the street from where my father’s former shoe store was on Columbia Street. As a young man, I would walk to the shoe store from St. Francis College that was originally on Court and Butler Streets, my Alma Mater, which was near Ebel’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor and the legendary College Bakery. The “old timers” still call it Red Hook or South Brooklyn and have never really embraced the “new” and uppity name of Carroll Gardens. The neighborhood has changed now but the Italian flavoring still strongly exists with Mazzola’s Pastry shop, the famed House of Pizza & Calzone on Union Street operated in the “old days” by the legendary much loved Giovanni (John) Teutonico and Onofrio Gaudiso. They on occasion still visit current owner Paul DiAgostino and like all of us, are so happy that the tradition is held sacred and continues to this day with great pizza and calzone. On nearby Court Street, Court Pastry, Caputo’s Bakery, Monteleone’s Pastry, Esposito’s Pork Store, Mazzone’s Hardware and a few others are still active in the neighborhood.

When my father had his shoe store, Virgilio Santamaria was the photographer who lived upstairs. He had a cousin, the nuclear scientist Enrico Fermi who told my Uncle Cologero (Kelly) that the longshoremen lived better than he did. The great tenor Enrico Caruso sailed back to Italy to die in 1921 with his wife Dorothy and baby Gloria from Pier 7 nearby waving to the multitudes who saw him off. A decade earlier, Caruso, surrounded by police and undercover, went to Van Brunt Street to capture suspected Mafiosi who threatened him and his family. They were in reality two out of work Italian immigrants who desperately needed money. Ever faithful to his fellow Italians, Caruso was the first one to sign a petition to have them released. Lieutenant Petrosino intervened years before to protect the great tenor from Mafia threats. (See the film “Pay or Die” with Ernest Borgnine as Inspector Petrosino). The legendary “Mondo the Midget” was a gangster wannabee whose job was to feed the pet lion the Gallo family “adopted” to put fear in the hearts of their creditors. It was a rich textured neighborhood and Arthur Miller, sitting in Montero’s Bar along the taverns on Atlantic Avenue, first heard the story that inspired A View from the Bridge. It is Italian oral tradition conceived in whispers, the disgrace and tragedy of Eddie Carbone. If only Eddie Carbone had listened to the soothsayer, the lawyer Alfieri.

(L-R) Beatrice (Jodee Timpone), Eddie (Robert Wilkinson), Catherine (Melanie Mahanna) with Marco (Guido Corno) &
Rodolpho (Matthew Barrera) at the table. Photo by Rob Mintzes

The setting is Red Hook, Brooklyn in the 1950’s. The ominous sounds of horns and seagulls filled the theater with the cacophony of the Red Hook waterfront. Alfieri the lawyer narrates the tale, like a Greek chorus and is very much a “Beware the Ides of March” prophet. Bernard Feinerman, a well-known actor from Brooklyn Heights, was an almost Biblical figure, a “wise” man, a prophet raising his voice against a tide that Eddie Carbone embraced. His advice to Eddie is simple pure truth, but it falls on “deaf” ears. Alfieri warns Eddie repeatedly not to pursue what he is feeling, but Eddie stubbornly holds his old beliefs, which consume him and swallow him whole. Feinerman’s excellent diction, emphasis on truth, nobility of utterance, wisdom in law and religion, made him a prophet without honor, an eloquent angel who could not break the wall that the devil set up. In Sicily, honor supersedes law! “You can NEVER have her, Eddie – only GOD makes Justice.” Alfieri’s advice to Eddie, “Let her go and give her your blessing!” was not heeded. Mr. Feinerman gave us a haunting and unforgettable performance that evoked Charlton Heston’s biblical Moses. The striking blazing reds of the backdrop gave us grandeur and the illusion of a Cinemascope film. Frank Caiati is a talent combo of Frank Capra, David Lean and Cecil B. DeMille.

Director & Scenic Designer Frank Caiati & Bernard Feinerman.
Photo by Judy Pantano

Eddie Carbone was portrayed by Robert Wilkinson, who gave a searing and soaring performance and was a stubborn and complex character who evoked sympathy from his audience, never contempt. One never really felt that he was disgracing his wife and himself by his obsession and infatuation of his niece Catherine. He and his wife Beatrice had raised her since she was a little girl. Now at 17, she is a young, vibrant and pretty young woman, perhaps a bit flattered by his attention but perhaps also naive. I spoke to Mr. Wilkinson and wondered how he captured the essence of Sicilian Eddie Carbone so well. He told me he had some Italian relatives and was able to use that as a reference in capturing Eddie’s character. A truly praiseworthy job, a brilliant performance. A question – in the final, fatal scene with Marco, perhaps subliminal – does Eddie fall on the knife to end it all?

Melanie Mahanna was utterly captivating as Catherine, niece and the “adopted” child of Eddie and Beatrice. She had a sweetness that was beguiling and a “naivete” that was part of the adolescent package. I do not think that there was anything in her lighting up Eddie’s cigar although some might. Her walking around in her slip was not really provocative but who knows what a gossamer garment might provoke? Surely the cigar lighting pleased Eddie very much and it just might have pleased her to make him happy. It is very important that her portrayal steer clear of ambiguity of character. There is and should not be any nuance of ambiguity. Her basic character of goodness must be retained. Her scenes with Rodolpho were in earnest, sex or not, they were normal for a girl of 17. It is to Eddie that the abnormality falls and with a mighty volcanic crash buried in his own putrid lava.

Rodolpho & Catherine spending some time together.
Photo by Rob Mintzes

Jodee Timpone was superb as Eddie’s wife. Her slow awakening to Eddie’s problem was like watching a favorite painting melt from too much steam on a cold day. She slowly fell apart, the sameness of their life in Red Hook, his hard work as a longshoreman, hers, cooking and caring for their niece and feeling the chill still of his cooling feelings for her. The family dinner with Eddie and others crossing themselves was touching in its simplicity. What a sublime piece of work and a performance to remember. Bea’s caressing of Eddie’s dead body symbolized her whole life, devoted to Eddie Carbone.

The death of Eddie Carbone with his wife Beatrice while lawyer Alfieri looks on.
Photo by Rob Mintzes

Rodolpho was in the skilled hands of Matthew Barrera. Rodolpho, illegal immigrant was “different.” He loved to sing (Paper Doll, a 1950’s song by the Mills Brothers) he could repair dresses and had an almost effete range of interests. The longshoremen thought him peculiar but Catherine showed interest in him. Eddie warned her about Rodolpho saying he would marry her only to become a United States citizen. In a chilling scene when he sees them together, he suddenly kisses Catherine full on the mouth and does the same to Rodolpho. Near the end, Alfieri arranges for the couple to marry.

Rodolpho & Eddie sparring while Marco & Beatrice look on.
Photo by Rob Mintzes

Marco was brilliantly portrayed by Guido Corno. Marco has a wife and children in Sicily who he helps support by coming to the United States to work and help. When he finds out that someone has called the immigration police (Submarines) he spits at Eddie. He and Eddie fight and Eddie gets stabbed and dies. This is the day that Catherine and Rodolpho are to be getting married.

Catherine, Rodolpho & Marco listening to lawyer Alfieri (Bernard Feinerman).
Photo by Rob Mintzes

Fred Grieco and Brian Sadowski as friends, Mike and Louis were as true as truth itself with warm affable heartiness, Cronin Cullen and Eric Kramer were authoritative in their police officer roles, Francesco Ciaramella and Mike Whelan excelled as the “Submarine” immigration officers with sanitation men attitudes toward the human refuge at their disposal. Mr. Lipari (Kevin Abernethy) and Mrs. Lipari (Ruth Graves) were a perfect fit. The main course actors and ensemble made for a perfect dish, each blending in a perfect meal with extra virgin olive oil and fresh from the grape vinegar. This was a perfect performance of a great work and the wonderful and appreciative audience who applauded and cheered with great enthusiasm in the “wilds” of an oasis at The Rockaway Post Theatre.

Director Frank Caiati is a young man with a fine future. The direction was contained and intimate when needed and broad an expansive when necessary. One’s eyes and mind were always focused on the proper protagonists. Directing is a soufflé that MUST work or it collapses. This was set up to perfection. The reddish sky, the stairway descending to Eddie and Beatrice’s apartment, the bright scenes where Alfieri, like Moses, pronounces his apprehensions and philosophic truths were all indelible and compact. As Alfieri said, “I feel like a lawyer in Caesar’s time – powerless to watch as the events of history run their bloody course.” Eddie Carbone kept worrying about his being disrespected by all including his neighbors in Red Hook. His wife Bea, his niece, everyone not caring about the proper “respect” that was his due – but as a possible “snitch,” his reputation was gone.

Eddie Carbone making the call to Immigration.
Photo by Rob Mintzes

Red Hook today has Fairway and Ikea and some new buildings but some of the old “City Island” type areas remain. Sessa’s Bank is gone from Union Street as is Frank Sacco’s Department Store, several movie theatres such as the “Happy Hour” and “The Luna” are gone as are the Sicilian puppet shows (with Orlando Furiso – giant puppets Medieval armor battling Malagiggi the villain.) Ocean liners come in now and dock nearby. Rents and property values have escalated. The iconic swimming pool and parks remain. The housing projects once Scandinavian and Italian are still here as is the imposing Church of the Visitation. The pushcarts and small family owned stores are gone. But Eddie Carbone’s days are memories and dust in the passage of time and a chill in the ocean breeze.

The souvenir program notes welcomed back Suzanne Riggs as Stage Manager, Adele Wendt as Assistant Stage Manager and marvelous costumier.

How do we love thee? For brilliant productions, hard working company, talent supreme, friendly audience, including many from “The Red Hook hood.” A teacher friend of ours, a true gentleman, Les Kraft who lived in Far Rockaway proudly told us of his acting in this Far Rockaway Company. Just before the hurricane wiped out his house, he sold it, married and is now living in Florida. We thank him for his being a factor in our visit.

A resounding bravo to the Rockaway Post Theatre Company! This truly was a night to remember. The applause, cheers and peerless performance still echo in memory!

Cast of A View from the Bridge.
Photo by Rob Mintzes

A Sparkling Hungarian Gala at Marcella Sembrich Museum

Marcella Sembrich Museum on the banks of Lake George in Bolton Landing, New York

On the evening of Saturday, August 25th at the Marcella Sembrich Museum in Bolton Landing on the shimmering banks of Lake George, we happily witnessed a program called “A Night in Budapest.” It featured Daniel Szasz, violinist and Laci Rácz on the cimbalom. The two other musicians were József Szász, viola and Lőrinc Szász on double bass. Earlier that evening, we joined the music lovers outdoors midst the high pine trees along side Lake George for Hungarian refreshments and lively talk. We then entered the concert room of the Marcella Sembrich (1858-1935) Museum where the great Polish soprano lived and had her school of vocal students from Julliard and the Curtis Institute from 1924 until her death in 1935. The room had portraits and paintings of Mme. Sembrich and a view of the lake in the front of the room.

Interior of Sembrich Museum

Over a decade ago in Eastern Transylvania’s largest city, Daniel Szasz and Laci Rácz joined forces to create the Üsztürü Ensemble. The group has won raves in both Europe and North America. It brings to life a “revival” of the old school of authentic village musicians playing Hungarian music.

Violinist Daniel Szasz & Cimbalomist Laci Rácz
Photo by Judy Pantano

Daniel Szasz, master violinist is concertmaster for the Alabama Symphony and is concertmaster of the Lake Placid Sinfonietta and has been praised for his “breathtaking” and “exquisite” playing to which I add, a Hungarian with the style of Paganini!

Laci Rácz is an 8th generation descendant of the legendary Rácz family of musicians playing both violin and piano. He was drawn to the cimbalom and played in many orchestras including the Hundred Gypsy Violin Orchestra and gypsy bands as well as the famed Roby Lakatos Ensemble in Brussels. His studies at the Béla Bartók Conservatory and the Franz Liszt Academy helped him perfect his art.

Laci Rácz playing Cimbalom. Photo by Judy Pantano

Richard Wargo, composer and Artistic Director of the Marcella Sembrich Museum, introduced the soloists and ensemble and gave a brief history of the museum and mention of this great soprano Marcella Sembrich. She sang at the Metropolitan Opera the night after it opened in 1883 and later on, including her Gilda to the Duke of Mantua who was the legendary tenor Enrico Caruso in his Met debut in 1903. Enrico Caruso was the subject of last year’s gala at the Sembrich in another brilliant late summer affair. Mme. Sembrich brought her much acclaimed Gilda (Rigoletto) to the Brooklyn Academy of Music with the Metropolitan Opera on tour on November 23, 1908 with fellow Pole, acclaimed basso Adamo Didur as Sparafucile under the legendary baton of Arturo Toscanini. Fortunately, her Caro Nome and the Rigoletto Quartet (with Caruso) are part of her recorded legacy. Her recordings are available at the Sembrich Museum. Her Lucia Sextet with Caruso and The Merry Widow Waltz (Both recorded in 1908) are really worth a listen – such brilliant coloratura and embellishments.

Soprano Marcella Sembrich (1858-1935)

Laci Rácz gave us a brief history of the cimbalom which originated in Persia 600 years ago and his instrument looked like an exotic desk with strands of steel keys that were plummeted by mallots much like a drummer but the soft exotic tones were from another world. The great Hungarian American radio announcer, George Jellinek use to open his program “The Vocal Scene” with a Zoltán Kodály piece, Háry János Suite, which had a cimbalom playing. As a young man, I often wondered what instrument that wonderful sound was from.

The program began with Este a Szekelyeknel (An evening with the villagers) by Bela Bartók. Daniel Szasz played masterfully, the violin had power and precision and the art of seemingly calling the shots, while the cimbalom, in the soul and hands of Laci Rácz, seemingly in agreement, yielding and shining.

The second piece (Traditional) arranged by L. Rácz Citromfa  (Lemon Tree) had both violin and cimbalom playing loud and soft swaying like a succulent tree being pushed by a gentle breeze.

Next was Puszta Fia (Son of the Puszta) by B. Keler. This was played by both the violin, sweeping imploring with Daniel Szasz seductive tones and the cimbalom with Laci Rácz yielding to the passionate outbursts. Both instruments and their interpreters played with magnanimity, soft and louder with abandon and panache.

Valse Triste by F.Vecsey, had a touch of Finnish composer Jan Sibelius who also wrote an iconic composition with the same name.

A Csitari Hegyek Alatt, arranged by LRácz, proved to be electric and haunting, a virtuoso ensemble with Lőrinc Szász on the double bass adding richness and József Szász fulfilling with his singing viola.

A traditional piece followed, Csipd meg Bogar arranged by Laci Rácz that allowed each musician to express the joys of being Hungarian through music.

The fabulous and familiar Franz Lehar’s Magyar Abrand (Hungarian Fantasy) with its soaring melodies and extravagant grandeur, took us to the heavens and I could swear the ducks were dancing on the waters.

J. Hubay with Hejre Kati (Scene de la Csarda No. 4 op. 32) had a cimbalom solo that was like drummer Gene Krupa in his prime and Enrico Caruso and Marcella Sembrich singing the Rigoletto duet and Paderewski stunning his audience on the piano.

The combination of violin and cimbalom making love that made for musical climaxes that gave goosebumps and the desire to make new decibels with shouts of bravo and bravi!

The Csardas from Hungarian Rhapsody No. 18 by Franz Liszt was foot stomping and bravura! If I did not have any Hungarian DNA, I got it from exposure to such thrilling samples of the soul of Hungary.

The final selection, Csardas by V. Monti was the fulfilling and defining moment of this concert. Feet marching and moving to music, not military strutting about a people that fought to be free and have that beat in their heart and soul. It was brought to vivid and thrilling life at this unforgettable concert assembled by Richard Wargo and staff. I know that the spirit of Marcella Sembrich through Richard Wargo, blessed us all with a night to always remember.

Afterwards we went outside to enjoy superb desserts and libations. The Hungarian delicacies were from the exalted kitchens of the Inn on Gore Mountain with Rich, Susan, Sophia, and Chun Ling Minucci. Even though I am on a diet, a delicious sensual strudel made me an offer I could not resist.

There was exciting Hungarian folk dancing with the exuberant Julia Redo and Csaba Zsolt Tokes and two charming, talented costumed youngsters, who were ushers, Annabelle and Balazs. What fun!

Dancers Csaba Zsolt Tokes & Julia Redo
Photo by Judy Pantano

Thank you Richard Wargo, you are a composer of note (Marni Nixon sang in one of your operas) and you looked dashing and very proud wearing a medal given to you by the Polish government for your cultural work. Thanks to Executive Director Elizabeth Barton-Navitsky and Administrative Assistant Michelle San Antonio for your many kindnesses and your assistance hosting this beautiful happening. It was nice to meet and chat with Board President Bill Post Hubert who is also a noted organist and his wife Katherine and board members Philip Kates who is a violinist with the Philadelphia Orchestra and a member of a superb chamber music group called Liebesfreud and Charles and Anita Richards also board members who reside nearby. I enjoyed Charles’ “Buda-Pest” shirt that he wore with ethnic pride!

( L-R) Daniel Szasz, Laci Rácz, Lőrinc Szász, Levente Major, Mátyás Vajda, Richard Wargo, József Szász, István Moldován, Julia Redo & Csaba Zsolt Tokes. Front – two special ushers, Annabelle & Balazs
Photo by Judy Pantano

I met Daniel Szasz and told him that the great violinist Jascha Heifetz would have admired his great talent. I mentioned to Laci Rácz that there was a rum sniffer in Puerto Rico who was called “the Caruso of rum sniffers” so great was his authority in approving the product. I told Mr. Rácz, “you are the Caruso of the cimbalom.”

Judy & Nino Pantano Photo by Richard Wargo

It was another perfect night under the full moon and stars. Judy and I will always remember “A Night in Budapest” at the beautiful and rustic Marcella Sembrich Museum on the banks of Lake George. A glass of Tokay (or tokaj) “Sto-lat!” meaning “To your health or 100 years!” (Polish) or “Egészségére!” (Hungarian) and a toast to Autumn, the holidays and to next year at the Marcella Sembrich Museum!

Prelude to Performance Presents an Outstanding Falstaff

Martina Arroyo Foundation’s Prelude to Performance presented an outstanding Falstaff on Friday, July 13th at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College in New York City.

Composer Giuseppe Verdi

Falstaff, which premiered at La Scala in Milan on February 9,1893, was composer Giuseppe Verdi’s final opera completed in his 80th year. (1813-1901) It is one of two comedies he wrote; the first was a failure (Un Giorno di Regno-1840) early in his career. Falstaff has a fresh contemporary sound and feel to it. It is a delight to see and hear. His librettist, Arrigo Boito (1842-1918) was the person who lured Verdi out of retirement by providing a magnificent libretto that did justice to Shakespeare. Boito also composed Mefistofole and Boito’s brother Camillo, an architect, assisted Verdi in his Casa di Riposo for aged and indigent opera people and where Verdi and his wife Giuseppina are buried.

Sir John Falstaff was portrayed by José Luis Maldonado. His singing of “L’onore! Ladri!” at the conclusion of Act One was energetically performed. His repeated use of the word “No” was truly mind-boggling as well as “food for thought.” There is an old recording of this showpiece by Antonio Scotti and Mr. Maldonado gave it everything he had which was like the spumoni dessert tray at L&B Spumoni Gardens in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. His dark flexible bass-baritone had a very active top which made for some delicious phrases. His second act singing of “Quand’ero paggio” recalling him, as a lean loined youth was noteworthy. “Va, vecchio John” was his theme but it bounces away before becoming maudlin. Falstaff represents defiance of time and his final comments of “Tutto e mondo è burla” are a perfect swan song and definitely not a swine song. Verdi’s Iago in Otello believes in a cruel God but also says “There is no God and heaven is an earthly sham.” (Credo) Falstaff is certainly less cynical and much more conciliatory. Mr. Maldonado with his outrageous courting attire drew many a laugh but he was likeable in his self-anointed futility. One found oneself utterly captivated by this Falstaff and the composer would have been pleased to see and hear such a wonderful performance.

Sir John Falstaff (José Luis Maldonado).
Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

I have seen Falstaff many times and I vividly recall Maestro Leonard Bernstein conducting a fabulous performance at the Metropolitan Opera in 1964. I have seen Tito Gobbi, Paul Plishka, the remarkable 69-year-old Giuseppe Taddei’s Met debut all memorable and Señor Maldonado carries on this great tradition. I recall a fresh voiced Renata Tebaldi late in her Met Opera career as Alice Ford.

Dr. Caius was sung by Kyuyoung Lee whose beguiling tenor coupled with strong acting made for an excellent character portrayal.

Bardolfo was John Kim whose tenor was noteworthy and his instinctive dexterity made for a strong interpretation.

Looking for Falstaff: Ford, Pistola, Bardolfo, Dr. Caius & chorus with Nannetta & Fenton. Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

The Pistola of Christopher Nazarian was impressive. His sonorous voice and magnetic presence made one know why ensemble singing is so important. This bass ran the bases and hit a home run!

Meg Page stood out with Molly Burke, whose magical mezzo captivated us all. No wonder Falstaff was enchanted. Ms. Burke has a full, rich caressing mezzo that is expansive and she is a win-win in her acting and singing and clearly an audience favorite.

Alice (Nina Mutalifu) playing lute. Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

Alice Ford was sung and played by Nina Mutalifu and was up to the hi-jinx of her character and used her strong soprano as a saucy barometer of mock sensual sound and deed. Her high notes were impeccably hit and her versatility made out of the commonplace and into the rare. (Stranger in Paradise/Kismet) Her orders to put the laundry basket containing Falstaff out the window drew shock and laughter. A great scene. (Act Two, Scene Two)

Falstaff (Jose-Luis Maldonado) in laundry basket with Emily Skilling (Quickly) Left & Molly Burke Right.
Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

Mistress Quickly, Emily Skilling possessed a dark amaretto flavored voice. Her mezzo was the coating of a delectable sweet. She had a commanding presence, comedic skills and without outward advertising, the dark undertone of a sad song not released. A real find! Her prancing with her female Falstaff fellow “victims” made for much laughter. She is born for the stage and opera is lucky to have her. Her “reverenza” was beguiling fun like sprinkles on a sundae!

Nina Mutalifu ( Alice); Maria Brea (in back) Nanetta; Emily Skilling ( Quickly); Molly Burke, (Meg Page).
Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

Nannetta was sung by soprano Maria Brea. Her sweetly sung duets with Fenton were vibrant and her aria in the woods as Queen of the Fairies was enchanting. Ms. Brea’s voice and most ingratiating stage presence are very praiseworthy. I see Ms. Brea is doing a myriad of operas with more dramatic potential. Nannetta is a lovely start to a promising career. Her magical singing of “Sul fil d’un soffio etesio” still echoes in memory.

Fairies In the Forest with Falstaff on Ground.
Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

Te Yu Huang was a pleasing Fenton. I have a recording from the Met broadcasts with the immortal Leonard Warren as Falstaff, the inimitable, Licia Albanese as Nannetta and the Sicilian tenor Giuseppe Di Stefano as a flawless robust Fenton. Mr. Huang excelled in duet and solo. “Dal labbro il canto” was abundant with sweetness and charm and “Torno all’assolto” where they briefly blend in ecstatic love was pure sunshine.

Gerardo de la Torre was Ford. He was truly a Rolls Royce among Fords. Señor de la Torre possessed a robust, vibrant and warm baritone that also had range and flexibility. His rage in “E sogno? o realtà….” was contagious. We all felt his jealousy and were swept into the whirling passion of this great aria.

In 1925 at The Metropolitan Opera House, a young American baritone, Lawrence Tibbett was Ford to the legendary baritone Antonio Scotti’s Falstaff. Tibbett got such an overwhelming reaction from the audience that he became a star overnight and Scotti watched his future Fords to protect his career. When Tibbett later sang the role of Falstaff he too, did not want to be overwhelmed by another Ford. Fortunately Tibbett’s recording of Ford’s aria is available. Lawrence Tibbett was a great Met Opera star, also of concert, radio, film and I saw him as the immortal Ezio Pinza’s replacement in Fanny on Broadway circa 1956. There are recordings by Antonio Scotti, (L’onore! Ladri!) and the original Falstaff (Quand’ero paggio) French artist bass baritone Victor Maurel (1848-1923) so just listen and marvel!

Matthew Greenberg was the adroit InnKeeper and Akari Wientzen just entered the world of Verdi as a page/messenger and she will find many wonders there.

Falstaff was accorded many cheers and bravos by this audience at the Danny Kaye (and his wife Sylvia Fine Kaye) Playhouse, two outstanding Brooklynites who I am certain looked down from Comedy Heaven and smiled to see Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff so brilliantly performed. The sets with the use of a film projection were remarkable and really gave us the feel of the late 14th century Windsor English countryside.

It was so nice to see the founder of the feast, glorious soprano Martina Arroyo smiling broadly with the knowledge that Giuseppe Verdi led the applause from the heavens and that the future is ensured by such a splendid summertime evening of Verdi. Ms. Arroyo remembers going to Ebbets Field to see the Dodgers with her father Demetrio, who was a supervisor at the Brooklyn Navy Yard which helped pay for her voice lessons. President Obama honored Mme. Martina Arroyo a few years ago at the Kennedy Center.

Special praise to Maestro Richard Cordova whose vital and vibrant conducting brought out all of the delicious flavors from this rich and subtle score with its joyous fortissimo finales. The grand fugue at the finale was brilliantly performed, ending with Sir John Falstaff’s “Tutto nel mondo è burla” (All the world is a joke).

Molly Burke, Emily Skilling, Gerardo de la Torre, Nina Mutalifu, Maestro Richard Cordova, José Luis Maldonado, Maria Brea, Te Yu Huang, and John Kim Photo by Meche Kroop from “Voce di Meche”

Charles R. Caine’s costumes were glorious, especially Falstaff’s courting outfits. Prelude to Performance acknowledged the special efforts of A.T. Jones and sons in providing the beautiful and elaborate costumes for both Falstaff and Don Pasquale this season, with special thanks to Ehrich Goebel and Mary Bova for their exceptional work. Ian Campbell’s wonderful stage direction, Steven Horak’s wig and make up design and Sergio Stefani was the extraordinary Italian coach. The sets and film projections (Dante Olivia Smith) were colorful and magical. Lisa Jablow gave us superb supertitles, readable and witty by Cori Ellison. Noby Ishida was the chorus contractor and countless others who labored to make us smile.

Metropolitan Opera Verdi baritone Mark Rucker (Administrative Director of Prelude to Performance) who was an excellent Ford in his ongoing career and his wife Sadie Rucker, pianist accompanist and publicist, oversees the Prelude to Performance and they truly are the ones who make this garden bloom and grow along with the divine Martina Arroyo as “the bridge to all.” Mark’s beloved parents Dolarita and Olney K. Rucker, were honored in the program “and all parents who help young artists realize their dreams,” as the theme. Mark and Sadie Rucker have recently joined the vocal and music faculty at Michigan State University.

It was nice to see Nimet Habachi (WQXR radio), Channel 13 spokeswoman and special board member Midge Woolsey and economist Dr. Jerry Stolt, renowned filmmaker August Ventura 27-The Verdi Club, legendary Maestro Eve Queler, and from Opera Index: Met mezzo Jane Shaulis, Joseph Gasperec, composer Philip Hagemann, Murray Rosenthal and William Goodhue; Ken Benson, career maker from Columbia Artists Management, Brooklyn’s Greg Trupiano from the Sarasota Opera who is a Walt Whitman lecturer of renown, Deborah Surdi, active with the Martina Arroyo Foundation and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Edna Greenwich and Dwayne Owsley from Opera Exposures, Susan Stout French diction coach and husband lawyer Arthur (Trace) Stout, the effervescent Meche Kroop, opera reviewer and chef, the talented soprano Patricia Kadvan from The New York Grand Opera brought back summer memories in Central Park with the late, sorely missed Maestro Vincent La Selva and the New York Grand Opera, Park Slope chorister and world traveler Janet Schoor was also among the revelers plus countless others whose support with endless enthusiasm make it all worthwhile. To “meet and greet” makes for great fun!

Bravo Falstaff, bravo Verdi and brava the indomitable Martina Arroyo, President and Artistic Director of Prelude to Performance and the magnificent awardee students. You gave us opera at its best! We look forward to young singers in Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter with your wonderful singing to inspire us and give us joy and thanks. We will tell President Stephen De Maio of the Gerda Lissner Foundation of the wonderful Falstaff and it will surely be shared by all.

We wish eminent conductor and music director Willie Anthony Waters a speedy recovery and look forward to him leading the 30 or so talented musicians again and soon. We miss his sublime talent and upbeat personality. A toast to Prelude to Performance next year!

What the great Verdi did for aging and indigent opera singers with his Casa di Riposo, providing free care, Martina Arroyo accomplished with a free stipend in her Prelude to Performance of six weeks awardee study for those young singers starting out who need such vital preparation.

Opera Legend Soprano Martina Arroyo.
Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

Verdi wrote to a friend, Giulio Monteverde in his last years, “Of all my works, that which pleases me most is the Casa that I have built in Milan to shelter elderly singers who have not been favored by fortune or who when they were young did not have the virtue of saving their money – poor and dear companions of my life.” Architect Camillo Boito, the brother of librettist for Otello and Falstaff Arrigo Boito, assisted Verdi in the building of the Casa. There is a touching and wonderful documentary about the Casa di Riposo (which was completed in 1899 and occupied after Verdi’s death in 1901) called “Tosca’s Kiss.” (1984). Martina Arroyo fulfills with her Prelude to Performance. We applaud the marvelous Falstaff and cast, the spirit of Verdi and the ongoing greatness of Martina Arroyo, legendary Verdi soprano and superb humanitarian.

The Regina Opera Presents a Dazzling Aida

On the afternoon of Saturday, May 12, Regina Opera, located in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, presented a dazzling Aida. This production of Aida was dedicated to the memory of Marie Cantoni, founder of the Regina Opera. This was truly a special afternoon. Aida has never been done before at the Regina. With its Grand March and “cast of thousands,” and history of outdoor stadium performances, it seemed an impossibility. Gifts from the Donald C. Brace Foundation and The Liu Foundation made this production possible.

Composed by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) for the opening of the Suez Canal in Egypt, its premiere on December 24th, 1871 included a libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni and was a major happening. It has been in the repertory of the world’s major opera houses and everyone is familiar with the Grand March. The music is pagan and magnificent, and is another Verdi masterpiece.

Music Director Maestro Gregory Ortega stepped to the podium and the magic began. We were in the King’s Palace in Memphis, Egypt. Radames, the Egyptian warrior chosen to battle Ethiopia, is in love with Aida, daughter of the enemy King Amonasro who was also captured by the Egyptians. Radames then sings “Celeste Aida” where he pledges his love for Aida. This iconic aria is one of the staples of opera. Tenor José Heredia was Radames. His singing of “Celesta Aida” was cautious and held back, then grew in strength. His final“Vicino al sol” was sung softly, diminished from the entrance of the note, which is the preferred way.

Aida (Carami Hilaire) & Radames (José Heredia). Photo by Colleen Smith.

Enrico Caruso was Radames with the MetOpera on tour in Brooklyn on January 17,1909 with Arturo Toscanini conducting at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Caruso belted the final “vicino al sol” in his 1911 recording and it was pure gold. Famed conductor Arturo Toscanini had Brooklyn tenor Richard Tucker sing it loudly, then repeat it softly. Franco Corelli reduced the final note to a whisper and Pavarotti also diminished the tone. Verdi might have preferred it diminished but I am a Caruso man and prefer it sung all out. I think most audiences prefer the “all out” version.

In the next scene I enjoyed Mr. Heredia’s full voiced “Immenso Ptah.” His scene with Amneris, “Già i sacerdoti adunansi” was sung with precision and power. His “Sacerdote, io resto a te” was sung with intense abandon. His “La fatal pietra” with Aida in the tomb was sung with ample lyricism and his “O terra addio” was a bittersweet blending of a struggling and sad-but-together finale. Mr. Heredia was a Radames with strong potential.

Left- Amneris (Lara Tillotson) with Adia (Carami Hilaire). Photo by Colleen Smith

For the Regina performance, Carami Hilaire was Aida, a solid Brooklynite with a remarkable soprano voice. In her scenes with Amonasro, she was torn with emotion but she could not abandon Radames or her beloved country. Ms. Hilaire sang “Ritorna vincitor” with passion, conviction and a hint of confusion of her backing her lover against her father. Ms. Hilaire has a strong voice and it goes with her equally strong acting ability. Her “O patria mia!” was sung with beauty of tone, passionate emotion, wonderful power, and tender softness, and was a strong example of Ms. Hilaire’s outstanding talent. Her joining Radames in the last act with “O terra addio” was sung with radiant abandon as they die together. Ms. Hilaire is a true daughter of Brooklyn and a true Verdi soprano. Her performance rates among the very best Aida’s I have ever seen.

Amneris was in the persona of mezzo soprano Lara Tillotson. Her first act triumphs and her fears are combined in a exciting frenzy. Amneris’ soul was revealed by her scenes with Aida, saying Radames was dead then that he was alive, to check Aida’s reactions. The emotions were enhanced by the excellent supertitles by Linda Cantoni. In the Judgment scene in Act 4, Amneris’ “A lui vivo, la tomba” was sung brilliantly and culminated with“Empia razza! Anatema su voi! La vendetta del ciel scenderà!” which was greeted by an ovation for its tremendous – beautifully sung and acted – imploding of Amneris.

Amneris (Lara Tillotson) fanned by her attendant (Kimberly Lloyd). Photo by Colleen Smith

Amonasro, Aida’s father was sung by Peter Hakjoon Kim, whose stellar stage presence and superb baritone moved the audience. His singing of “Ma tu, Re, tu signore possente” in Act 2 was eloquent and elegant. Kim’s strong fearless and pliable baritone is truly a Verdi baritone and has beauty, passion and something more. His scene with Aida where he threatens to”disown” her was truly powerful.

Aida (Carami Hilaire) & father Amonasro, King of Ethiopia (Peter Hakjoon Kim). Photo by Colleen Smith

The King of Egypt was sung by Peter Ludwig. His robust basso was authoritative inSalvator della patria, io te saluto” and “Or di vulcano al tempio” in which he was joined by the excellent Regina Chorus.

King of Egypt (Peter Ludwig). Photo by Steven Pisano

Ramfis, the High Priest was sung by basso Hyong Sik Jo in a clear and regal manner. Mr. Jo does not possess the “dark” tones of a Ramfis. He did very well in the immense Ptah duet with Radames and in other scenes where his voice “took charge.”

Hyong Sik Jo as Ramfis. Photo by Colleen Smith

Justin Scott Randolph was the Messenger. His fine powerful tenor has a future in larger roles.

Aida Carducci was a splendid high Priestess. Her shimmering powerful soprano took over and made one listen.

Maestro Gregory Ortega led us in a lyrical and powerful performance. The Grand March was triumphantly performed and the “O terra addio” had heavenly qualities to it. This was a truly memorable performance from the 36 splendid musicians. Christopher Joyal deserves plaudits for the strings, which were magnificent. It was nice to see violinist Diana Barkan. Kudos to Jerome Neuhoff on the tympani. The woodwinds, brass, trumpets and horns were stirring and majestic. Bravi tutti!

Radames (José Heredia) & Aida (Carami Hilaire) sealed in the tomb. Photo by Colleen Smith

The Chorus had much to do in the Grand March and the group included chorister Cathy Greco who is truly a good luck sign amidst the various Egyptian codes. The costumes were the magnificent creations of Marcia Kresge and Tamara Belgrave. The sparkling gold dazzled the eyes and haunted the memory.

Egyptian captive in brown (Sean Murphy)
Egyptian Guard in white (Edwardo Brito).
Photo by Colleen Smith

Stage director and set design was the result of the superb incomparable Linda Lehr. The “wrestling scene” with Edwardo Brito and Sean Murphy in lieu of a spectacular march was very diverting. Wayne Olsen’s brilliant Egyptian graphic design was truly magical.

Dancer Wendy Chu, surrounded by the Egyptian priests. Photo by Colleen Smith

The excellent dancers were Wendy Chu and Kelly Vaghenas. They danced gracefully and were ethereal in their movements.

A dancer entertains Amneris (Lara Tillotson).
Photo by Colleen Smith

It was so nice to meet and greet in the audience, which included the affable bass-baritone Charles Samuel Brown, who was King Balthazaar in Amahl and the Night Visitors at the Church of the Transfiguration (aka The Little Church Around the Corner) in New York City with my grandson Luciano as Amahl. My son Marcello, his wife Tanya, and my grandson and granddaughter Luciano and Leeza enjoyed the Aida with friends Olga and her son Ilia and daughter Nicole and friend Svetlana. They will all be future Regina Opera goers.

Thanks to Francine Garber, President; Linda Cantoni and Maestro Alex Guzman, Vice Presidents; Joe Delfausse, Treasurer; and volunteer Marlene Ventimiglia. This incredible production took us “out of the commonplace and into the rare.” The Regina Opera really makes one feel welcome.

Aida Cast. Photo by Marcello Pantano

After the opera, we went for a delicious Mexican dinner at nearby Casa Vieja, where Lourdes Peña and staff treat us and our guests royally. Sunset Park is rising high among Brooklyn neighborhoods, thanks to the Regina Opera and such restaurants as Casa Vieja. A sangria toast to The Regina Opera!

Here’s to the upcoming 49th glorious season! Marie Cantoni’s creation is so vital to New York. This magnificent Aida would have made her and her new friend Giuseppe Verdi very happy indeed!