Sarasota Opera Completes Verdi Cycle with a Spectacular Aida

Sarasota Opera production of Aida. Photo by Rod Millington.
The apartment of Amneris
Photo by Rod Millington

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

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

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

The Triumphal March. Photo by Rod Millington.
The Triumphal March
Photo by Rod Millington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                  

Regina Opera Presents a Thrilling Lucia di Lammermoor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucia (Alexis Cregger, center) has shocked the wedding guests by killing her bridegroom. Photo by George Schowerer
Lucia (Alexis Cregger, center) has shocked the wedding guests by killing her bridegroom. Photo by George Schowerer.
Raimondo (Isaac Grier) supports the dying Edgardo (Benjamin Sloman, left) who has stabbed himself in grief. Photo by George Schowerer
Raimondo (Isaac Grier) supports the dying Edgardo (Benjamin Sloman, left) who has stabbed himself in grief. Photo by George Schowerer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering Legendary Metropolitan Opera Soprano Anna Moffo

Met Opera Star Anna Moffo
Met Opera Star Anna Moffo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ricardo Tamura Triumphs in Cavalleria Rusticana at The Metropolitan Opera

Nino Pantano with Met Opera baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky & Met Opera tenor Ricardo Tamura Photo by Judy Pantano
Nino Pantano with Met Opera baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky & Met Opera tenor Ricardo Tamura. Photo by Judy Pantano

On the evening of Tuesday, February 23rd, the promising Brazilian tenor Ricardo Tamura added Turiddu in Pietro Mascagni’s one act masterpiece Cavalleria Rusticana to his list of Metropolitan Opera roles. Cavalleria Rusticana had its premiere in 1890 and is usually paired with Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, both verismo (flesh and blood) works. The Metropolitan Opera was the first company to perform Cavalleria and Pagliacci together on December 22,1893. Cavelleria Rusticana was also performed with the Metropolitan Opera (Met) on tour at the old Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) on March 8, 1892.

The role of Turiddu has been sung by many of the great tenors and is coveted for its passionate duets and solos. It is Easter Sunday and Turiddu, a Sicilian soldier is in love with Lola but when he goes off to war, Lola marries the village carter Alfio. Turiddu then turns his passions toward Santuzza who was excommunicated from the church. Lola makes overtures to Turiddu and their love rekindles. Santuzza tells Turiddu’s mother, then confronts Turiddu, they argue and with Lola in sight beckoning, Santuzza runs off and tells Alfio. Alfio in a rage, swears vengeance after confronting Turiddu drinking with friends in Mamma Lucia’s tavern. Turiddu sings a tearful farewell to his mother and shortly thereafter, a screaming villager shrieks that Turiddu has been killed. Santuzza stares straight ahead as all the grieving villagers turn their backs to her and help his grieving mother.

The offstage serenade from Turiddu “O Lola c’hai di latti la cammisa,” was sung with ringing tone and Italianate flair by Ricardo Tamura. This aria in white heat sung offstage is a challenge to sing.

Riccardo Tamura sang with passion, flair and well placed high notes. His declamatory utterance and rich middle voice evoked memories of the Italian greats -Beniamino Gigli comes to mind, “Tu qui Santuzza?” and the ensuing gripping duet indicated Turiddu’s frustration and his determination to find a balance to his dilemma. Tamura’s singing of “Intanto amici; Viva il vino spumeggiante” was brilliant, grand and generous right up to a dazzling high note. His confrontation with Alfio was white hot and one knows despite his words he will fight for what he wants! Tamura’s full throated “Addio a la madre” was sung with pathos, desperation and resignation with a beautifully framed finale.

Santuzza was sung by Liudmyla Monastyrska whose powerful soprano is a force of nature. Her singing of “Voi lo sapete mamma” was a tour de force and a little tapering and a bit of color would have placed her on the list of great Santuzza’s. The Regina Coeli was powerfully sung but was stripped of its poignant majesty by its lack of religious spectacle. Her “Turiddu ascolta!” and their duet were among the vocal high points of the evening.

Ambroglio Maestri was a gruff no nonsense Alfio. His “Il cavallo scalpita” was sung with brio and pride. Maestri’s singing in the duet with Santuzza, “ Infami loro, ad essi non perdono, vendetta avro” was fury and volcanic angst, his baritone barometer exploding in rage.

Lola was in the youthful and attractive persona of mezzo Ginger Costa-Jackson. Her singing of “Fior di giaggiolo” had its lure and appeal. The production however gave us not a hint of sluttiness and spite.

The vivid Mamma Lucia of mezzo Jane Bunnell was rich voiced and not quite as naïve as one would think.

Andrea Coleman as the screaming woman handled “Hanno ammazzato compare Turiddu!” with eardrum piercing perfection.

The fabulous Fabio Luisi, principal maestro conducted with authority, intensity and inspiration. Luisi’s hobby is making perfumes and his various fragrances also seem to be part of his extraordinary blends of harmony in his music making. The Intermezzo was truly the heavenly calm before the storm.

Chorus master Donald Palumbo led the singers gloriously, especially the Regina Coeli and “Gli aranci olezzano.” All the singers were very well received.

With the splendid Turiddu of Ricardo Tamura, it was a good night of opera. Tamura as a student, wanted to be a scientist. Singing prevailed and his career took off like a rocket! The great soprano Licia Albanese heard him sing and with the assistance of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation started his ascent.

The sets and costumes were drab beyond belief; the singing cast gave us Sicily in their passion and dedication to the story but the black costumes, dismal rows of musical chairs and peasant dancing evoked Fiddler on the Roof. Not an orange tree could be seen and Sicily at Easter time got lost in the shuffle. The singers provided all the colors of Sicily in their vivid interpretations.

The celebration party at nearby Fiorello’s restaurant hosted by Ricardo Tamura and his charming wife Dagmar had many notable supporters and friends. Among them were Stephen De Maio President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation with patrons Karl Michaelis and Michael Fornabaio, Gloria Gari from the Giulio Gari Foundation, Sachi Liebergesell President of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation and opera artist’s manager Robert Lombardo, all longtime supporters of Ricardo Tamura.

As we were having dessert, the great Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky and friends joined the revelers. Outside it was pouring rain, but inside it was pouring love. Bravo Tamura!

Opera Index Honors Dolora Zajick at Distinguished Achievement Awards Dinner

Met Mezzo Honoree Delora Zajick & Met Mezzo & Opera Index President Jane Shaulis. Photo by Judy Pantano
Met Mezzo Honoree Delora Zajick &
Met Mezzo & Opera Index President Jane Shaulis. Photo by Judy Pantano

On Sunday, January 17th, Opera Index held its Distinguished Achievement Awards Dinner at the JW Marriott Essex House in New York City. The great mezzo soprano, Dolora Zajick was the honored guest. An operatic recital of the 2015 Opera Index Award Winners was also presented. Jane Shaulis, who is a mezzo soprano with the Metropolitan Opera and the new President of Opera Index, enthusiastically hosted this lively production. In her introductory remarks, Ms. Shaulis announced the donations by Opera Index towards the scholarships for the young promising singers and the great pride she has as a performer in helping these talented awardees attain their goals. After hors d’oeuvres and libations the crowd of several hundred went into the glittering dining room for dinner and the operatic recital.

The gifted pianist Michael Fennelly accompanied the singers with dexterity and precision.

Jerry Stolt, Midge Woolsey, Nino Pantano & Stephen De Maio Photo by Judy Pantano
Jerry Stolt, Midge Woolsey, Nino Pantano
& Stephen De Maio
Photo by Judy Pantano

Susannah Biller sang “Ah! Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s Romeo and Juliette. Ms. Biller possesses a sparkling coloratura soprano and sang an eager, ardent and fearless performance with dazzling agility and fully captured Juliette’s adolescent liberation. Ms. Biller’s high note near the finale was projected into space like Cupid’s arrow. She held the final note as if embracing her Romeo.

Samantha Hankey regaled us with “Allez, laissez-moi seul” from Cendrillon by Massenet. Ms. Hankey is the caretaker of a warm and luscious mezzo and captured the French style. Her sound caresses and comforts and her vocal palette offers flowing tones and many colors.

Jonas Hacker offered “Una furtive lagrima” from Donizetti’s “L’elisir d’amore.” Mr. Hacker is the landlord of a fine tenor voice and is now harvesting and displaying his years of planting. Hacker’s voice has a strong even quality, is manly and straightforward, with a good diminuendo and an excellent cadenza at the finale.

Bottom-Jane Shaulis, Michael Fennelly, Susannah Biller, Delora Zajick, Will Liverman Top-Megan Marino, Samantha Hankey, Jonas Hacker & Siman Chung Photo by Judy Pantano
Bottom-Jane Shaulis, Michael Fennelly, Susannah Biller, Delora Zajick, Will Liverman
Top-Megan Marino, Samantha Hankey, Jonas Hacker & Siman Chung
Photo by Judy Pantano

Megan Marino, mezzo soprano and Will Liverman, baritone sang “Dunque io son” from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia with wit and elan. Ms. Marino, a feisty, clever Rosina flew through the cadenzas and scales with abandon. Mr. Liverman showed Figaro’s quicksilver mind with vocal fireworks. Both of their flights into the vocal stratosphere were thrilling! It was truly a fun ride and the audience had a good time!

Siman Chung sang “Di tanti palpiti” from Rossini’s Tancredi. His countertenor was never false, in full bloom and he sang this melodic air with excellent diminuendos, strong fioratura and uncommon elegance.

Lastly, Will Liverman sang Gryaznoy’s aria from the Tsar’s Bride by Rimsky-Korsakov in Russian as if he was Russian born. Liverman used this showpiece with its high notes, robust lows and dramatic utterance to showcase his extraordinary voice and splendid vocal gifts. He is from Chicago and is the premier Lissner Charitable Fund award winner which was presented by Karl Michaelis.

Karl Michaelis - Photo by Judy Patano
Karl Michaelis
Photo by Judy Patano

The award ceremony followed with each singer receiving their well-deserved awards. Matthew Epstein Artistic director, Artist manager and consultant whose 40 year career has been vital to the opera world, was the presenter to Dolora Zajick. Mr. Epstein spoke eloquently of her powerhouse performances, humanity and humor and as a legend in her own time.

Ms. Zajick graciously accepted the gift and in a humorous and joyful talk enraptured us all. She told the audience of some memorable performances especially one where the tenor’s wig caught fire in Il Trovatore and another from Rusalka where an artificial cat failed to comply and was thrown in her witches brew! Ms. Zajick has been wowing them at the Metropolitan Opera and all over the world since 1988. Brooklyn can never forget her glorious Santuzza at the Regina Opera circa 1980. Ms. Zajick is happy to have her own organization, The Institute for Young Dramatic Voices in Orem, Utah to help aspiring singers. Dolora Zajick said “I can still deliver the goods” and she sure can – brava!

Nino Pantano, Stefano Acunto, Linda Howes, Carole Acunto & Stepehen Phebus Photo by Judy Pantano
Nino Pantano, Stefano Acunto, Linda Howes,
Carole Acunto & Stepehen Phebus
Photo by Judy Pantano

We sat at the table of Stephen De Maio, President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation with Eve Queler conductor, Robert Lombardo vocal agent, Will Liverman baritone, Gloria Gari (Giulio Gari Foundation) presenter Joyce Greenberg, patron presenter, Karl Michaelis and Michael Fornabaio. It was a pleasure to meet and greet PBS’ Midge Woolsey and husband economist Jerry Stolt, Italian Vice Consul and Commendatore Stefano Acunto and wife Carole, President Sachi Liebergesell from the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation, jewelry appraiser Mark Bunda, General Counsel Brian O’Connor Esq. and wife Maura, who reminisced about their recent trip to Sicily, Duane Printz from Teatro Grattacielo, Bill Ronayne from the Mario Lanza Foundation located in Brooklyn. Also present were famed legendary sopranos Elinor Ross, Lucine Amara, Elaine Malbin (Brooklyn’s own) and mezzo soprano Rosalyn Elias. What a joy to greet Dagmar Tamura, wife of the rising Met Opera tenor Ricardo Tamura who was rehearsing for his forthcoming Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana at the Metropolitan Opera.

What fun to chat with Opera Index Treasurer Murray Rosenthal and Vice Presidents Philip Hagemann and Janet Stovin and family, Board member John David Metcalfe, sponsor Doris Keeley, poet and patron Cavaliere Edward Jackson, composer Stephen Phebus and wife Linda Howes, Ken Benson radio host, vocal agent and erudite Brooklynite. Presenters were the ever dapper tenor Cesare Santeramo and Dr. Robert Campbell and Met comprimario tenor Anthony Laciura and wife Joelle, all of whom were a vital part of the festivities.

When I was a youngster in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and an aspiring opera singer (The boy Caruso of Brooklyn), with no one to guide my career, I would be in a room listening to Toscanini and the NBC Orchestra on the radio, my head pressed to the speakers, while everyone else was listening to rock and roll. Now, decades later, I found my “comfort zone” in supporting this great art form and encouraging others to do so by giving a “push” in the right direction for gifted young potentially great singers of the future. Bravo – Opera Index, Jane Shaulis and Joe Gasperec, the dynamic duo who made this magnificent event possible!

When we left this elegant room it was snowing outside-the first flakes of winter. To Judy and I, it was like the confectionery sugar sprinkled atop the pastries at our local Italian bakery. How sweet it was and bravi to all!

Prospect Heights Resident and New York City Opera Legend, Don Yule Passes Away

MEISTERSINGER. Photo credit, Beth Bergman
Meistersinger – Photo credit, Beth Bergman

Don Yule was born in Enid, Oklahoma on January, 21st, 1935 and passed away in Brooklyn, N.Y. on July 3, 2015. He was born Donnie Elton Yule to Dr. Arthur Harry Yule and Izell Warren Yule. </br>
He was a popular member of New York City Opera for more than fifty years and a talented artist. Yule was considered an essential part of the core company, participating in more than a thousand performances. He studied Music Performance at Indiana University, Bloomington.

Don Yule began his career with New York City Opera as a bass in the chorus in 1960 and later as a comprimario artist. His talent as a character actor was discernible from the start. He debuted as Gluttony in Six Characters in Search of an Author, starring Beverly Sills and the orchestra conducted by General Director Julius Rudel. Yule sang in several languages, including Italian, French and Russian. His roles also varied, from comedy to drama. He played both the drunken landlord Benoit and the thwarted lover Alcindoro, in La Boheme and the sinister jailer in Tosca. His most memorable roles were that of the emperor in Turandot and multiple parts in Candide.

While on tour with New York City Opera, Yule performed in Los Angeles; Saratoga, N.Y.; and the upper Northeast and Midwest of the U.S., as well as in countries such as Taiwan and Japan. Yule also performed in New York City Opera’s summer musicals and in Gilbert and Sullivan at the City Center of Music.(The Mikado being one of his favorite roles).

Marriage of Figaro - Photo credit, Beth Bergman
Marriage of Figaro – Photo credit, Beth Bergman

Earlier in his career, Yule performed at Town and Country Musicals in East Rochester, N.Y., where he met his first wife, Christine Chernis Brandt.

He sang with Turnau Opera in Woodstock, N.Y. and Sarasota, Fla. His roles included Colline in La Boheme and Collatinus in The Rape of Lucretia. He also performed with Central City Opera and Santa Fe Opera. Don Yule was the President of the American Guild of Musical Artists for five years. It is a labor organization that represents the men and women who create America’s operatic, choral and dance heritage.

During his second marriage, to Jaye Adams, Yule resided in Brooklyn, N.Y., with their son Seth. One of Don’s hobbies was collecting and repairing antique clocks and he found a kindred spirit in Aldo Mancusi from the Enrico Caruso Museum of America which Don visited. Don was an avid collector of music-related classical treasures. His collection included antique Victrola’s and rare operatic recordings that he loved to share with his colleagues.

Yule often donated performances with Maestro Vincent La Selva’s New York Grand Opera in Central Park, at The Brooklyn Academy of Music with The Brooklyn Philharmonic and Brooklyn’s Regina Opera Company. Many young singers from both the United States and abroad got a grounding in the American classical tradition with these wonderful companies. Yule shared his wisdom and knowledge of musical history with grateful newcomers and assisted them in establishing themselves here. Every summer he and other veteran singers enabled novices to garner their first reviews by singing with them as part of their presentations. During his long and busy career, Yule also sang in several New York City churches and synagogues.

Nine Rivers from Jordan, Photo credit - Beth Bergman
Nine Rivers from Jordan, Photo credit – Beth Bergman

Of interest, Yule was a third cousin on his father’s side to Mickey Rooney, whose birth name was Joe Yule.

Don Yule is survived by his son, Seth, and two former wives, Jaye Adams of Palm Beach, Fla., and Christine Chernis Brandt of Asheville, N.C.

In lieu of flowers, gifts may be donated in Don Yule’s memory to the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, c/o the IU Foundation, P.O Box 500, Bloomington, IN 47402.

“The Little Church Around the Corner” Presents a Memorable “Amahl and the Night Visitors”

Brittany Fowler (Mother) Carlos Tapia (Amahl) Jake Ingbar (King Melchior) Daniel Neer (King Kaspar) Alexis Cordero (The Page) & Charles Samuel Brown (King Balthazar) Photo by Marcello Pantano
Brittany Fowler (Mother), Carlos Tapia (Amahl), Jake Ingbar (King Melchior), Daniel Neer (King Kaspar), Alexis Cordero (The Page), Charles Samuel Brown (King Balthazar) Photo by Marcello Pantano

On the evening of Friday, December 18th, “The Little Church Around the Corner” founded in 1848 so named because where another local Church refused to bury an actor, his friend was told, “There is a little church around the corner that will” thus becoming a favorite of theatre folk since. The Church of the Transfiguration on East 29th Street in New York City, now a National Landmark, presented the Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007) classic Christmas opera of “Amahl & the Night Visitors.”

We saw this wonderful hour long presentation several times at The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) with our late good friend and former New York City Opera basso Don Yule as King Balthazar. We had the honor of meeting Gian Carlo Menotti, the composer who was present at that performance.

Menotti was commissioned in 1951 to write an opera for NBC TV television by its President David Sarnoff and Producer Samuel Chotzinoff. Menotti could not think of what to write but one day while visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC he chanced to see the painting “The Adoration of the Magi” by Hieronymus Bosch with the three kings visiting the Christ child. He recalled his own childhood memories in Italy when he and his brother would wait until they fell asleep for the three kings to visit their home bearing gifts for Christmas. At that moment, Menotti knew what his opera would be. The first showing on Christmas Eve television in 1951 was viewed by an estimated 5 million people scored a tremendous hit and it was repeated for years afterwards. Now it is done in churches worldwide and audiences never fail to be touched by this musical tale of a mischievous crippled boy Amahl, his mother, their simplicity and poverty and their special royal visitors who have come for a place to stay on their journey and who witness a miracle when Amahl offers his crutch as a gift to the Child.

The program was in two parts. The first part was “A Ceremony of Carols” by British composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) sung by The Transfiguration Choir of Men and Boys, Girls Choir and Camerata. (A small chamber orchestra or choir- in this instance 42 choir members and 15 musicians.)

The procession down the aisle into the Church was impressive as the choristers walked to the main altar. There were ten carols sung, all brief and haunting. Britten had his own musical recipe and while not really melodic or atonal; his music is in another heavenly sphere, evoking his “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The chorus was a beautiful blend and in “That yonge child” Richard Jimenez boy-treble-soprano, was sweet and impressive. In “Balulalow” Mario Hall, boy-treble soprano was haunting and radiant. Kathryn Andrews was magical in her harp interlude. In “Freezing winter night” Lesley Zlabinger’s soprano soared with Joe Redd and in “Deo Gracias” one could almost hear a similarity to Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana.” “Spring Carol” offered Lauren Breen and Sole Trinidad as soloists.

All of the singers were impressive and were a heavenly blend. Multi-cultural young and older singers woven together by the genius of conductor, organist and conductor Claudia Dumschat.

After a brief intermission with one and all marveling at the beauty of this Christmas decorated church with its wooden panels, Christmas greenery and Virgin mother grotto, beloved of actors, it was time to see Amahl complete in this Church for the first time and not just excerpts as had been done in the past.

The excellent 15 piece orchestra under the skilled baton of Claudia Dumschat began with the haunting prelude.

Conductor Claudia Dumschat
Conductor Claudia Dumschat

The mother was portrayed and sung by Brittany Fowler whose luscious mezzo soprano illuminated the stage with her duets with Amahl and the cherished “All that gold!” which was sung with the passion of a Puccini heroine. Ms. Fowler’s diction was crisp and clear and her impact on the audience was vivid and visceral.

Amahl was in the adorable hands of boy treble – soprano Carlos Tapia a 6th grader at Mt. Carmel Holy Rosary School. His poignant “Don’t cry Mother dear” and “I was a shepherd” were indelible and “Look, Mother, I can dance” was joyous, his acting exemplary. Carlos Tapia gave a strong portrayal of a crippled boy whose inherent goodness and curiosity made him a symbol of indomitable virtues worthy of a miracle. He was unforgettable.

King Melchior was in the able hands of Jake Ingbar whose robust baritone made him part of the trio blend including the rich sonorous basso of Charles Samuel Brown as King Balthazar and the flexible tenor of Daniel Neer as King Kaspar whose comic singing of “This is my box” captivated all. “Have you seen a child?” is the trio blend that enters one’s soul and just won’t go away. They scored a triune triumph! The Shepherd’s Song, “Emily, Michael, Bartholomew” was sung at the side aisle of the church with the shepherds, and Amahl’s mother with the Three Kings was another highlight.

Alexis Cordero as the Page who discovers Amahl’s mother’s attempt to take a piece of gold “For my child” is 16 years old and in the 11th grade at Norman Thomas High School. He sang in a robust bass and took Amahl’s blows well for “Please don’t hurt my Mother.”

The marvelous dancers, summoned to Amahl’s house were Ambar and Charles Rosario. They danced at the side of the interior of the church as did the peasant dancers Olivia Brett, Adriana Hall and Bianca Hall. The finale with the now cured Amahl, walking normally, leaving with the wise men and Page on their journey is as delicate as a Christmas ornament and we thank all responsible for giving us this Menotti moment of magic!

Special kudos to costume designer Terri Bush whose varied creations from the majestic colorful robes of the kings to the simple peasant attire was perfection.

Choreographer Robert Hampton did a wonderful job in utilizing this space making the dancers up front and closer to the audience.

Betty Howe, Stage Manager who knows how to balance both space and place so that one can properly face the action and be part of it.

Richard Olson, Director who had the Herculean task of making the boundaries of the Church wider and using the aisles to allow the principals to move and dance freely. The simple bench at the altar where the wise men sat and Kaspar’s bird cage and a blanket were all one needed to create the world of both majesty and poverty.

This Arnold Schwartz Candlelight Memorial Concert would have surely not been possible without the special genius of Claudia Dumschat and additional thanks to the Right Reverend Andrew R. St. John, Rector who greeted the standing room only audience warmly.

The reception following for one and all was in the common room where we had a chance to eat and drink, meet and greet friends and performers one of whom, pianist Michael Pilafian, we recognized from Maestro Vincent La Selva’s New York Grand Opera. What a beautiful way for my wife Judy and I and family to celebrate the Christmas season. We look forward to next year’s performance!

Brooklyn’s Casa Duse Presents Fall Music Festival

Left - Ben Chavez, Monet Sabel, Matthew Stoke & Jenisa de Castro Right - Robert Krakovski, Michele Ivey, Austin Davidson & Mark T Evans Photo by Judy Pantano
Left – Ben Chavez, Monet Sabel, Matthew Stoke & Jenisa de Castro Right – Robert Krakovski, Michele Ivey, Austin Davidson & Mark T Evans, Photo by Judy Pantano

On the evening of Saturday, December 5th we were revitalized to be present at the Casa Duse Supper Club’s enticing new series of a “Fall Festival of Music” in conjunction with the “New Place Players” a month of extraordinary music, wine and food to welcome the holidays! The Casa Duse Supper Club is located at 16 Prospect Park West in Park Slope in a 19th century townhouse named after the legendary Italian actress Eleanora Duse. (1858-1924) It was so named because of its late former owner Duse’s godson, Michael Waldron and the spirit of Duse he embodied. The walls of this charming dwelling are filled with signed photos of Duse, Stanislavsky, Olivier, Gielgud, Barrymore, as well as soprano divas; the imperial Zinka Milanov, legendary Joan Sutherland, great tenor Luciano Pavarotti and the “king” of tenors Enrico Caruso and many other opera and theater immortals. Joan Sutherland and her husband conductor Richard Bonynge occupied the Casa Duse for years as guests of Martin Waldron during their seasons at the Metropolitan Opera. When Martin Waldron passed away in 2009,our affable host Robert Krakovski started the Casa Duse Collective parlor salon, to honor and perpetuate his mentor and keep his spirit alive.

The truly unique intimacy of an event at Casa Duse and its rich history in itself makes for a memorable night. Whether a New Place Players gourmet Shakespeare salon under the brilliant stewardship of Craig Bacon, or live music by world class artists in the living room of the historic home across from Prospect Park, the experience is magical!

Ben Chavez a talented young man from New Jersey did a show entitled “Out of NYU, Paying DUSE! A tribute to Mentors and Musical Inspiration!” Back by popular demand, this affable and talented rising star offered us a feast of standards, pop sounds and original compositions.

The first part found the gifted Ben Chavez at the piano evoking memories of Hildegarde, Liberace, Nat “King” Cole and others who charmed past generations with piano and song. Chavez offered us generous portions of Bill Joel including a wonderful “New York State of Mind.”

In his reflective banter, Chavez revealed that one of the things he learned is the tragedy of leaving life “not to have given enough of ourselves.” Indeed in some of his jazz selections his concentration almost transformed the music into an intimate Scarlatti piece.

Looking around the room, twenty or so tables, each with a red rose, young faces eager, enthusiastic and joyful, made for a perfect Saturday night.

Chavez regaled his audience with “Sometimes it takes a while” and “Just the way you are.” He then discussed some of Frank Sinatra’s influence and Ray Charles’ “A baby grand-all it takes is the power of my hands.”

Then “You all rise up with your hands-make a joyful noise, rise up” and “I was ready for someone to hold me-Love to the rescue again.” His superb backup singers were sopranos Monet Sabel and Jenisa de Castro and the tenor of Matthew Stoke. A perfect blend-each worthy of solo careers!

After a brief intermission, the second part of the program opened with one of my all-time favorite Spanish songs, “Amapola.” Chavez commented that he heard it sung by Andrea Bocelli. This love song goes way back to legendary tenors Tito Schipa, Jan Peerce and the great Alfredo Krauss. It was also a “pop” hit in the 1940’s. Chavez, whose pleasing baritone proved itself worthy of this genre, was accompanied on the piano for part two by Mark T Evans whose wonderful pianistic virtuosity evoked the colors of Debussy.

This was followed by” Fabrizio’s love song” from the musical “Light in the Piazza” a Lincoln Center hit a few years ago. Chavez, who is also a noted composer, admired this work by Adam Guettel, who is the grandson of the great Richard Rogers.

A charming duet followed titled “Something Stupid” with Michele Ivey. This was a big hit with Frank Sinatra and his daughter Nancy in the 1950’s. Ms. Ivey’s sumptuous soprano tapered its size for this perky novelty.

A Gershwin medley included a heartfelt “Embraceable You.” Chavez also did a bit of tap dancing to an old Fred Astaire tune with his many fans cheering. Chavez’s finale was a Sesame Street (Elmo) Christmas song that he recalled from his youth. “Think of the day, when Christmas has gone away” reassuring the children that Christmas is a moveable feast!

Another encore was “I’ll be seeing you” with a wonderful  high note and pianissimo finale. This sentimental song was Liberace’s closing theme song. Actor-singer Austin Davidson in a brief duet with Chavez, rounded out the potpourri of talent that made this evening so special!

The elegant host-producer Robert Krakovski who is the true spirit of Martin Waldron, who reigned at the Casa Duse for 50 years, had reason to smile as did the ghosts of the great artists photos on the wall, because the Casa Duse is alive and keeping the spirit as in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” past, present and future.”

Future programs are:

Friday Dec. 11th – at 6:30pm Emirhan Tunca & Andrew Sun-Cello & Piano Duo

Sat. Dec. 12th – at 6:30pm Latin & Jazz Cabaret with Horacio Martinez & Friends

Sat. Dec. 19th – 6:30pm Theresa Kloos & David Raimo “Christmas in New York”

Sun. Dec. 20th – 6:30PM Jazz Sunday with the Sam Dillon Trio

For tickets & information visit: www.16casaduse.com

Regina Opera presents an outstanding “The Merry Widow”

The Widow Anna Glawari (Christina Rohm, left) and Count Danilo (Peter Hakjoon Kim, right) halfheartedly perform the Petrovanian national dance. Photo by George Schowerer
The Widow Anna Glawari (Christina Rohm, left) and Count Danilo (Peter Hakjoon Kim, right) halfheartedly perform the Petrovanian national dance. Photo by Elena Sandella

On the afternoon of Saturday, November 21st, the theater at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Academy of Brooklyn in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, was transformed into the Petrovenian Embassy for the Regina Opera’s first production of their 46th season. “The Merry Widow” composed by Austrian-Hungarian Franz Lehár (1870-1948) was an instant worldwide hit since its debut in 1905.

Brooklyn’s Regina Opera presented a brilliant and entertaining production on November  21, 22, 28 and 29, featuring two casts. Perfect holiday entertainment!
The plot: a rich widow returns to her native Petrovania, with an inheritance of millions which could save the nearly bankrupt country, if she marries another Petrovanian.   Music, mirth and mayhem galore result.   At the beginning of Act 1, when all were singing a birthday tribute to their King, the portrait we see was actually of Conductor Gregory Ortega!
Anna Glawari, the wealthy widow, was brilliantly sung and acted by soprano Christina Rohm. Rohm’s singing of “Vilia” was sheer magic and “I love you so” (The Merry Widow Waltz) was equally perfect. Ms. Rohm could be heard above the orchestra and as a perfect blend in ensemble numbers; her finales were exciting her top notes like golden stars. Ms. Rohm’s voice has great beauty and is full, round and sumptuous in sound. She simply WAS Anna Glawari. Ms. Rohm was stunning in a peasant dress in Act 2.

Count Danilo Danilovitsch was in the excellent hands of baritone Peter Hakjoon Kim. His caressing and strong singing of “I’m Going to Maxim’s” and “Women” (Girls, girls, girls) and with Anna in “I love you” was captivating. His acting and dancing were part of a very romantic portrayal. His dramatic soliloquy “There once was a Prince” was powerful. Kim’s high baritone was beautifully tapered for this stellar role. Kudos for his heel kicks á la The Rockettes in the “Girls, girls, girls” reprise!

Camille (David Bailey, left) seeks a tryst with Valencienne (Sarah Moulton Faux, right), Photo by George Schowerer
Camille (David Bailey, left) seeks a tryst with Valencienne (Sarah Moulton Faux, right). Photo by George Schowerer
Valencienne was sung by Sarah Moulton Faux. Her beautiful lyric soprano sparkled magically in her duet with her suitor Camille de Rosillon, and she was a fine actress. Their rhapsodic duets together made for a profound sigh for love-illicit or not! Her voice echoed with longing and had a golden sheen.
Camille, Count de Rosillon was sung by tenor David Bailey. Bailey is the possessor of a lovely ardent lyric tenor who entered the very high tessitura of this part with ease. His singing of “See, there’s a place close at hand” describing the nearby pavilion in which Camille and Valencienne could meet for a tryst,  thrilled the listener with its pulsating ascending scales and enchanting irresistible melody. Bailey and Ms. Faux were a handsome couple. Nice to see and wonderful to hear!

John Schenkel was a superb Baron Mirko Zeta. His feigned heart attacks, swooning and general frustration were great fun and his robust baritone was never better. Schenkel’s “double takes” at his peeks in the pavilion thinking his young wife was inside with a lover, were priceless!

The Widow (Christina Rohm, center) surrounded by a group of suitors. Photo by George Schowerer
The Widow (Christina Rohm, center) surrounded by a group of suitors. Photo by George Schowerer
Njegus was in the comical hands of Daniel Kerr who danced a good Can-Can in a skirt. Kerr’s clearly enunciated spoken dialogue was loud and clear and his was  a memorable comic portrayal.
The smaller parts, including the Viscount Cascada of Jon Thomas Olson, Raoul de St. Brioch of Andrew Tse, The Bogdanovitch of Thomas Geib, The Kromov of Kevin Miller, The Sylviane of Jennie Mescon, and the Olga of Noelle Currie were all done with flair.

The marvelous dancers were Wendy Chu, whose grace and charm filled the stage; Christian-Philippe Consigny whose balletic background enables him to heel kick and turn with astonishing precision; and the graceful Stephanie Garcia, all of whom made for formidable dancing.

Petrovanian dancers entertain the guests. Photo by George Schowerer
Petrovanian dancers entertain the guests. Photo by George Schowerer
The Grisettes were brilliantly danced by Wendy Chu as Lolo, Stephanie Garcia as Dodo, Kelly Vaghenas as Joujou and the Froufrou of Sara Laszlo, Cloclo of Lisa Ferraro and the Margo of Christian-Philippe Consigny rounded out the dazzling dancers.
The colorful ensemble included Jennifer Allenby, Lisa Ferraro, Julianne Frohlich, Elena Jannicelli-Sandella, and the versatile Wayne Olsen among others.
The costumes by Julia Cornely were fabulous;  Anna Glawari’s Act 3 black gown sparkled brilliantly; the various medals that bedecked the Counts and Barons looked regal, and the Petrovanian’s were all colorfully dressed. The Grisettes singing and dancing “We’re the ladies of the chorus” were right out of the film “Moulin Rouge”.
The innovative sets as well as the stage direction were by Linda Lehr.  Her genius made all the actions flow like champagne. The “fast freeze” was used effectively and the dialogue by Linda Lehr was whitty; The supertitle were clear and readable. Tyler Learned’s set and lighting designs were truly mood inducing.
The chorus sang with inspiration, the peasant song and “Vilia” were haunting and unforgettable. Both the men and the women in ensemble and separate gave their all!
The Widow Anna Glawari (Christina Rohm, center) entertains her fellow Petrovanians Elena Jannicelli-Sandella (left), Wayne olsen (center) Julianne Frohlich (right) with a ballad. Photo by George Schowerer
The Widow Anna Glawari (Christina Rohm, center) entertains her fellow Petrovanians Elena Jannicelli-Sandella (left), Wayne olsen (center) Julianne Frohlich (right) with a ballad. Photo by George Schowerer
The orchestra, under the inspired baton of Maestro and new Music Director Gregory Ortega was first class. It was like having Franz Lehár himself conducting this great 36 piece ensemble. Maestro Ortega captured the romance and “schmaltz” of the operetta style. The violin solo, during the love duet of Camille and Valencienne played by violin concertmaster Yelena Savranskaya, was sublime. During the bows by the conductor and cast onstage Ms. Savranskaya was in charge of the orchestra for the encore finale of “Girls, girls, girls!” The audience, who hummed along with the melodies clapped in cadence for the bows. Kudos also for violinist Diana Barkan.
In a very troubled world, The Regina Opera continues to give us joy through music, the antidote for all evils. “The Merry Widow” with its beautiful and timeless melodies and dances was the perfect entertainment at the right time.
Thank you Fran Garber President and Producer, and Linda Cantoni Executive Vice President, Treasurer Joseph Delfausse, Vice President Alex Guzman, and volunteer Marlena Ventimiglia for all of your efforts on behalf of the unique Regina Opera, Brooklyn’s own pride and joy. Bravo to all!