The Gerda Lissner Foundation Presents 2016 Lieder/Song Vocal Competition Winners Concert

The Kosciuszko Founation was the venue for The Gerda Lissner Foundation 2016 Lieder/Song Vocal Competition Winners Concert on the evening of Friday, November 4th at 15 East 65th Street in New York City. Stephen De Maio, President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation introduced his board members: Michael Fornabaio, Vice President and Treasurer, the effervescent Cornelia Beigel, Secretary, Karl Michaelis, Trustee and Barbara Ann Testa Trustee. Mr. De Maio singled out many guests in the audience including Jane Shaulis, Met mezzo and President of Opera Index, Joseph Gasperec, Executive Director, Jane Marsh, soprano and lecturer, Scott Carlton from the Wagner Society, Gloria Gari from the Giulio Gari Foundation, Brian Hunter from the Musicians Club of New York, famed illustrator Gregory Downer and Alfred and Christine Palladino from the Columbus Citizens Foundation.

Pianist Arlene Shrut, Host Midge Woolsey, Singers: Erik Van Heyningen, Cody Quattlebaum, Gerda Lissner President Stephen De Maio, Angela Vallone, Anthony Schneider, Miles Mykkanen, Felicia Moore, Dennis Chmelensky, Heather Stebbins, Samantha Hankey. Photo by Judy Pantano

Pianist Arlene Shrut, Host Midge Woolsey, Singers: Erik Van Heyningen, Cody Quattlebaum, Gerda Lissner President Stephen De Maio, Angela Vallone, Anthony Schneider, Miles Mykkanen, Felicia Moore, Dennis Chmelensky, Heather Stebbins, Samantha Hankey. Photo by Judy Pantano

Hosting this special event was Midge Woolsey, whose speaking voice was a familiar presence on WQXR radio for 20 years and whose charm and persona warmed the heart and hearth on Channel 13 as well. When Steve De Maio introduced Ms. Woolsey and her lengthy credentials, she said it was easy to leave all that, having met and married her husband, economist Dr. Jerry Stolt. The tie in? LOVE as found in the song cycle of the evening. Cole Porter said it all in “Easy to love, all others above!” True love has its strong points but love unfulfilled is another story. Midge Woolsey answered that rhetorical question, “If not she, who would she be?” The answer – Arlene Shrut! our splendid accompanist because making heavenly music is a joyous thing to do.

The evening began with Cody Quattlebaum singing “Der Atlas” by Franz Schubert. Mr. Quattlebaum’s dark bass- baritone plumbed the depth of each word reaching levels of fury and dismay and one could hear in his cavernous sound, Amonasro and Wotan. Love is angst and this case the weight of the world was on his shoulders. Atlas did not shrug but he did carry on quite a bit!

Kelsey Lauritano sang “Var det en Drom?” (Once I was your hearts true love) by Jean Sibelius. Her shimmering mezzo was like a lonely fjord, solitary and saddened. Sibelius, a loner, shared his feelings in this brief but telling piece. Ms. Lauritano ably created the mood.

Amanda L. Bottoms sang “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” by Gustav Mahler. Mahler’s wife Alma gave him a very difficult time with her liaisons but he loved her deeply despite all. Who better than he to write of love’s pain? Ms. Bottoms has a warm rich powerful mezzo and I thought Marian Anderson redux. She seemed to be a force of nature, a majestic sound and presence. A future Amneris?

Heather Stebbins sang” Unbewegte laue Luft” by Johannes Brahms, her vibrant  soprano shimmering like a cascading brook. Ms. Stebbins has a strong affinity toward the Wagnerian and that special refreshing sound. The real deal!

Miles Mykkanen sang “Nous avons fait la nuit” by Francis Poulenc with good breath control, sweetness and a nice dark edge to his tenor voice making love’s pining pleasant to hear.

Felicia Moore sang “La Chevelure” from Chanson’s De Bilitis by Claude Debussy. “I was stroking your hair but it was my own.” Ms. Moore’s soprano has sensuality, vitality, some good floated tones and a hint of Verdi down the road.

Midge Woolsey, Amanda Bottoms, Kelsey Lauritano Cody Quattlebaum Photo by Judy Pantano

Midge Woolsey, Amanda Bottoms, Kelsey Lauritano, Cody Quattlebaum. Photo by Judy Pantano

Part two of this somewhat bumpy road of love began with another “dark” voice, Anthony Schneider, bass. “Svarta Rosor” (Black Roses) by Jean Sibelius. In this brief but distraught song, Anthony Schneider revealed a cavernous sound and the music and feel of the piece evoked The Flying Dutchman in its angst and pain.

Samantha Hankey used her haunting mezzo to capture the essence of Franz Liszt in “Der Du von dem Himmel bist.” Her dark hued, even and powerful voice with its well placed and paced vowels indicated that her training at Julliard paid big dividends for her!

Dennis Chmelensky  sang “Der Neugierige” by Franz Schubert in a fervent baritone. He was relaxed and focused despite a long train ride from Philadelphia. He has a plangent and strong focus and evoked memories of the charming and youthful Met baritone Theodor Uppman.

Angela Vallone, who recently sang in Cavallis’ “La Callisto” sang “Flickan kom ifran sin alsklings mote” by Jean Sibelius. Ms. Vallone’s vocal placement had that special mask sound and her vocal cascades and ascensions were thrilling giving one goosebumps. Ms. Vallone’s unique and pleasing timbre will make her a specialist of rare operas as well as standard repertory. Sibelius music such as “Valse triste” can evoke great sadness and loneliness. Ms. Vallone truly tore at the heartstrings.

Lastly Erik Van Heyningen sang “Der Doppelganger” by Franz Schubert with youthful zest and charm. His dark edged bass baritone has a natural courageous and peerless sound. His upper and lower registers were effortless and his projection impressive.

The reception afterwards allowed one and all to meet and greet the singers and friends.The message of love and its consequences is an old one! The agony and the ecstasy has not changed. We thank the Gerda Lissner Foundation in collaboration with the Liederkranz Foundation for this lovely evening of lieder, showing love’s ups and downs. The delicious reception afterward was presented by Philipp Haberbauer, General Manager of The Liederkranz Foundation.

Arlene Shrut, Midge Woolsey, Anthony Schneider, Heather Stebbins, Felicia Moore, Samantha Hankey Miles Mykkanen Photo by Judy Pantano

Arlene Shrut, Midge Woolsey, Anthony Schneider, Heather Stebbins, Felicia Moore, Samantha Hankey, Miles Mykkanen. Photo by Judy Pantano

In Sicily they call it “the thunderbolt”- when one suddenly meets one’s soul mate. It might be noted that the great Danish American Wagnerian tenor Lauritz Melchior (1890-1973) made some MGM musicals in Hollywood and sang “Easy to Love.” He met his beloved “Kleinchen” when she, attending parachute school in Germany, fell into his arms from the sky in his back garden! Melchior 6 ft 4 inches of joviality, married his Kleinchen, a petite 5 footer and they lived “happily ever after.”

As a veteran of marital bliss, sturm and drang (50) years I can attest to that! As Cole Porter so ably put it,in Kiss me Kate “So taunt me and hurt me deceive me, desert me I’m yours till I die, so in love, so in love, so in love with you my love, am I!”

 

Classic Lyric Arts Celebrates Fall Benefit Gala

On the warm, breezy night of Thursday, November 3rd, Glenn Morton, Artistic Director of Classic Lyric Arts greeted the enthusiastic audience who gathered in the elegant townhouse that is the Kosciuszko Foundation located at 15 East 65th Street in New York City. The scholarships involve the art of French and Italian singing and studies in both countries.

Glenn Morton, Artistic Director of Classic Lyric Arts with singers & pianists. Photo by Ashley Chui from Jullitan Productions

Glenn Morton, Artistic Director of Classic Lyric Arts with singers & pianists.
Photo by Ashley Chui from Jullitan Productions

Mr. Morton spoke eloquently of the need for music and those magical moments frozen in time of hearing and viewing great singers as “a movable feast” like Hemingway or like Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud”(Daffodils), that live forever in heart and memory. This is the fifth year of these soirees and the selections offered us a bouquet of cherished and unforgettable moments.

The first was “Alla bella Despinetta” from Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte sung in perfect ensemble by soprano Angela Joy Lamb as Fiordiligi, mezzo Maria Miller as Dorabella, soprano Michelle Geffner as Despina, John Haney, tenor as Ferrando, Xiaoxiao Cheng, baritone as Guglielmo and baritone, Andrew Jurden as Don Alfonso accompanied by Brianna Han on the piano.The men appear in disguise, each in an attempt to seduce the others fiancee. The witty libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte was brought to the fore by the youthful, comedic flair and vocal expertise of the singers. It was a perfect blend.

Soubrette mezzo Zoey Preston regaled us with “A quel diner je viens de faire” from Offenbach’s Le Perichole. Sung with a saucy and tipsy mein, Ms. Preston’s sweet and flexible mezzo caressed the ear and her humor the funny bone! Michael Stewart was the able accompanist.

Labbra di foco, from Verdi’s late masterpiece Falstaff followed. Soprano Hee So Son was Nannetta and tenor Joey Haney as her lover Fenton. Ms. Son’s vibrant lyric flights were a perfect blend for Joey Haney’s sweet and ardent tenor and their few stolen moments together were rhapsodic. Michael Sheetz was their fleet fingered accompanist.

Vera Kremers sang “La paix du cloitre” from Gismonda by Fevrier in a cavernous mezzo at once gripping and sensuous. One heard a Wagnerian soprano in the mix of her voluptuous and generous outpourings. Gismonda, widow, has entered a convent but without conventional (pun) wisdom-still has desire. Michael Stewart, the pianist brought out the conflict of her sacred-profane quandary.

“Un di se ben rammentomi” (Rigoletto Quartet) by Verdi was given a stellar performance by tenor Fanyong Du as the Duke singing with ringing tones, pleasing quality and fearless elan, soprano Elizabeth Perez was a flawless Gilda with a Galli-Curci high note at the finale but tapered beautifully, robust baritone Xiaoxiao Cheng a strong Rigoletto and mezzo, Maria Miller, a sultry alluring Maddalena. Michael Sheetz agility on the piano was like hearing a full orchestra!

Massenet’s Manon “N’est-ce plus ma main” followed featuring as guest performer, famed French tenor Stephane Senechal, who is co-artistic director of L’ Art du Chant Francais and seductive soprano Mikaela Bennett. Chevalier Des Grieux is now a priest and Manon wants to lure him back from a man of the cloth to one under the sheets. The ensuing duet is loaded with passionate outbursts and emotion and Des Grieux cannot resist loving Manon once again. Monsieur Senechal has a tenor voice of steel and grit coupled with beauty and grace and Ms. Bennett matched him with her soaring and beguiling soprano. This was a duet of searing intensity sung by two performers in their prime, resulting in moments to remember forever. Michael Stewart’s powerhouse accompaniment was vital!

Soprano Mikaela Bennett & tenor Stephane Senechal from L'Art du Chant Francais. Photo by Ashley Chui from Jullitan Productions

Soprano Mikaela Bennett & tenor Stephane Senechal from L’Art du Chant Francais. Photo by Ashley Chui from Jullitan Productions

In the MGM film Maytime 1935 (Jeanette MacDonald & Nelson Eddy) Miss MacDonald is heard singing “Les filles de Cadix” by Delibes for Emperor Louis Napoleon. It was with great pleasure to relive that moment hearing it sung by Vivian Yau. Michael Stewart accompanied her to the sprightly bolero rhythm. Ms. Yao’s vibrant soprano with its lyrical insouciance and coloratura agility was a fine showcase for this rare gem!

Glenn Morton, who is planning a full concert to celebrate the centennial of composer Paolo Tosti, introduced special guest Donata D’Annunzio Lombardi related to Gabriele D’Annunzio, the great Italian poet. She sang a touching Tosti song “Vorrei morire”. (“I would want to die in springtime when the air is warm and the sky serene, when the earth is covered with flowers, the swallows build their nests and with the dying day”).

Singer Donata D'Annunzio Lombardi at CLA La Lingua della Lirica & CLA Artistic Director/pianist Glenn Morton. Photo by Ashley Chui from Jullitan Productions

Singer Donata D’Annunzio Lombardi at CLA La Lingua della Lirica & CLA Artistic Director/pianist Glenn Morton.
Photo by Ashley Chui from Jullitan Productions

Ms. Lombardi sang the song with fervor, wistfulness, sublime pianissimo and beautiful melancholy. Giuseppe De Stefano and Luciano Pavarotti recorded this song and the immortal tenor Enrico Caruso recorded many Tosti songs among them “A Vuchella” in 1919. Glenn Morton accompanied her with tenderness and veneration. Ms. D’Annunzio Lombardi is a master class teacher at CLA La Lingua della Lirica.

“Te souvient-il du lumineaux voyage” from Massenet’s Thais was sung by Angela Joy Lamb, soprano and baritone Fernando Cisneros. As the dying Thais, Ms. Lamb sang with the fierceness of a lioness with power and pathos. Mr. Cisneros as Athanael, evoked memories of the great Italian and Spanish baritones of the past with his dark vibrant penetrating sound and Gino Bechi comes to mind. Thais decides to die as a nun but Athanael the monk reveals his too long repressed passion for her. The Garden of Paradise is too often “a lust garden.”

The final offering was “Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso” from Puccini’s bittersweet operetta La Rondine. It featured sparkling soprano Yeon Jung Lee as Magda, Elizabeth Perez, saucy soprano as Lisette, Sungwook Kim tenor, a robust Ruggero and lyric tenor John Haney as a sentimental Prunier. All sang in flawless ensemble brilliantly accompanied by Laetitia Ruccolo, pianist and conducted by Michael Sheetz and all were participants of Classic Lyric Arts in Italy 2016.

John Hunter, Vice President & Board Chairman of Classic Lyric Arts.     Photo by Ashley Chui from Jullitan Productions

John Hunter, Vice President & Board Chairman of Classic Lyric Arts.
Photo by Ashley Chui from Jullitan Productions

Board member John Hunter was there with his wife Dolores and gave a talk “from a parents perspective” on the joys of parenting a child with musical talent and the importance of mentoring and exposure to ensure success.

The reception enabled us to “meet and greet” friends and the young artists who gave us a night to remember. To quote William Wordsworth, “and then my heart with pleasure fills and dances with the daffodils!”

Thank you Glenn Morton and Classic Lyric Arts and bravo to all!

 

 

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

On the evening of Friday, October 28th, The Columbus Citizens Foundation located at 8 East 69th Street was the venue for Opera Night Live! hosted by Stephen De Maio with a special presentation by Lou Barrella. These fabulous evenings were begun by the late Dr. Frank Celenzia. The torch has been passed to Stephen De Maio, Gerda Lissner President, who has brilliantly hosted these special evenings of opera dinners for the last several years.

Steve De Maio, Matthew Ciufitelli, Maria Natale Mary Pinto & Fanyong Du Photo by Judy Pantano

Steve De Maio, Matthew Ciufitelli, Maria Natale
Mary Pinto & Fanyong Du Photo by Judy Pantano

At the concert were three young promising singers: Maria Natale soprano, Fanyong Du tenor and Matthew Ciufitelli baritone, all accompanied by talented pianist and vocal coach Mary Pinto.

Mr. Ciufitelli was recently featured  in The NY Post because he was hired by Mick Jagger to be a temporary “back up” singer. Ciufitelli sang “Bella Siccome un Angelo” from Don Pasquale by Donizetti with a mellow and expressive baritone that easily negotiated the Bel Canto style of florid and heartfelt singing.

Soprano Maria Natale, fresh with California sunshine, in a stunning red dress, sang “Ah, fors e lui” and Sempre libera from La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi. Ms. Natale is the possessor of a radiant soprano voice and sailed through the pyrotechnics of this showpiece aria nailing the high note with dazzling ease!

Fanyong Du tenor, was a promising ice skater in China. He was told to switch careers and sing after a judge chanced to hear him. This evening Mr. Du sang “Je crois entendre” from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers. A voice lyric but penetrating with a silvery quality, beautiful legato and fine breath control. His tapered notes were magical.

The operatic portion over, Mr. De Maio requested “lighter” fare. Matthew Ciufitelli and Maria Natale sang a touching “If I loved you” from Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel and the charming and witty “Watch song” from Johann Strauss Die Fledermaus with Ciufitelli beguiling the Hungarian princess with his wrist watch.

Ken Benson & Philip Hagemann. Photo by Judy Pantano

Ken Benson & Philip Hagemann.
Photo by Judy Pantano

Fonyong Du joined the merriment in a sprightly “Shall We Dance” from Rogers and Hammerstein’s The King and I with Maria Natale and they danced and sang enchantingly. (No ice skating) Mr. Du did one more encore, a thrilling “A te o Cara” from Bellini’s I Puritani with a stunning high D. His voice brilliantly caressing this Bellini Bel Canto masterpiece, infusing it with gorgeous diminuendos and ravishing beauty.

Steve De Maio introduced famed Brooklyn born soprano Elaine Malbin and opera manager Ken Benson also from Brooklyn sitting next to Barbara Ann Testa, soprano and judge from the Gerda Lissner Foundation. Cavaliere Edward Jackson poet and scholar, photographer Anita Sanseverino and pianist Alba Mazza both well known to the Brooklyn cultural community were part of a captivated audience.

Barbara Ann Testa, Elaine Malbin & Nino Pantano. Photo by Judy Pantano

Barbara Ann Testa, Elaine Malbin & Nino Pantano.
Photo by Judy Pantano

General Manager John Boden prepared a sumptuous repast of Ravioli pomodoro and basil, Osso Buco with risotto (or Filet of sole) with excellent wines to compliment the evening.

A special video presentation was given by educator/lecturer Lou Barrella born and raised in Brooklyn. Mr. Barrella gave brief presentations honoring former Met tenor Giulio Gari, famous worldwide Met soprano Elinor Ross and soprano Teresa Apolei. All three (Includng Gloria Gari) are judges for the various opera auditions. Despite a cold, Lou Barrella gave a very well documented tribute.

The renowned tenor Giulio Gari (1909-1994) sang at New York City Opera from 1945-1953 and at the Metropolitan Opera from 1953 -1961. His pure powerful tenor and personality made him a favorite of critics and audience alike. His many vocal students adored him. Mr. Barrella showed rare video of Gari singing with soprano Lucia Evangelista in La Traviata. His video of “Celeste Aida” showed a tenor voice radiant and in its prime. Giulio Gari’s widow Gloria and a group from the Giulio Gari Foundation were present for this tribute. Gari was also a beloved vocal coach and the Giulio Gari Foundation headed by his widow Gloria continues his goals to assist young and promising opera singers in their careers. Steve De Maio is Artistic Adviser to the Giulio Gari Foundation.

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Gloria Gari, Elinor Ross, Teresa Apolei & Lou Barrella. Photo by Ross Lewis

Next was the legendary Elinor Ross, from Tampa, Florida who had both a brilliant career in Europe and in the United States. Her dramatic soprano made her a great Norma, Aida, Leonora, Turandot and Tosca. Clips were shown of Elinor Ross with Mario Del Monaco in Norma. We heard her magical Pace, pace, from La Forza Del Destino and others. When Elinor Ross replaced an indisposed Birgit Nilsson as the Empress in Turandot at the Met, (1970-1979) the ovations were ecstatic! Then in an interview, Ms. Ross told how one morning she woke up with her face half paralyzed from bell’s palsy. Suddenly her career ended. Years later (1996) at a Giulio Gari Gala, she performed again singing a brilliant “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess – a heroic, one time emergence. Ms. Ross, looking radiant, acknowledged the applause with her proud son illustrator designer Ross Lewis looking on.

The third honoree was the celebrated lyrico-spinto soprano from New Jersey, Teresa Apolei. Ms. Apolei is an American soprano who returned to our shores after a 15 year career in Italy  and Central America  in all the major opera houses. Ms. Apolei sang Santuzza (250 performances) in Cavalleria Rusticana and appeared in it with the great Brooklyn born tenor Richard Tucker in Philadelphia and also in Aida to Tucker’s Radames.  Ms. Apolei recalled a Tosca so intense that she actually cut through Scarpia’s outfit in the stabbing scene.  In Europe, she sang with opera tenor legends Ferruccio Tagliavini, Beniamino Gigli, Mario del Monaco and baritone Gino Bechi. She credited her parents and public school teachers for her illustrious career.

Mr. Barrella then presented each honoree, Gloria Gari, Elinor Ross and and Teresa Apolei with a special bouquet to resounding applause.

After that, we had  desserts consisting of  Italian cheesecake, cookies and fruit. It was a joy to chat with the singers and get the pulse of their studies, accomplishments and aspirations. It was nice to see Murray Rosenthal treasurer of Opera Index, composer Philip Hagemann Vice President and Tamie Laurance and Joyce Greenberg from the Giulio Gari Foundation.

We thank Steve De Maio, Lou Barrella and Anthony Carrera from The Board of Directors of the Columbus Citizens Foundation and General Manager John Boden and the singers for sharing their prodigious talent. It was an unforgettable evening of food and song. It provided us with the visceral thrill of hearing and seeing these talented performers on the cusp of a very bright future!

 

 

The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation Celebrates 42nd Annual International Vocal Competition

L-R Sachi Liebergesell, Joseph & Maria Gimma Denise Goben & tenor Ricardo Tamura. Photo by Judy Pantano

L-R Sachi Liebergesell, Joseph & Maria Gimma
Denise Goben & tenor Ricardo Tamura.
Photo by Judy Pantano

On the afternoon of Sunday, October 23rd, The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation celebrated its 42nd anniversary with a concert at Rose Hall in the Time Warner Building and presented its awardees.This annual event is looked forward to with great anticipation by opera lovers and has grown into a “must be there” event. The legendary soprano Licia Albanese (1909-2014) gave it life and led the “Star Spangled Banner” until her 104th year. 

Sachi Liebergesell, President and Brian O’Connor Esq., Vice President of the foundation, made the opening remarks. Ms. Liebergesell was honored for her eight years at the helm and given one of Mme. Albanese’s Madame Butterfly costumes as a special surprise gift.The stage had the kimono on display as well as portraits of the late patrons Helen LaSala and famed restaurateurs Francesco and Mary (Anzalone) Giambelli who was born in Brooklyn. A poster showing film star Marta Eggerth was also on display. Stephen De Maio, Administrative and Artistic Director was truly “monarch of all he surveyed.”

Nino Pantano, Stephen De Maio & Eva De La O. Photo by Judy Pantano

Nino Pantano, Stephen De Maio & Eva De La O.
Photo by Judy Pantano

Past winners who have achieved success at the Metropolitan Opera (Met) and world stages were presented with distinguished achievement awards. First was to acclaimed tenor Bryan Hymel, who spoke of Licia Albanese’s impact on his career, soprano Ailyn Perez who sang a haunting “Lumille Ancella” from Adriana Lecouvreur, soprano Nadine Sierra who captivated us with an ethereal and enchanting “O Mio Babbino Caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Mariana Zvetkova who thrilled us with “Keim liche Aufforderung” by Richard Strauss.The lifetime achievement award was presented to soprano Lauren Flanigan whose roles with the New York City Opera (NYCO) and the Met were riveting. Ms. Flanigan enthralled us with a bloodcurdling “La luce langue” from Verdi’s Macbeth!
Soprano Lauren Flanigan, Brian Kellow Photo by Judy Pantano

Soprano Lauren Flanigan, Brian Kellow.
Photo by Judy Pantano

Met tenor Ricardo Tamura who flew in from Germany for this occasion with his charming wife Dagmar, told the audience how Licia Albanese heard him sing when he was ready for a career as a scientist. She encouraged him to go all out for a singing career instead. Despite a cold, he had to attend this special event to honor Licia Albanese. Tamura then sang a brilliant “E lucevan le stelle” from Puccini’s Tosca with sublime fortissimos and breathtaking diminuendos and received an ovation.
 
Our special host for the gala was the erudite Brian Kellow, who wrote a beautiful obituary for soprano Patrice Munsel in the November issue of Opera News. Ms. Munsel preceded Brian as the lively host for the Albanese-Puccini galas.
Marjan & Jane Kiepura. Photo by Judy Pantano

Marjan & Jane Kiepura. Photo by Judy Pantano

With the pianistic wizardry of Arlene Shrut and Jonathan Kelly accompanying the singers, the program began.

Kidon Choi used his mellifluous baritone in “O, Mariya, Mariya” from Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa. His vibrant, resonant baritone captured the Russian melancholy to the core, from beautiful top to burnished bottom.
 
Maria Natale’s soaring and lovely soprano and Alexander McKissick’s sturdy tenor transformed us to that garret in Paris in “O soave fanciulla” from Puccini’s La Boheme with soprano sparkle and tenorial triumph. Their final high notes took us “into the rare” on a stairway to paradise. Ah! young love!
 
Mozart’s Don Giovanni was next with the duet “La ci darem la mano” sung by Mia Pafumi and Pawel Konik. Ms. Pafumi’s caressing soprano and Mr. Konik’s beguiling basso made for a saucy and savory blend. 
 
“Eri tu” from Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera was sung with smooth legato and strong pathos by baritone Norman Garrett. His finale was ardent and touching and in the Verdi baritone manner.
“Je crois entendre encore” from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers was splendidly sung by Fanyong Du whose dulcet penetrating tenor evoked the style of Nicolai Gedda. Enrico Caruso’s haunting version of this aria was used on the sound track for Woody Allen’s film Match Point.
 
More exotic fare followed with the popular duet “Sous le dome epais” from Delibe’s Lakme. Soprano Amber Daniel and mezzo Samantha Hankey blended as one, their voices rising and falling and fading from the ear as if produced by a golden harp.
Top Left Cesare Santaramo, Michael Lahr & Joseph Gimma Bottom Left Joseph Gasperec, Gregorij von Leitis, Dr. Robert Campbell & Lewis B. Cullen. Photo by Judy Pantano

Top Left: Cesare Santaramo, Michael Lahr & Joseph Gimma
Bottom Left: Joseph Gasperec, Gregorij von Leitis,
Dr. Robert Campbell & Lewis B. Cullen.
Photo by Judy Pantano

Jared Bybee sing an old favorite, “Vision Fugitive” from Herodiade by Massenet. Mr. Bybee has a rich expansive baritone, perfect for this aria, which I recall sung by Igor Gorin from the Voice of Firestone many years ago. Mr. Bybee sang beautifully making me relive some lovely memories!
 
Tracy Cantin used her clear, powerful and sumptuous soprano in “Che il bel sogno di Doretta” from Puccini’s Le Rondine. This role suits her voice like a velvet glove! Cantin and Puccini are a perfect fit!
 
Australian tenor Alasdair Kent captivated us with “Fantaisie aux divins mensonges” from Lakme. His technique is as natural as that of a songbird, rhapsodic and superb with a sudden pianissimo ascent to a high C at the finale. It made me think of the great tenor John McCormack. 
 
Andre Courville sang “Air du tambour major” from Le Cid by Thomas.This popular aria whose recordings by Pol Plancon and Ezio Pinza merit re-listening was brilliantly sung. Mr. Courville captured the bravado, swagger and braggadocio of the foot stomping piece, coupled with scales, ascents and descents. Courville made the adrenaline flow!
First prizewinner Karen Barraza sang “Tu che di gel sei cinta” from Puccini’s Turandot. The death of Liu was the last music Puccini wrote before he himself passed away. Ms. Barraza’s soaring soprano was even and powerful, yet tapered and delicate. She achieved the essence of the poignant pleas of the slave girl who dies for her master.
 
The top awardee, Vanessa Vasquez concluded the concert with “Un bel di” from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Ms. Vasquez used her lyric soprano with balance and inner focusing as if we were reading her thoughts. Ms. Vasquez  generous and ample soprano enveloped the audience. 
 
All these young and gifted singers sang from the heart and made every word matter, following the sage advice from the great Licia Albanese. We are all the recipients of her legacy!
 2016 Winners of the International Vocal Competition. Photo by Don Pollard


2016 Winners of the International Vocal Competition. Photo by Don Pollard

Several hundred of the audience walked over to the New York Athletic Club a block away to attend the glittering star studded dinner and celebration. We sat at the table of Stephen De Maio, who also serves as President of the generous Gerda Lissner Foundation. While “table hopping” we were happy to greet Cornelia “Conny” Beigel, Secretary of the Gerda Lissner Foundation, Joseph and Maria Gimma, son and daughter-in-law of Licia Albanese and Father John Kamas from St. Jean Baptiste Church who gave the benediction.
A “quartet” of legendary opera legends such as Diana Soviero, Elinor Ross, Martina Arroyo and Rosalind Elias, along with Maestro Eve Queler and patron Karl Michaelis, Michael Fornabaio, treasurer of the Puccini-Albanese Foundation and patron presenter Joyce Greenberg with the dapper Ralph Petrarca enjoyed the festivities. Other organizations included were Opera Index’s President Jane Shaulis (Met mezzo) Vice President Janet Stovin, (Brooklynite), Treasurer Murray Rosenthal, Executive Director Joseph Gasperec, Gloria Gari from the Giulio Gari Foundation, Glenn Morton, Artistic Director from Classic Lyric Arts, Eva De La O, Executive Director from Musica De Camara all lent their vibrant presence, as did ever effervescent writers Scott Barnes and Meche Kroop, while poet/Italian teacher Cavaliere Edward Jackson lent us his joie de vivre!
It was a pleasure to greet Alfred and Christine Palladino who are benefactors and patrons. Christine shares the joys with my wife Judy of having gone to Lincoln High School in Brooklyn. Among the guests were Angelo Vivolo, President of the Columbus Citizens Foundation, Gregorij von Leitis and Michael Lahr from Elysium “Between Two Continents” both literary and humanitarian endeavors, patrons Cesare Santeramo and Dr. Robert Campbell, jeweler Mark Bunda, from the Sachi Liebergesell family, presenter Betty Cooper Wallerstein, Marjan Kiepura and vivacious wife Jane, son of esteemed Met tenor and film star Jan Kiepura and the unforgettable soubrette soprano Marta Eggerth who to many were Danilo and Hanna for their countless appearances world wide in The Merry Widow. Marta Eggerth (1912-2013) sang at the Albanese Gala until she was well into her 90’s and lived to the age of 101. Marjan Kiepura is also a virtuoso pianist and Chopin expert thus continuing the family tradition.   
 
We all feasted on rack of lamb, fine wines and desserts and shared in the joys that Sachi Liebergesell and the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation gave us, especially the musical feast which is food to the soul and a soothing balm these mundane days.The fresh young talented voices of the future give us hope. American poet Emily Dickinson wrote “Hope is the thing with feathers” or
Hope is the songbird in our heart that keeps on singing! 
 
A toast to President Sachi Liebergesell and congratulations to the 2016 international vocal competition winners. 

Giulio Gari Foundation Presents 2016 International Vocal Competition Winners

gariThe New York Athletic Club on 59th Street and Central Park South was the venue for an unforgettable evening of remembrance and celebration on the evening of Sunday, September 25th. The evening was dedicated to Glen Gary, beloved son of Giulio and Gloria Gari who passed away a few months ago. May his spirit soar as music reigns.

Gloria Gari, Photo by Judy Pantano

Gloria Gari, Photo by Judy Pantano

Greetings were given by Chairman of the Board Gloria Gari, always a source of inspiration and courage and Artistic Adviser Stephen De Maio who always pans for vocal gold and finds it!

Our host of the evening was Brian Kellow who has written best selling books and was famed for his many articles in Opera News. Mr. Kellow instantly draws the attention of those present by his intimate warmth, vast knowledge and great love for opera and people. Kellow introduced the two honored guests beginning with the Metropolitan Opera and Grammy Award winner soprano Ana Maria Martinez who accepted her award with humility and grace. I recall her in concert with Andrea Bocelli and I was dazzled by her clarion angelic voice and its passionate and beautiful qualities. Ms. Martinez, who is from Puerto Rico, is truly an ambassador of opera to the world. Her recent Madama Butterfly at the Metropolitan Opera won rave reviews.

Soprano Catherine Malfitano brought back wonderful memories of both the New York City Opera (NYCO) and the Metropolitan Opera (Met Opera) where her acting and singing made for performances of blazing intensity. Ms. Malfitano who was born in New York, told the awardees and the audience to “share the passion” and the importance of “words matter.” She is presently both opera director and teacher and her mission continues.

Sopranos Catherine Malfitano & Ana Maria Martinez, Photo by Judy Pantano

Sopranos Catherine Malfitano & Ana Maria Martinez, Photo by Judy Pantano

2016 Award Winners, Photo by Judy Pantano

2016 Award Winners, Photo by Judy Pantano

Unfortunately Rolando Villazon, acclaimed Metropolitan Opera tenor was unable to attend.

Jin Sol baritone sang “Di provenza il mar, il suol” from La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi. Mr. Sol’s lyric baritone had both ardent and sweet qualities and he used his “brakes” to soften and slow down so that the moments of soft lyrical sound and bursts of intensity were well contrasted. A good and proper job for this beautiful aria. Sol accepted his 2nd prize award from Tarquin M. Callen.

The duet from Puccini’s La Boheme,”O soave fanciulla,” was next with soprano Antonina Chehovska and tenor Fanyong Du. Ms. Chehovska’s sweet and ardent soprano was a perfect blend with Mr. Du’s tender tenor and their walking towards the exit while capping the high C had its sealing the discovery of young love in a rhapsodic and indelible moment. Tamie Laurance and Joyce Greenberg from the Gerda Lissner Foundation presented the awards.

The quartet from Puccini’s La Boheme followed. “Addio dolce svegliare” with Antonina Chehovska, soprano, Marco Cammarota tenor, Meryl Dominguez, soprano and Andrew Manea baritone. A poignant Mimi, a robust lamenting Rodolfo an exasperated vocally rich Marcello and a vibrant outstanding and sparkling Musetta. A quartet that doubled ones pleasure. Awards were given by Lucia DeRosa, Dr. Philip and Mrs. Frezzo, Robert Fellows Esq. and Dr. Barry Schenk.

Met Mezzo Sopranos Rosalind Elias & Jane Shaulis with Stephen De Maio in left corner, Photo by Judy Pantano

Met Mezzo Sopranos Rosalind Elias & Jane Shaulis with Stephen De Maio in left corner,
Photo by Judy Pantano

“O Mimi tu piu non torni” from Puccini’s La Boheme followed with Jamez McCorkle tenor and Norman Garrett baritone. Mr. McCorkle’s ringing  tenor voice was captivating as the heartbroken poet and blended with Mr. Garrett’s caressing and mellow baritone. Both cannot focus on their activties because they long for their sweethearts. The blend was as warm as a cappuccino with cinnamon after a jog in the autumn chill. The ever dapper Karl Michaelis presented the award from the Lissner Charitable Fund.

On the lighter side, Christopher Magiera stepped in and replaced someone who cancelled and sang “I’m going to Maxim’s” from Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow and his provocative baritone filled the void with mayhem and merriment. Magiera’s instrument has power, color and vitality and he helped remove the melancholy of the poor Bohemians in that garret in Paris with this lively tuneful melody of the fabled Parisian nightspot Maxims.

A bit of Mozart followed with “La ci darem la mano” from Don Giovanni with Hanna Ludwig, mezzo soprano and Pawel Konik, bass baritone. Konik’s beguiling basso caught the soul of Zerlina, whose saucy and sparkling mezzo became entangled in his basso lasso. The reluctant bride yielded big time to her new suitor as they ran offstage together with her leading the way. Betty Cooper Wallerstein, Louise Simmons and Robert Funck presented the awards.

Daniel Bates sang “Una furtiva lagrima” from Donizetti’s Elisir d’amore. His is a purely “American” sound and recalled such tenors as James Melton, Charles Kullmann, Dennis Day and Jerry Hadley. Bates sang in a straightforward manner – sweet but not saccharine including a strong cadenza and finale. The award was given by Amazon.com, Inc. in memory of Glen Gary.

Sava Vemic-tall and imposing, sang a noble and glorious” A te l’estremo addio – Il lacerato Spirito” from Verdi’s Simone Boccanegra. His basso cantante was thrilling to hear for those who long for the days when Pinza and Siepi reigned. Mr. Vemic will be making his Met Opera debut as the High Priest in Nabucco this season. His “Prego Maria, per me” haunts the memory! The award was given by Stephen De Maio, President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation in which Vemic was a first prize winner. We heard Mr. Vemic sing at Rose Hall recently with Maestro Eve Queler’s Opera Orchestra in Donizetti’s Parisina d’Este. Maestro Queler was also present at the Gari Gala.

Lastly, first prizewinner Vanessa Vasquez, sang “Un bel di” from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Her soprano is clarion and powerful. Ms. Vasquez sang softly, much of the time and was a model of restraint. It was a reflective performance rather than an “all out” one. It was full of hope on the cusp of rage; more self-deceit than selflessness.  Surely like the great Licia Albanese whose advice was “singing on the word” will help the promising Ms. Vasquez evolve into the perfect Butterfly. Ms. Vasquez’s award was given by Dr. Lya Friedrich Pfeifer, President of the Max Kade Foundation.

The gifted pianists were Jonathan Kelley who appeared courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera and Arlene Shrut, both of whose accompaniments to the singers was sheer perfection.

We then all went into the dining room where great food, wines and desserts awaited one and all. As we entered we saw legendary Met dramatic soprano Elinor Ross, unforgettable Met mezzo Rosalind Elias and renowned coloratura soprano Harolyn Blackwell. Writer and stage designer Scott Barnes who was wearing his famous “bumble bee” pin was busy as a bee while buzzing around the festivities!

At our table we enjoyed the delightful company of Catherine Malfitano and her debonair husband Steve, the effervescent Sachi Liebergesell, President of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation and family and the urbane Michael Fornabaio from the Gerda Lissner Foundation. Many admirers stopped by our table to meet and greet Ms. Malfitano whose fans and admirers were thrilled to express their admiration. I cherish her internationally viewed Tosca with Placido Domingo on location in Rome as well as performances at New York City Opera and the Metropolitan Opera.

Maestro Jan Wnek, Coloratura Soprano Harolyn Blackwell, with Tenor Keith Johnson, Photo by Judy Pantano

Maestro Jan Wnek, Coloratura Soprano Harolyn Blackwell, with Tenor Keith Johnson, Photo by Judy Pantano

There were many luminaries and friends in the audience. Sopranos and vocal judges Barbara Ann Testa and Teresa Apolei, Brooklyn born and bred soprano Elaine Malbin, who recorded with Mario Lanza and sang at New York City Opera and was a television pioneer with NBC Opera. Brooklynites Maestro Jan Wnek, Bill Ronayne, President of the Mario Lanza Society located in Brooklyn, Ken Benson, opera manager, Lou Barrella, noted educator and opera lecturer also from Brooklyn and Italian teacher/translator Cav. Edward Jackson, tenor Keith Johnson, Eva De La O from Musica Camera, Meche Kroop, chef/writer all marveling at the talent displayed by the young performers.

Cornelia Beigel, Secretary of the Gerda Lissner Foundation lent her vivacious presence. Opera Index President Jane Shaulis and husband Executive Director Joseph Gasperec, composer and Vice Presidents Philip Hagemann and Janet Stovin and Treasurer Murray Rosenthal were all excited about the new awardees. Nedra Zachary and Peter Hubner from the Loren L. Zachary Society for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles flew in for this splendid occasion.

Some background recordings by Giulio Gari were played including his brilliant “Celeste Aida” and clips from a future documentary on his life was also shown. Gari sang at both the New York City Opera and the Metropolitan Opera in the 1950’s and 1960’s and was loved for his voice and generosity. The crowd of several hundred were inspired by the voices of the past and the bright talented young voices of the future. This foundation through his widow Gloria Gari fulfills Giulio’s dream of helping young singers in their careers as well as keeping opera alive and vital for the future.

 

The Martina Arroyo Foundation Presents Die Fledermaus in Prelude to Performance

On the evening of Friday, July 8th at the Sylvia & Danny Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College in New York City, the Martina Arroyo Foundation presented Johann Strauss Jr.’s (1825-1899) opera Die Fledermaus with a libretto by Karl Haffner and Richard Genee. The name of the Playhouse honors the actors and talented husband and wife team of Brooklynites Sylvia Fine and Danny Kaye and is located at 68th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues.

Die Fledermaus premiered in Vienna in 1874 and has been delighting audiences ever since. Like Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow, the work is a comfortable fit in the opera house because it’s arias and ensembles are captivating and vocally adroit as well. The young promising singers who are chosen, undergo six weeks of intense study plus a stipend and get a chance to perform with full orchestra and chorus in a staged and costumed production before a live audience. This year is the 12th season of this acclaimed series and includes two performances each of Puccini’s tragic La Boheme and the delightful Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss, Jr. A bit of trivia-Famed tenor Enrico Caruso appeared in the party scene of Die Fledermaus at the Met on February 16, 1905. Famed “diva” Florence Foster Jenkins loved to sing Adele’s “Laughing Song” in recital and recorded it for posterity.

The opera is also called The Revenge of the Bat recalling an incident after a masquerade party when Dr. Falke placed Eisenstein on a park bench to sleep it off, in a full bat costume, holding him up to public ridicule. Dr Blind, Eisenstein’s bumbling lawyer got Eisenstein an eight day jail term instead of the original five days for an altercation with a policeman. Falke invites his friend Eisenstein disguised as Marquis Renard to a lavish party thrown by the bored Russian Prince Orlofsky, where Eisenstein’s wife Rosalinde, disguised as a Hungarian Countess will attend. Adele, their maid, as Fraulein Olga, will also be there as an aspiring actress. Frank the prison warden is Chevalier Chagrin and will take Eisenstein to the party since Alfred, Rosalinde’s suitor, was mistaken for Gabriel von Eisenstein and taken to prison. All’s well that ends well as this time it is the Champagne who is the culprit.

Eisenstein & Adele & Chorus. Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

Eisenstein & Adele & Chorus. Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

Alfred, the pompous testosterone pressed tenor was played by gifted tenor Spencer Hamlin whose impressive singing of “Drink my darling” plus a snippet of “La donna e mobile” from Rigoletto and a thunderous “Vincero” from Turandot dazzled the ear. His comedic flair was right on the mark and he did not “overplay” his part as the”Italian” tenor.

The Adele of Shana Grossman was enchanting. Her singing of “The laughing song” (“Look at how I look”) and “Oh for the life of an actress” in the final act showed a radiant coloratura soprano of piquant quality, fine trills and a effortless “upper extension” to her voice.

The Rosalinde of Haley Sicking was a delight. Her generous and ample soprano and ironic touch was well used in the first act trio “Oh goodness me, what calamity, catastrophe” and her duet with Alfred “Here we are just you and I.” Ms. Sicking was truly compelling in “I hunger for my Hungary” in the aria “Echoes of Hungary” in the second act. Her vocal pyrotechnics rivaled Grucci’s 4th of July fireworks with cadenzas, strong coloratura and a held final note that stirred whatever gypsy is in my DNA. A truly bravura performance.

Rosalinde with fan & Chorus. Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

Rosalinde with fan & Chorus. Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

Gabriel von Eisenstein was in the dashing persona of Jonathan Tetelman whose vibrant tenor kept peeking through as the sun behind a baritone cloud. His stroll in this tenorial terrain was perfectly negotiated and he shined in duet and ensemble.”O goodness me, oh gracious me what calamity” and his disguising himself as Dr. Blind was adroitly done. He has a robust sound, dark hued and baritonal but a free top which dominated in duet. He suited the part like an elegant glove that fit perfectly!

Dr. Blind was in the hands of tenor Joseph Sacchi. Despite the comedic wavering and posturing of the character one could hear a fine tenor and a singing actor of real quality. As Hamlet said, “do not saw the air with your hand too much.” Sacchi was not the stuttering overwrought frustrated character that is the usually Dr. Blind. In this instance, less was more.

Dr. Falke was brought to mischievous life by Thaddaeus Bourne whose rich baritone was exciting in the duet with Eisenstein. Bourne’s sentimental and beautiful singing with the artfully blending chorus of the brotherhood song telling one and all to love and address each other using the familiar “du” rather than the formal sie form. The melody accelerates and the mood becomes poignant and powerful.

Frank the jail warden, was in the charming hands of Paul Grosvenor who not only is the possessor of a warm ingratiating basso but has a sense of the debonair that proved exhilarating. His singing of “Jail can be a pleasant place to spend a little time” was deliciously droll.

Ida was in the perky persona of Chelsea Bonagura whose sensual mezzo and buoyant ballerina lit up the stage.

Prince Orlofsky was sung by Hongni Wu whose mezzo sparkled like the Champagne she advocated. Her powerful singing of “Chacun a son gout” with its leaps and jumps showed how fearless and flawless her dark mezzo was. Her sparkling singing of “Here’s to Champagne – the king of all wines” ended the operetta on a brilliant note.

Prince Orlofsky & Chorus. Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

Prince Orlofsky & Chorus. Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

Frosch the jailer was played by Steven Mo Hanan who as guest artist proved himself to be a very unusual character. He was a funny drunk-never vulgar and his Harpo Marx, Jack Gilford quality made him an eternal innocent even as a skirt chasing imbiber. His monologue and dialogue (in English) to the audience was intimate and amusing.

The conductor was Maestro Steven M. Crawford. The overture was a wonderful appetizer for the musical feast to follow. Crawford’s brisk tempi and understanding of the Viennese style assured us of an evening of immense pleasure. The 30 excellent musicians were the best. The sets were evocative of more opulent and fun loving times. The chorus under Assistant Conductor Noby Ishida was excellent, especially in the Brotherhood singing in the second act. Charles R. Caine’s costumes were colorful and evoked the Viennese era brilliantly.

The final mood this production left one with was twilight. Like the end of an era so what can sometimes be played out as broad comedy can also be interpreted as a more subtle end of innocence. One left the theater nostalgic for the fun and escapades but remembering always the song of brotherhood at party’s end.

The performance in three acts was flawlessly sung and spoken in German. Plaudits to German Coach Vera Junkers. Gina Lapinski’s stage direction was clever and precise, while April Joy Vester, Set Designer gave us glitter and sparkle. The English super title operator by Lisa Jablow and titles by Brett Findley were most helpful.

Our host for the evening was Stephen De Maio, President of the generous Gerda Lissner Foundation along with Karl Michaelis trustee and patron and opera lovers Mario Cesar Romero and soprano-agent Eva de la O. We also greeted the effervescent Rebecca Paller from the Paley Center for Media.

We were happy to meet and greet such movers and shakers as Met baritone Mark Rucker who coaches and assists the awardees and his wife Sadie who is in charge of publicity and is coach and accompanist to her husband. A page in the program is “In honor of Dolarita and Olney K. Rucker and all parents who help young artists realize their dreams.”

It is always a joy to greet the great lady herself, the founder of the feast and Earth mother to so many, Kennedy Center awardee and legendary Met opera soprano Martina Arroyo. We are aware that Martina’s parents Demetrio and Lucille were so supportive of their talented daughter. Her Dad Demetrio worked as an engineer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to support their family and pay for her musical education. Mme. Arroyo always has gentle humor, a ready smile and “high hopes” for talented opera singers in the future. Indeed famed tenor Richard Leech told the audience requesting support quoting playwright Moliere “Of all the voices extant-opera is the most expensive!”

We left the Sylvia & Danny Kaye Playhouse with memories of the tuneful score and visions of the magnificent waltzes of Johann Strauss, Jr. and dancing by choreographer Abdul Latif and we thank the Martina Arroyo Foundation Prelude to Performance and its splendid young singers and staff for giving us a respite from all the worlds problems with the healing power of the music, melody and mayhem of Die Fledermaus! Bravo to all!

Opera Soprano Legend Martina Arroyo Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

Opera Soprano Legend Martina Arroyo
Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

Masterpieces of the Baroque Performed at “The Little Church Around the Corner”

On Friday, June 3, the Church of the Transfiguration also known as “The Little Church around the Corner” in New York City presented Masterpieces of the Baroque, an Arnold Schwartz Memorial Concert. Marie Schwartz, wife of the great Brooklyn born patron Arnold Schwartz, (1905-1979) provided for the magnificent organ for the Church. Claudia Dumschat who is the organist and choirmaster was the conductor of this splendid program.

Conductor & Choirmaster Claudia Dumschat with musicians & singers Photo by Marcello Pantano

Conductor & Choirmaster Claudia Dumschat
with musicians & singers. Photo by Marcello Pantano

The Transfiguration Choir of men and boys, girls choir and Camerata and the 12 piece orchestra plus organ transformed us all to the “Masterpieces of the Baroque.”

The Reverend Doctor R.M. Noone Interim Pastor welcomed all to the church and expressed his delight at seeing so many present for an evening of the beautiful and spiritually uplifting sounds of the baroque.

The concert began with Motet Lobet den Herrn (BWV 230) with the Camerata by J.S. Bach (1685-1750). This opening selection was sung with heavenly abandon as in the spirit of the opening of the pearly gates.

Tunc meus fletus from “In furore, RV 26” was sung in the style of joyous weeping by soprano Sarah Hawkey who sang with clarity, power and precision. Her trills and cadenzas were impressive. Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) who was known as the red headed priest wrote the ever popular Four Seasons but also wrote many operas. Famed mezzo Cecilia Bartoli is encouraging a revival of his works. Sarah Hawkey’s singing surely seconds the motion.

Laudamus te (from Gloria) also by Vivaldi was beautifully sung by the boys and girls choirs, their youthful voices tapering and rising in this hymn of praise.

The girls choir followed with Francois Couperin (1668-1733) Christo resurgenti) “With Christ risen the stars clap their hands.” The strength and harmony of their voices were like cherubim and seraphim in some renaissance painting.

Dr. Dumschat mentioned that Bach was German, Vivaldi Italian, Couperin French and Damian Stachowicz (1658-1729) was Polish. The Transfiguration Boys and Girls Choirs sang Veni Consolator with the Gabriel like trumpet of Bruno Lourensetto. To hear the baroque instruments and youthful voices and trumpets heralding was to be in another sphere, another time and possible out of body experience that this kind of musical journey can do.

Choirmaster & Conductor Claudia Dumschat with singers & musician Photo by Judy Pantano

Choirmaster & Conductor Claudia Dumschat
with singers & musicians. Photo by Judy Pantano.

The first part concluded with “Concerto” by Georg Philipp Telemann (German-1681-1767) Adagio, Allegro, Largo, Allegro was done with delicacy, charm eloquence and deeply satisfying elegance.

During the intermission one could tour the church with special sections devoted to many luminaries of the theatre like Rex Harrison and P.G. Wodehouse who attended services there. Since its inception in 1848, this Episcopal Church has been “on the side of the angels” and became a national landmark because of its position as a shrine of the American church and theatre. In 1870 it buried American actor George Holland when other churches would not. Joseph Jefferson, the late actors friend exclaimed “thank God for The Little Church around the Corner.”

Part Two was the Cantata BWV 29 “Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir” by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The Sinfonia portion featured the formidable talent of Jonathan Ryan on the organ, “Wir danken dir” sung by the chorus and a triumphant “Hallelujah” featuring Christopher Preston Thompson’s clarion tenor and Judson Griffin’s soaring violin.

The Recit was sung by bass Bert Boone. Boone who is a lyric baritone sang his trills and embellishments well but needed the basso depth to get a more perfect effect.

Parts 6 and 7 had the rhapsodic voices of Sarah Hawkey, Kristin Olson on the oboe, Joe Redd alto, whose counter tenor passages were as beautiful as a songbird with superb coloratura, embellishments and panache.

Jonathan Ryan on the organ added to the baroque treasures of the evening.

The finale of Sei Lob und Preis with the chorus blending as one ended the evening on a note of triumph.

Caludia Dumschat led both the chorus and orchestra with steady and secure beat, wonderful musicianship and that extra ingredient, love for the composers, musicians, singers and the audience.

My grandson Luciano Pantano, is a boy treble. My granddaughter Leeza Pantano is a girl treble and her friend Nicole Osmolovskaya is also a girl treble. We met chorister tenor Paul Rozario-Falcone from Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn.

We thank all of the splendid musicians and we were deeply moved by Dr. Claudia Dumschat’s performance. It should be noted that the choir of men and boys is the oldest such choir in the United States and the only one not affiliated with a school. It consists of 16 boys ages 8 to 14 auditioned and selected from the New York area with varied ethnic and economic backgrounds.

The reception in the common room offered a chance to meet and greet. We chatted with our Carroll Gardens neighbor Alphonse Falcone and several of the musicians and singers. Our son Marcello, his wife Tatyana and her parents Nikolay and Lubov Klitsenko, (bayan and choral) musicians from Siberia were so proud to see their grandchildren and friend Nicole Osmolovskaya sing as was her mother Olga and son Ilia.

The Empire State Building from the Church Courtyard Photo by Marcello Pantano

The Empire State Building from the Church Courtyard. Photo by Marcello Pantano.

The Church of the Transfiguration is one of the wonders of New York City. The view of the Empire State Building from the courtyard is breathtaking. Our journey into the Baroque is over but it left us with many unforgettable moments! The large appreciative audience responded with cheers for all. Brava to Conductor and Choirmaster Claudia Dumschat, musicians and choristers who earned the resounding applause that crowned this special performance.

Nikolay Klitsenko, Nino Pantano, Lubov Klitsenko Judy Pantano, Marcello Pantano, Conductor Claudia Dumschat, Tatyana Pantano & Olga Osmolovskaya

Nikolay Klitsenko, Nino Pantano, Lubov Klitsenko, Judy Pantano, Marcello Pantano, Conductor Claudia Dumschat, Tatyana Pantano & Olga Osmolovskaya

Regina Opera Presents Puccini’s Manon Lescaut

On Saturday May 14, Brooklyn’s Regina Opera now in its 46th year presented Giacomo Puccini’s (1858-1924) Manon Lescaut, which was the composer’s first great success. Jules Massanet had already written his Manon in 1884 but Puccini felt two operas about the same fascinating subject could easily thrive. Manon Lescaut premiered at the Teatro Reggio in Turin, Italy in 1893. Its first performance at the Metropolitan Opera was in 1907 with rhapsodic tenor Enrico Caruso and the ravishing soprano Lina Cavalieri. Since then all the great tenors and great sopranos have sung the much coveted roles of Des Grieux and Manon Lescaut.

Manon Lescaut is in four acts and takes place in 18th century France. Renato Des Grieux, while cavorting with his fellow students, is smitten by a girl who is exiting a coach. She is escorted by her brother Lescaut on her way to a convent. Des Grieux, convinces her to elope with him. Geronte di Ravoir, an elderly official, plans to run away with Manon offering her wealth and jewels for his “fatherly affection.”

Des Grieux (Percy Martinez, left) learns that Lescaut (Nathan Matticks, right) has bribed a guard to free Manon from prison.

Des Grieux (Percy Martinez, left) learns that Lescaut (Nathan Matticks, right) has bribed a guard to free Manon from prison. Photo credit – George Schowerer

Tired of poverty with Des Grieux, Manon goes to Geronte and lives with wealth, but misses the passion of Des Grieux. Des Grieux, now wealthy from gambling woos and wins Manon again. Geronte denounces Manon as a prostitute. Instead of fleeing immediately, Manon tries to collect her jewels and, because of the delay in searching for and collecting them, is captured by the soldiers.

Manon is sentenced to exile in America with other prostitutes. Des Grieux begs the ship’s captain to let him come aboard as a cabin boy so he can be with his beloved Manon.

In the final act the lovers, having escaped the authorities, are on a desolate plain in Louisiana, starving and thirsty. Manon regrets her follies, expresses her love for Des Grieux, and dies in Des Grieux’s arms.

Des Grieux (Percy Martinez) holds the dying Manon (Sabrina Palladino).

Des Grieux (Percy Martinez) holds the dying Manon (Sabrina Palladino). Photo credit – Gregory Ortega

Manon was portrayed by soprano Sabrina Palladino.  Ms. Palladino has many fans in the metro area and New Jersey, where she is known for her dynamic and legendary performances. Her singing of “In quelle trine morbide” in the second act was magical. Her soprano, which has delicacy, color and grace, is not really one that dominates by size. It commands intimacy and pathos. Yet her voice carries very well and soared to the heavens when called for.  Ms. Palladino’s impeccable diction and vivid acting brought Manon’s plight to one and all. In the last act, her singing of “Sola, perduta, abbandonata” was heartbreaking in its lamentation. That she died “Le mio colpe sereno” with the love of her life was the only solace. Ms. Palladino’s interpretation was unforgettable. It simply stays with you in memory and won’t let go.

Des Grieux was sung by Percy Martinez, whose stalwart, serviceable tenor evolved to a memorable portrayal. His lighthearted singing of “Tra voi belle, brune e bionde” was nicely done. His “Donna non vidi mai” had him a bit short at the top, and went by sans recognition as the great aria it really is. His duets with Manon went from strength to strength and his big aria in the third act “No, no Pazzo son” found him on his knees sobbing, belting out full throated high notes with abandon and splendor. His laments at Manon’s death and their love duet “Manon, senti amor mio…” were extraordinary in their emotional wallop.

Manon (Sabrina Palladino, left) tells her brother Lescaut (Nathan Matticks, right) that she regrets having given up Des Grieux's love for Geronte's wealth.

Manon (Sabrina Palladino, left) tells her brother Lescaut (Nathan Matticks, right) that she regrets having given up Des Grieux’s love for Geronte’s wealth. Photo Credit – George Schowerer

Nathan Matticks was a clarion and robust voiced Lescaut.  Matticks’ resonant baritone was heard in “E a chi lo dite ed io da figlio” and other phrases with a suave and dominant tone.

John Schenkel portrayed Geronte as a cruel despot who did not enjoy playing the fool and gave Manon a very vengeful course leading to her tragic death. His adroit baritone was utilized to the fullest in a vivid portrayal. Schenkel also doubled as the captain.

Baritone Charles Gray was the Innkeeper/Sergeant, the versatile Wayne Olsen was the hairdresser and Reuven Aristigueta Senger was the hurried, harried Dancing Master.

David Bailey was Edmondo and the Lamplighter, his lilting tenor sparkled; Noelle Currie’s fine soprano served us well albeit briefly, as the Madrigal Singer.

The excellent ensemble and chorus consisted of Shelly Barkan, Samantha DiCapio, Catherine Greco, Margaret Keymakh, Marta Kukularova, Lily Lu Lerner, Wayne Olsen, Jennifer Klauder and Ksenia Stepanova.

The lively and captivating children were Nomi Barkan and Isabela Decker.

Maestro Gregory Ortega led the superb Regina Orchestra in a thrilling musical journey of the suddenly blooming young Puccini with Wagnerian themes and great heartfelt melodies of pathos and power. The Intermezzo was a revelation with bursts of beauty, sweep and grandeur. Yelena Savranskaya, violin concertmaster, was an inspiration, as was Michael Vannoni on the viola. Kudos to Michael Sirotta on percussion, Kathryn Sloat on the harp and Richard Paratley on the flute.

The costumes by Julia Cornely were brilliantly ornate when needed and threadbare when the times were not so good for poor Manon.

After having danced a minuet with the dancing master (Reuven Aristigueta, in pink wig), Manon (Sabrina Palladino,in white gown) flirts with the elderly Geronte (John Schenkel, far left with back to the audience).

After having danced a minuet with the dancing master (Reuven Aristigueta, in pink wig), Manon (Sabrina Palladino,in white gown) flirts with the elderly Geronte (John Schenkel, far left with back to the audience). Photo Credit – George Schowerer

The backdrops by Richard Paratley who also serves as principal flautist, evoked both the extravagant and the unfortunate aspects of Manon’s journey from opulence to demise.

Tyler Learned’s lighting touch added greatly to the scenes and Linda Lehr’s stage direction went brilliantly and smoothly.

Linda Lehr’s special theatrical skills carried us on that fateful journey of Manon Lescaut and Renato Des Grieux and left us with a priceless tableaux and memories of Puccini’s first masterpiece.

We thank the Regina Opera staff for a brilliant 46th season of opera in Brooklyn. Here’s to Regina Opera’s 47th season. Bravo to all!

Acclaimed Pianist Rosa Antonelli Performs at the Argentina Consulate

Reviewer Nino Pantano, Pianist Rosa Antonelli & Commendatore Aldo Mancusi Photo by Judy Pantano

Reviewer Nino Pantano, Pianist Rosa Antonelli & Commendatore Aldo Mancusi. Photo by Judy Pantano

As part of the Alberto Ginastera Centennial celebration, the gifted Argentine-American pianist Rosa Antonelli gave a concert on Wednesday, May 18th at the Consulate General and Argentine Republic at 12 West 56th Street in Manhattan. The special guest in attendance was Alberto Ginastera’s daughter Georgina Ginastera.

Rosa Antonelli has been hailed as a leading exponent of Spanish and Latin American music and has appeared at many venues worldwide as well as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Ms. Antonelli’s two CDs titled “Esperanza” and “Remembranza” have been acclaimed. I am proud to have her newest “Abrazando-Latin Embrace” in which she demonstrates her pianistic wizardry with several immortal Latin composers including Astor Piazzolla, Hector Villa-Lobos, Ernesto Lecuona and Isaac Albeniz.

I first became acquainted with Ms. Antonelli at a gala at the New York Athletic Club sponsored by the Enrico Caruso Museum based in Brooklyn. Aldo Mancusi, the founder and curator of the museum chanced to hear Ms. Antonelli play at a concert and asked her if she would play a selection or two at his special gala honoring his new title of Commendatore by the Italian government. She did play and later requested that we attend her special concert at the Argentine Consulate.

Ms. Antonelli, looking stunning in a sparkling red and silver gown, seated at her beautiful Steinway piano began playing “Idilio Crepuscular” (Romance at Twilight) from Ballet Estancia, the first part of a set by the Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) and then from “Preludios Americanos” “Triste,” “Vidala” and “Homenaje” a Roberto Garcia Morillo. The tone poems of Ottorino Respighi could be heard in the vibrant rhythms of Pastoral with its dreamy introspection and the exuberant “Danza Criolla.” Ms. Antonelli and her instrument play as one and she is an amazing phenomenon.

The passionate rhythms and melodic outbursts of Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) followed. His four tangos entitled “El Mundo De Los Dos,” “Verano Porteno,” “Invierno Porteno” and “Libertango” were played with enormous zest. The tango like themes entwining like two dancers in an orgiastic blend in an explosion of passion. One could envision the dancers, drenched in sweat, breathing heavily, totally spent from this orgy of breathtaking musical madness. Ms. Antonelli left us all bedazzled.

The final group, again by Ginastera was from “Danza del Trigo” (Wheat Dance from Ballet Estancia) “Tres Danzas Argentinas,” “Del Viejo Boyero,” “De la Moza Donosa” and “Del Goucho Matrero.” All played with dexterity, finesse and strength fueled by an Argentine inner fire that warmed the soul and stirred the blood.

At the reception we met so many devotees of the art of Rosa Antonelli, who like fellow Argentine Pope Francis is of Italian ancestry. The trials of our being in a traffic jam earlier were drowned out by the beauty of the concert and the delicious meat and vegetable Empanadas, wines and cheeses served afterwards. I have relatives in Buenos Aires that we lost touch with and this concert in a spiritual way, brings me closer to them.

Ms. Antonelli was given a beautiful bouquet of flowers and we thank her for the unforgettable “bouquet” of musical roses she gave to all in attendance.

The Gerda Lissner & Liederkranz Foundations Honor Deborah Voight & Introduce the 2016 Winners of the International Vocal Competition

Gerda Lissner President Stephen De Maio with Met Opera Soprano Deborah Voight. Photo by Don Pollard

Gerda Lissner President Stephen De Maio with Met Opera Soprano Deborah Voight. Photo by Don Pollard

The Gerda Lissner & Liederkranz Foundations honored Deborah Voight and introduced the 2016 Winners of the International Vocal Competition on the afternoon of Sunday, May 1st. The vocal competition was held at Carnegie’s intimate Zankel Hall on Seventh Avenue.

Stephen De Maio, President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation was happy to announce this joint effort of both the Gerda Lissner Foundation and the Liederkranz Foundation and to honor Metropolitan Opera (Met) soprano Deborah Voight. Mr. De Maio then presented our host, Brian Kellow who is well known from Opera News and as an author of many bestselling books.

Mr. Kellow had us all join in applause for the herculean challenges of Stephen De Maio and his efforts on behalf of young gifted singers. Kellow then spoke admiringly of the talent and grit of honored guest soprano Deborah Voight whose own book entitled Call me Debbie: True Confessions of a Down to Earth Diva is getting rave reviews. Ms. Voight, who also hosts the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, spoke of the importance of defiance and never losing sight of your goal. Deborah Voight is an American original-like Niagara Falls-she is a natural wonder!

Heather Menzies Ulrich, Michael Slade, Scott Barnes, Brian Kellow, Maria Mazzaro. Photo by Judy Pantano

Heather Menzies Ulrich, Michael Slade, Scott Barnes, Brian Kellow, Maria Mazzaro. Photo by Judy Pantano

Pawel Konik sang “Aleko’s cavatina” from Rachmaninoff’s Aleko. With his regal sounding bass baritone and beguiling presence, Konik sang with a sense of melancholy, foreboding longing and seamless breath control, power and presence, an unbeatable combination.

“Una voce poco fa” from Rossini’s Barber of Seville was given fresh insights by Samantha Hankey whose dark creamy mezzo caressed the ear. Ms. Hankey’s flawless diction, flashy cadenzas, coloratura embellishments exemplified the Rossinian style.

Fanyong Du revealed a brilliant sparkling tenor in “A te, O cara” from Bellini’s I Puritani nailing the high D. His Bellinian melodic line was filled with fervor and poignancy.

“Air des bijouix” from Faust was sung by soprano Alexa Jarvis who gave us a rewarding and tasty brew of Gounod’s masterpiece with perfect pitch, excellent trills and colorization. Her coloratura was impeccable.

It was nice to hear “Vision Fugitive” from Massenet’s Herodiade, by baritone Kidon Choi whose passionate lyrically precise outpourings captured this haunting aria.

Kang Wang tenor sang an exuberant and vibrant “Dei meie bollenti spiriti” from Verdi’s La Traviata.  A sparkling tenor, intense yet ardent, beautiful quality and effortless high notes.

Puccini was well served with “Si, mi chiamano Mimi” as sung by soprano D’Ana Lombard whose phrasing and charm blended with Puccini’s piquant themes from La Boheme. Lombard brought us all to that humble garret in Paris where love first bloomed.

The Wagner portion was well represented by the powerful radiant soprano skills of Amber Daniel. Her “Dich, teure Halle” from Tannhauser flooded Zankel Hall with golden brilliance of tone coupled with solid breath control and offered sparkling sunshine for all that rainy afternoon.

Tenor Kevin Ray showered us with Wagnerian gold in his fervent manly singing of Wintersturme from Wagner’s Die Walkure. Kevin Ray’s interpretation with such vocal brilliance evoked the greats of the past.

Mezzo-soprano Aleksandra Romano sang “Nacqui all’ affanno…Non piu mesta” from Rossini’s La Cenerentola.” She performed this powerhouse aria with grit, coloratura agility and the afterglow of a good warm Amaretto!

The haunting “Depuis le jour” from Charpentier’s Louise was sung by soprano Antonina Chehovska. Ms. Chehovska sang with power and lyricism, lovely floating tone, her pianissimos were gossamer wings on the dragonfly express.

Andrew Stenson sang an energizing “Firenze e come un albero fiorito” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. His vivacious and victorious lyric tenor and artful dodger gestures enthralled everyone.

“Care Compagne” from Bellini’s La Sonnambula was sung by soprano Hyesang Park whose excellent trills, romantic flights and perfect ascents captured the Bellinian line and whetted our appetites for more.

Galeano Salas sang Puccini’s “Che gelida manina” from La Boheme. His full lyric tenor combining ardor, sweetness, power and abandon brought great pleasure. A brilliant high C at the climax evoked the past greats reborn. Salas won top prize at the Gerda Lissner Foundation and Deborah Voight gave him his award.

The sublime piano accompanists were Jonathan Kelly and Arlene Shrut.

2016 International Vocal Competition Winners. Photo by Don Pollard

2016 International Vocal Competition Winners Photo by Don Pollard

Lastly baritone Sean Michael Plumb whose brilliant singing of “Bella siccome un angelo” from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale receive an ovation. Plumb’s voice with its incredible agility, beautiful high notes, impeccable cadenzas and sparkling color brought golden age pleasure to one and all. The top prize was awarded to Plumb by Mrs. Lya Friedrich-Pfeifer Secretary and Trustee of the Liederkranz Foundation who also presented second prize to tenor Kevin Ray and soprano Amber Daniel.

The reception and dinner at the nearby New York Athletic Club was a true celebration of the inspiring concert we all witnessed. Stephen De Maio, President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation, Michael Fornabaio, Vice President and Trustee, Cornelia Beigel, Secretary and Trustee, and Trustees Karl Michaelis, Barbara Ann Testa and Joyce Greenberg are to be thanked for their monumental efforts on behalf of the young promising singers.

Photo by Judy Pantano

Photo by Judy Pantano

Countless people from the opera world were in attendance. At a glance one saw Sachi Liebergesell, President of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation, sopranos and opera judges Martina Arroyo, Elinor Ross,  Elaine Malbin, Teresa Apolei, mezzo Nedda Cassei, Maestro Eve Queler, Gloria Gari, Philipp Haberbauer, General Manager of The Liederkranz Foundation, Opera News Editor in Chief F. Paul Driscoll, writers Scott Barnes and Meche Kroop and Brooklyn’s Bill Ronayne from the Mario Lanza Society to name a few.

At Zankel Hall, a large beautiful portrait of Gerda Lissner was kept on stage surrounded by flowers. I like to think that the flowers represent the singers Mrs. Lissner helped through her generosity and largess of spirit. Through the stewardship of Stephen De Maio and the Gerda Lissner Foundation and the Liederkranz Foundation, they will bloom and grow, like the Edelweiss from The Sound of Music. Bravo to all!