Opera Index Presents 2018 Distinguished Achievement Award Dinner

On the evening of Sunday, January 21st at The JW Marriott Essex House in New York City, Opera Index celebrated its 2018 Distinguished Award Dinner honoring legendary American mezzo Mignon Dunn. The program began with an operatic recital of young Opera Index 2017 awardees. During the cocktail hour, I was happy to chat with great mezzo Dolora Zajick, legendary Met soprano Lucine Amara, brilliant Met soprano Diana Soviero and the glowing awardee Mignon Dunn. Of course I thanked them all for their careers which made the operatic multitudes very happy indeed. I told Mignon Dunn how beautiful she looked and sounded as Magdalena, the Duke’s girlfriend in Rigoletto, and as a young man, how happy I was to see her so vocally alluring and sexy as the trollop sister of Sparafucile! Ms. Dunn, radiant and youthful, now teaches and like Johnny Appleseed, is planting many new singers and sending them off for future generations. I told Lucine Amara how a commercial for “Pace, Pace Mio Dio” Olive Oil on WOV Italian Radio in my grandmother’s house, made me familiar with the aria and helped spark an interest in opera. Ms. Amara sang the aria with such glory-even recently. I always tell Diana Soviero how moved I was by her unrivaled performance as Suor Angelica at the Metropolitan Opera. Dolora Zajick, up beat and full of fun, is one of the greatest Azucena’s in Metopera history in Verdi’s Il Trovatore and she too has a school of teaching and is helping to keep opera alive. Earlier we chatted with the Metopera legend, the indomitable Elinor Ross whose dramatic soprano still echoes in memory.

Lucine Amara, Mignon Dunn, Dolora Zajick &
Diana Soviero. Photo by Judy Pantano

President Jane Shaulis came to the lectern and with one golden note, got the attention of all and the program began. In her introduction, Ms. Shaulis, who is a much heralded and loved mezzo at the Metropolitan Opera thanked the patrons, whose generous support sustains the awardees, who bring us all hope for the future and the honored guest Mignon Dunn who remains both in memory and current times a historic American opera presence.

The presenter of the award was Joan Dornemann, pianist and vocal coach at the Metropolitan Opera from 1974 and she also serves as assistant conductor. Ms. Dornemann gave a rousing and animated speech getting much applause and joyous laughter. She mentioned the wonderful Amato Opera with its Aida and the Egyptian army of 4 people. Ms. Dornemann spoke of her years in Spain at the Gran Teatro del Liceo and all the great singers she worked with. Her stories and wit were most amusing.

Mignon Dunn, looked so much like we remember her. She worked hard but had fun with her colleagues. Ms. Dunn was born in Memphis, Tennessee and raised in Tyronza, Arkansas and Memphis. Her opera debut was in New Orleans as Carmen in 1955. She sang over 600 performances at The Metropolitan Opera in a 35 year career and taught voice at Brooklyn College and Manhattan School of Music among others. Her late beloved husband was conductor Kurt Klippstatter. Her advice was high praise for Opera Index for the award and profound thanks. She misses her colleagues and says it is important to “always be good to each other.”

Top Row: Jane Shaulis, Dolora Zajick, Wendy White, Marianne Cornetti, Jane Bunnell & Cori Ellison
Seated: Rosalind Elias & Mignon Dunn.
Photo by Judy Pantano

The concert then began with Tamara Banjesevic who sang “Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s Roméo e Juliette. Her soprano has power depth and flexability. Ms. Banjesevic danced through the tables in the dining area and had much allure. Her voice had the necessary frisson to make us all feel her newfound love and joy. Her coloratura flights showed us how happy Juliette was and while dancing, it was a nice bit of vocal and stagecraft by a future star.

Pianist Michael Fennelly with singers Brittany Nickell, Tamara Banjesevic, James Ley, Bryan Murray, Courtney Johnson, William Guanbo Su & Opera Index President Jane Shaulis.
Photo by Judy Pantano

Bryan Murray sang “Mein Schnen, mein Wähnen” from Die todt Stadt by Korngold. Mr. Murray has a caressing baritone and was able to draw the audience into his mood as if it was a Schubert lieder. His voice has a nice cadence to it and was always in legato balance and fell gently and passionately on the ear.

Courtney Johnson sang “Come scoglio” from Mozart’s Così fan tutte. Her impeccable soprano was well balanced with a lovely piercing top and flawless legato. Her coloratura flights were exciting and her ascendancy and downward slides were seemingly effortless. Ms. Johnson captured the spirit of Mozart’s character and shared that with us!

Cavaliere Edward Jackson, Joy Ferro & Marcelo Santos Remizov.
Photo by Judy Pantano

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James Ley tenor, sang “Vainement, ma bien-aimée” from Le Roi d’Ys by Lalo. This aria is like an illusion. Most think it to be a simple ditty when it is really a high bridge partially obscured by mist and fog. The outreach for the satisfying high notes are deceivingly out of reach for too many tenors. Tenor legend Beniamino Gigli’s superb honeyed recording should be heard. One has to interject a vocal personality in this piece. Mr. Ley’s capabilities are strong enough to achieve this. Let that note float – and satisfy. Don’t just reach for it – let it float and carry us on an emotional journey with it!

William Guanbo Su, bass sang “Vi ravviso” from La Sonnambula by Bellini. I am Sicilian, I love Pasta à la Norma and I love Bellini. I felt that Mr. Guanbo Su was a fruit in the midst of ripening. A few touches here and there and then bravo – la frutta perfecto! His first part was lyrically sung but one did not feel the pulse of Bellinian melancholy. The cabaletta had more energizing spirit to it. The voice itself has all the good baritonal and darker sounds one desires. They have to be kneaded like pasta, and a covering of tomato sauce with graded cheese and a bit of mint will create a true Bellinian singer. Then we can all celebrate with Pasta à la Norma! In 2017, William Guanbo Su was the first prize winner of the Gerda Lissner Foundation. The ripened fruit is near happening. We eagerly await for it at the table with some fine wine!

Murray Rosenthal, Ken Benson & George Voorhis.
Photo by Judy Pantano

Brittany Nickell soprano, sang “Robert, toi que j’aime” from Robert le Diable by Meyerbeer. Ms. Nickell posses a fine flexible soprano of pleasing quality from top to bottom. Strong emotions were displayed and her ascents and descents were formidable. Her soprano had subtle shading and she was “in control” of her instrument and seemed to know the “feel” of Meyerbeer. Perhaps one day, a revival of this work-just for her!

I thought of Met Opera librarian Lionel Mapleson with his cylinders recording of Meyerbeer’s operas at the old Met in 1901-03. The “live” sounds of the golden age and the wild applause of the transfixed audiences with Polish tenor Jean de Reszke, American soprano Emma Eames and some legendary names that never made recordings.These are the only recordings of the elegant Jean de  Reszke. Ms. Nickell and the extraordinary Opera Index piano accompanist Michael Fennelly gave us the thrills that Mapleson yearned for over 100 years ago.

Dr. Robert Campbell, Rosalind Elias, Elinor Ross
& Luna Kaufmann.
Photo by Judy Pantano

After the concert and presentations, we had a delicious Filet Mignon (Dunn) dinner and chatted with many of the guests. It was nice to see Metopera legend mezzo Rosalind Elias, Opera Orchestra of New York conductor Eve Queler, journalist and patron Meche Kroop, elegant Executive Director Joseph Gasperec, patron Sachi Liebergesell, author pacifist Luna Kaufmann, vocal teacher Joy Ferro, Opera Index Vice Presidents Philip Hagemann and Janet Stovin and treasurer Murray Rosenthal, horologist and board members John David Metcalfe, conductor Stephen Phebus and Linda Howes, Robert Steiner and Faith Pleasanton, Gloria Gari from the Giulio Gari Foundation, Michael Fornabaio and Karl Michaelis, distinguished patrons and representatives from the Gerda Lissner Foundation, suave David and glittering Barbara Bender from Career Bridges, opera manager Ken Benson, computer whiz George Voorhis, Cavaliere poet Dr. Edward Jackson, Jolana Blau from Elysium between two continents and the classy tenor Cesare Santeramo and Dr. Robert Campbell, sage patrons and benefactors, who added to the sparkle of this joyful evening at the fabulous  JW Marriott Essex House.

Maestro Eve Queler, John David Metcalfe, Gloria Gari & Cesare Santeramo.
Photo by Judy Pantano

May opera thrive in the new year and beyond! Thanks Jane Shaulis and Joseph Gasperec for this splendid evening and for the loving assistance you render to these Opera Index artists of the future.

Executive Director of Opera Index Joseph Gasperec & President Jane Shaulis.
Photo by Judy Pantano

 

Franco Corelli – A Revolution in Singing (Volume Two)

This volume, Franco Corelli – A Revolution in Singing (Volume 2), by Stefan Zucker comes at a time when many traditional opera customs are being looked upon with such inquisitional curiosity by today’s book burners. The directors’ various brain and sexual disorders appear to be silencing the singers and appealing to guilt laden complexes that seem to be working on the side of the devils. Make-up gone, Canio castrated, Don Jose executed by Carmen and Calaf beheaded by Turandot. How can a book, however scholarly on opera singers and composers, have any relevance today? Well, this wonderfully entertaining and enlightening book has been a source of unalloyed joy and pleasure to me and Stefan Zucker’s (Bel Canto Society) insatiable appetite for gossip, rivalry and jealousy among these artists speaks volumes.

I was blessed to have been an opera-file as a young man when Franco Corelli (1921-2003) was having his triumphs. My love of the voice of the great tenor Enrico Caruso made me a follower of the careers of so many legendary names. Since Franco Corelli began his rise in the 1950’s I can aptly say I saw and heard him with his brilliant powerful voice, film star persona and the excitement of his physical presence that made him unique. No one today can rival those exceptional qualities. He had sex appeal, power, pathos and could diminish a tone until it became a whisper. His larynx lowering was part of his vocal magic. I believe that Giacomo Lauri-Volpi was the tenor who influenced Corelli the most. Franco Corelli’s personal letters to Lauri-Volpi are very touching and show his great admiration for this legendary tenor. Franco and Loretta were very devoted to Lauri-Volpi and his wife Maria and Lauri-Volpi still sang in his eighties.

Maria Callas & Franco Corelli in Norma – 1964

The author, Stephan Zucker, gave concerts with his mother, famed soprano Mme. Rosina Wolf, embellishing the nine high C’s in the La Fille du Regiment aria. Stefan’s mother knew Franco Corelli, who babysat for her while she was performing in Italy in 1951, watching young Stefan. Stefan became one of the great personalities in the opera world creating a “buzz” and a “stir” with his comments and his “Opera Fanatic” radio show which featured many opera singers and was truly an anchor for Franco Corelli.

Franco Corelli & Leontyne Price in IL Trovatore – 1962

 

I met Stefan at the home of TV opera pioneer Lina Del Tinto and her husband Harry Demarsky and found Stefan to be not only extraordinarily intelligent, but a delightful dinner companion with a strong wit and willing ear. Mr. Zucker discusses 54 tenors spanning 200 years from cast ratings to castrati! 

The great composers wrote music as well as the embellishments so championed by the great singers of the day. The singers knowledge allowed them to enhance the music with phenomenal scales and variations. But things changed and composer Gioacchino Rossini felt that a grand era was ending and that singing was becoming lackluster. Gilbert Louis Duprez formed a high C in singing that swept the opera world.

Farinelli and Velluti were not the name of a law firm in Italy but were two of the great castrati who, like dinosaurs, reigned supreme. The castrati recalled my grandmother Rosalia’s Easter and Thanksgiving feast which was a delicious capon with its tender breast meat – always tasty – never fowl. These birds were a delicious blend of male and female capabilities that evoked unique (eunuch) rich voices and many rhapsodic fans of both culinary succulents and operatic ecstasy! The last castrato, Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922), made a series of recordings with the Vatican choir in 1902-4-for the Gaisberg Brothers, who also recorded the young Enrico Caruso as well as 93 year old Pope Leo 13th. While Moreschi was not a great castrato, he sang with rooster like tones, haunting and sad.

Rossini admired the castrati who themselves added the coloratura and vocal displays that thrilled and drove audiences to a Farinelli frenzy. When my grandparents re-visited Gangi, Sicily in the Madonie Mountains near Palermo in 1939, they took their son my Uncle Ignacio along. They planned a big surprise. The surprise was a farm girl who scrambled pigs testicles in a pan with eggs and milk. It was made for adolescent young men and was called “La Festa di Pape.” (The feast of Popes) He had the good sense to say NO, thank you! He is 91 today and a retired ballroom dancer. (Bill Tano) guess he didn’t need that extra testicular jolt!

Giovanni Battista Velluti who was a “ladies man” rather than the opposite (man’s lady), was the last operatic castrato hero and Rossini and others mourned the loss of the great “senza gazze.” Giovanni Battista Rubini (1795-1854) was a fabulous high C tenor who studied with Andrea Nozzari and sang some of the repertory of Giovanni David, who was called the “Paganini of Song.” Two wonderful illustrations of Rubini are enchanting. There is a lengthy segment on “Balls” and the varied surgeries that made castratos.

Mario Del Monaco as Otello

The new school of  “high C ” tenors took hold ultimately, leading to such stars as Francesco Tamagno (1850-1905) Verdi’s first Otello, Enrico Caruso (1873-1921), Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957), Giacomo Lauri-Volpi)(1892-1979), Giovanni Martinelli (1885-1969), Mario Del Monaco and Franco Corelli. When Enrico Caruso passed away in 1921, the world went into mourning. Tenor Giovanni Martinelli said Lauri-Volpi, Beniamino Gigli and he had to sing the late Caruso’s roles. Mario Del Monaco (1915-1982) was a handsome, robust voiced tenor whose rise to fame was about the same as Franco Corelli. They became intense rivals. I saw both these great tenors in their prime. As soon as Del Monaco heard of Corelli coming to the Metropolitan Opera, he left. Del Monaco was not a relaxed singer. You felt the tension and saw his muscles collaborate and his burnished and dramatic tones rocked the house. Del Monaco, who I saw in Norma with Callas at the Met made a film where he was heard as “The Young Caruso.” He was also quite an exhibitionist-but that’s another story. Franco Corelli would step back, open up and out would fly these free and furious notes, defiant and heroic. Once he tapered the tone to a whisper at the end of Celeste Aida. His defiance of his Turandot, Birgit Nilsson was an outpouring of two volcanoes, his melting kiss was a triple gelato almost too much to bear. Corelli said it would not be out of place if he saw Del Monaco and punched him in the jaw. Corelli did bite Birgit Nilsson on the neck in Turandot when she held their duet note longer than he and ran offstage in Italy to challenge a student who booed him-with sword in hand!

Birgit Nilsson (Turandot) & Franco Corelli (Calaf)

A friend, artist and Italofile James Albano, told me of Corelli’s singing of Calaf in Vienna that had women throwing their keys at him. Corelli’s wife Loretta was in constant tension about these real or imagined liaisons. She said “I was extremely jealous. If I didn’t have 10 fingernails, I had 20, to scratch out the eyes of women who were after Franco.” Corelli said that soprano Teresa Zylis-Gara was his greatest love (She was a brilliant Tosca), but he and Loretta stayed married. Franco Corelli sang at The Metropolitan Opera from 1961 until 1975. In 1975, Corelli and Tebaldi sang a legendary concert at Brooklyn College. That’s the year they both left the Metropolitan Opera. They were, according to Zucker, associates and friends, not lovers. There is a chapter on Corelli’s various liaisons, mistresses and flirtations.

This splendid book has many glorious photographs including those of Franco and Loretta. They were a handsome couple and one extraordinary shot of Franco Corelli as Turiddu and Brooklyn’s great tenor Richard Tucker as Canio. Can you imagine, seeing them both on the same night. I did! Corelli was a superb Turiddu and Tucker a great Canio. Corelli’s “Addio alle Madre” was impassioned and Richard Tucker’s heartbreaking “Vesti la Giubba” and his screamed “La commedia e finita” haunt the memory! They too were rivals but “friendly” ones. Tucker and Corelli became closer as time passed. Tucker told Corelli how to secure a note (or the other way around) and they were much friendlier after that. Metropolitan Opera Manager Sir Rudolf Bing used to assuage them by threatening to pay the other one dollar more! I recall seeing Franco Corelli at Richard Tucker’s (1913-1975) wake at the Campbell Funeral Home in New York in 1975 and he looked, in his grief, as if he had been punched in the stomach. Tucker had a brilliant 30-year career with the Metropolitan Opera. Tucker still lives on through The Richard Tucker Music Foundation run by his industrious son Barry.

Richard Tucker & Franco Corelli

Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957) had a voice of incredible sweetness and honeyed tone. He could “cover” and also add some delicious “fortes” and made about 20 films including Forget Me Not, in England where he sang “Non Ti  Scordar di me” and  “Mama.” In “Mamma,” (1940) Gigli sang the title song and the delightful “Se vuoi goder la vita,” where his diminishing tones were breathtaking. Corelli listened and learned. He was no Gigli but he was renowned for his dimuendos and silvery masculine tones. Gigli’s final film was the charming Taxi di notte in 1953. I would go to the Benson Theatre with my grandparents Antonio and Rosalia Pantano to see his films. She would loudly curse the villains both wife and her lover and weep for the poor cuckolded Gigli! Gigli succeeded the mighty Caruso at the Met (1920-1932 and again in 1939 to demonstrate his Radames. He came back to America for three Carnegie Hall concerts at age 65 in 1955. I attended one of the concerts where Gigli sang a dozen arias and about 15 encores. He covered beautifully and his “covering” pianissimi were still prominent, his top, a bit short but quite thrilling. At age 65 he was still a wonder. His intoxicating and emotional “E Lucevan le stelle” tore the house down. His “Oy Marie,” and “Quanno a femmena vo” drove the audience to a frenzy. It’s all been recorded and is incredible to see, but also to witness – amazing! According to Zucker, Gigli’s greatest gift was “chiaroscuro of timbre.”

Beniamino Gigli – “Nel verde maggio” Loreley

I met Franco Corelli at a Michael Sisca’s “La Follia” concert when he was about 80. I kissed his hand in respect. He said “No, no, no!” But I thanked him for the visceral thrills he gave me and so many. Corelli was a very nervous performer. His professional recordings don’t have the special “edge” that his “live” performances had. I recall with a shiver and a smile his incredible performances in his prime, but I never listen to his recordings for comfort or inspiration. Occasionally I play Gigli (I love his Spanish song “Marta”) and I always find comfort in Caruso. When not in a tenor mood, it’s great basso Ezio Pinza who moves me. Once in a while I play (castrato) Moreschis’s “Ideale” with his haunting ironic torment. On occasion, Martinelli, Peerce, Tucker, Melchior and Sicilian tenor De Stefano help fill the void.

I wish to thank Stefan Zucker for his brilliant and stimulating book with its vital and vibrant photographs. It is what opera is really about and of the importance of all these great artists who used their vocal talents to remind us of the troubadour. Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Verdi and Puccini surely second the motion. Soprano Gigliola Frazzoni said, “Corelli was the Callas of tenors!” This splendid book has 351 pages adorned with many magnificent photographs of Franco Corelli in costume and with his wife Loretta and other artists from Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi to great baritone Tito Gobbi. Illustrations of the distant past singers are incredibly artful and truly make the reader part of the action. Whether its romance, gossip, technical truths or memory refreshing, this book stands out as stimulating reading for the next year and decades to come. I strongly recommend Stefan Zucker’s Franco Corelli – A Revolution in Singing  (Volume Two) as I did Volume One.


Renata Tebaldi, Franco Corelli, Sir Rudolf Bing & Maria Callas – Tebaldi & Callas reunited after feud

We eagerly await “Hitler’s Tenor,” a book on Beniamino Gigli, another tenor from the Adriatic (Recanati) whose worldwide fame put him among the gods of opera as well as thrilling audiences worldwide for over 40 years! Some may object to the relationship of Gigli to the German Nazi regime but all that will come out in Stephan Zucker’s new book. My advice is listen to Corelli and Gigli! It is artistry, voice and the universal pleasure reserved for angels and tenors!

The Church of the Transfiguration Presents Dancing Day and Amahl and the Night Visitors

On the evening of Friday, December 15th, at The Church of the Transfiguration aka “The Little Church Around the Corner” in New York City, we were treated to a delightful Christmas program. The Church is both magnificent and simple, spacious and intimate. A perfect setting for a pre-Christmas feast.

Renowned Brooklyn born Arnold Schwartz (1905-1979) was a great patron of this Church and the Candlelight Concert was a memorial to his revered philanthropic deeds. His wife, Marie Schwartz continues his ongoing generosity.

The Reverend Father John David van Dooren spoke with great enthusiasm for this special concert and his particular fondness for Gian-Carlo Menotti’s masterpiece about to come.

This concert was in two parts. The first, Dancing Day was by British composer John Rutter, born in 1945. Mr. Rutter is a composer of note and renown who feared that people would recall him only for his Christmas output and ignore his more prolific works. Coincidentally, The New York Times featured this composer and his dilemma in a recent article.

British Composer John Rutter

Dancing Day is a cycle of carols. The piece begins with a harp solo Prelude, by the prodigiously talented Kathryn Andrews. Her playing throughout was exciting and exemplary.

Angelus ad Virginem and A Virgin most pure was sung with stellar soloists Ambar Rosario, Enlun Yin and Tessoro Estrella. Next was Personent hodie followed by an exuberant and mighty harp solo by Kathryn Andrews and There is no rose with sparkling soloists  Katie Puschel soprano and Joe Redd alto.

The Coventry Carol was followed by Tomorrow shall be my Dancing Day beautifully sung by Emely Perez. The choir director and conductor was Dr. Claudia Dumschat who led the singers with unity and abandon. The “Dis, dis, dis” and “Goos, goos, goos” were sung as the golden harp took us to the world of the magic and sanctity of John Rutter’s Christmas! I found Goldie Gareza listed among the tenors, her dark impressive mezzo well suited to her being a female tenor as well.

The Transfiguration Choir of Men and Boys and the Lumines Girls Choir were true messengers of John Rutter’s Christmas spirit! The soloists sang with ease charm and dedication in clear and heartfelt joy. Kathryn Andrews played piu forte and we were now eager for Amahl and the Night Visitors. A beautiful warm up before the main course!

Judy & Marcello Pantano, composer Gian-Carlo Menotti, friend Lydia & Nino Pantano – 1986, The Brooklyn Academy of Music-BAM

Composer Gian-Carlo Menotti’s (1911-2007) Amahl and the Night Visitors unfurled and thrilled. Menotti was commissioned by Peter Herman Adler, director of NBC television’s new opera programming, to write a Christmas opera. Menotti was perplexed by this sublime challenge as the months went by. While visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art one November day, he chanced upon the Hieronymus Bosch painting of “The Adoration of the Magi.” Recalling his youth in Italy, awaiting the Christmas gifts with his brother by the Three Kings, the opera came to him. It was completed just in time and was such a hit that it was repeated for many years. The great Arturo Toscanini who conducted the NBC Symphony for 17 years, told Menotti with great emotion, that Amahl was his finest work! It was first seen on television on December 24, 1951. My father Santo, who was a hard working man, but knew little about opera, told me, a young opera lover and tenor, how much he enjoyed this opera after seeing it on television.

The Adoration of the Magi by Hieronymus Bosch

Maestro Dr. Claudia Dumschat, with the Transfiguration Choir of Men and Boys and the Lumines Girls Choir and Camerata and the 15 piece orchestra, were now ready for this timeless masterwork. It was written when TV executives in those halcyon days of yesterday, wanted their audience to have the best of classical music. Today, it seems to be the opposite, where like Christmas, the very word “classical” is treated with indifference as something obsolete! 

Amahl and the Night Visitors is captivating story about a poor little crippled boy who lives with his widowed mother in a small village. Amahl is playing his reed or shepherds pipe in the warmly melodic prelude. Amahl is a fibber and his mother is impatient with his stories. She says that since they are so poor, they will have to go begging. She cries and he sings, “Don’t Cry Mother Dear,” trying to cheer her up with happy stories about how they will survive. On this night, he tells her of a star that he has seen in the sky with a big tail. When they are sleeping, there is a knock on the door. Amahl tells his Mother incredulously that there is a king at the door. With more knocks, Amahl tells her there are “Three Kings – and one of them is black!” The Kings tell Amahl’s Mother they are seeking a child, “Have you seen a child,” who will be a Savior to the world. Their voices blend beautifully in this wondrous piece. “This is my Box” and “Lovely, lovely, lovely”, was sung with humor by King Kaspar. The Kings ask to rest and stay for the night and Amahl asks them several poignant questions about their lives. When they ask him what he does, Amahl tells them that “I was a Shepherd, I had a flock of Sheep.” Amahl’s Mother sends him to fetch the villagers and ask them to bring food and to dance for them. They sing “The Shepherd’s Song,” or “Emily, Emily, Michael, Bartholomew.”  After the villagers leave, Amahl asks the most gripping question of all, “amongst your magic stones in your box, is there one that can cure a crippled boy?” To which King Kasper who is deaf, says “eh?”

Amahl’s Mother tries to steal some of the gold (“All That Gold”) when the Kings are sleeping but is caught by their Paige. Amahl fiercely defends his mother who wants to return the gold to the Kings. The Kings tell her that the Child they seek will not need their gold. His life will be based on love. Amahl offers his crutch as a gift to the child. Suddenly, a miracle occurs and he is walking and kicking up his heels! He runs up and down the aisles and trips just once. The Kings ask if they can touch him and he lets them. When the Paige asks also, Amahl says “Well, I don’t know if I will let YOU touch me,” but relents and says “alright!” when his Mother scolds him. Amahl is asked by the Kings to join them on their journey to follow the star and find the Child they seek. Amahl and his Mother sing a touching duet and the opening theme is repeated as they fade away.

King Kaspar-Ben Thomas, King Melchior-Jake Ingbar, Amahl-Luciano Pantano, Mother-Jodi Karem, King Balthazar Charles Samuel Brown
The Paige-Alexis Cordero. Photo by Marcello Pantano

The role of the Mother was brilliantly sung by Jodi Karem whose powerhouse soprano was overwhelming in her portrayal. Her singing in duet with Amahl “Don’t Cry Mother Dear,” was tender and her dramatic Puccinian “All that Gold” was superb. Earlier in “Have you seen a child” she reached emotional and vocal heights that set the pulse racing and the emotional barometer practically bursting. She tapered her volume to blend richly with her Amahl and sang with passion in her arias. Ms. Karem is truly a gem!

Amahl, played by 11-year-old Luciano Pantano, was also as good as it gets! He is grandson to Judy and myself, his parents are Marcello (drummer) and Tatyana (Russian – Chorus Conductor). His Russian grandparents Nikolay and Lubov teach bayan (Russian accordian) and chorus in Omsk, Russia. I was a boy tenor in Bensonhurst and Judy sang “The Shepherds Chorus” from Amahl at her college choir in California. Luciano Pantano seems to be an amalgam of all these gifts. His beautiful treble voice gained in power, his acting from faces to heel kicks were notable and unforgettable. His “shepherd/sheep” song was poignant, his duets with his mother, “Don’t cry Mother dear” touching and he made for a dynamic and crutch worthy Amahl. Luciano’s running down the Church aisle and doing two impromptu heel kicks were worthy of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.

King Melchior was in the regal hands of baritone Jake Ingbar. He has been assisted by the Gerda Lissner Foundation and the George London Foundation. His robust and mellow baritone made for a king one could have confidence in. His voice was vital in the blending trio that is so haunting and beautiful.”Do you know a Child….”

King Kaspar, Ben Thomas was captivating. His bird (parrot) has more bite than sprite and his hearing is not so good. His joyous shouts of “Lovely, lovely, lovely” were happily hurled to all and his powerful tenor and befuddled antics were a source of much theatrical pleasure. King Kaspar’s robust and clarion singing of “This is my box” with all his gems was one of the highlights.

King Balthazar was made into a noble whole by the rich voiced bass-baritone of veteran Charles Samuel Brown whose regal  countenance was always infused with dignity worthy of royalty and whose insightful inner spirit was the fuel on the journey toward the Child.

The Paige, Alexis Cordero is 18 years old and a ten year singer with the choir. He sang and acted his part with a powerful bass and we enjoyed his wanting to touch the miracle child Amahl.

The choir, which includes our lovely grand daughter Leeza, beautifully sang “The Shepherds Song” or “Emily, Emily, Michael, Bartholomew,” with elan and fullness, all in peasant costumes.

The dancers, Ambar and Charles Rosario, Savannah Spratt and Mark Willis were graceful and lively, giving us many memorable moments and regaling us with their grace and stylish movements.

The superb colorful costumes by Terri Bush were a source of delight. Jesse Obremski was the choreographer who made the audience aware of the high quality peasant dancing.

Stage manager Betty Howe had several venues to fill and each one was where the action sparkled with balance and precision.

Richard Olson was the Director who brought out the nuance and sadness into a full portrait masterpiece. He is also husband to Claudia Dumschat.

Maestro Claudia Dunschat transformed notes and desires into vital reality and gave us a unified performance of harmony and balance. It made the Church of the Transfiguration (The Little Church Around the Corner) that snowy Christmas evening, a place of magic with the peace and love so needed in the world in the form of a perfect singing ensemble sustained by a superbly fulfilling orchestra and a sublime conductor. 


The Reverend Dr. Patrick S. Cheng, The Reverend Father John David van Dooren, Conductor Dr. Claudia Dumschat

Blessed are the peacemakers for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven! And blessed be these “peacemakers” for bringing the magnificent talent of Gian-Carlo Menotti back to a world that thirsts for the beauty and love and the message Amahl offers. The SRO audience responded with great enthusiasm.  The reception afterwards was fun to meet and greet with something sweet was in itself a Christmas treat that couldn’t be beat! Bravo to all!

The Regina Opera Presents a Thrilling La Traviata

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alfredo & Violetta & party guests. Photo by Sabrina Palladino

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Martina Arroyo Foundation Presents Its Thirteenth Annual Gala

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

Gala Host Terrance McKnight. Photo by 8salamander productions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Opera Index Presents Annual Membership Buffet & Recital

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

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

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

Michael Fennelly & soprano Hayan Kim.
Photo by Judy Pantano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marie Cantoni

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Regina Opera’s 47th Season Presents an Exciting Don Giovanni

On the afternoon of Saturday, November 19th, Regina Opera began its 47th season with an exciting presentation of Mozart’s masterpiece “Don Giovanni”. Regina Opera is located in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) on Sixth Avenue between 59th and 60th Streets.

Donna Anna (Christina Rohm) and Don Ottavio (Christopher Nelson) Photo by Sabrina Palladino
Donna Anna (Christina Rohm) and Don Ottavio (Christopher Nelson). Photo by Sabrina Palladino.

“Don Giovanni” had its premiere in Prague in 1787. It was labeled “Un drama giocosa” as a comedy with drama. The libretto was by the brilliant librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749-1838) who was also a friend of Giacomo Casanova. Da Ponte migrated to America and opened the first opera house on Leonard Street in lower Manhattan. Ironically both Da Ponte and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) were buried in unmarked graves.

The coveted role of Don Giovanni is every bass baritone’s dream. The Metropolitan Opera’s legendary bassos Ezio Pinza and Cesare Siepi were the definitive interpreters of this great role. I was blessed to have heard them both.

At Regina Opera’s performance and as the lights dimmed, Maestro Gregory Ortega began with the ominous overture which sets the mood. Don Giovanni, a nobleman was portrayed by Nathan Matticks. Matticks has excellent stage presence and a rich versatile baritone with a cutting edge that soars. He sang “La ci darem la mano” with the young bride, Zerlina, with beguiling lyricism. His vocal outpourings in the champagne aria “Fin ch’han dal vino” were brilliantly sung as he was getting dressed. His haunting laugh at the end of the aria as he was running offstage for a new conquest was right on the mark! Matticks’ caressing singing of “Deh vieni a la finestra” melted the heartstrings. His oft times cruel interplay with his loyal servant Leporello was indicative of his basic nature. Mae West’s “Beulah, peel me a grape” has been replaced with “Leporello, peel me a banana” as the Don devours a banana with dinner. Don Giovanni’s scene with the Commendatore was bone chilling. The Don’s cynicism, cunning, and amorality were shocking as was his cavalier defiance of the stone guest. His descent into hell with ear piercing screams is forever deposited in the memory banks of all who witnessed it. A brilliant performance!

Don Giovanni (Nathan Matticks) tries to seduce Zerlina (Hannah Stone) Photo by George Showerer
Don Giovanni (Nathan Matticks) tries to seduce Zerlina (Hannah Stone). Photo by George Schowerer.

Luis Alvarado played the role of Leporello. His singing of the catalogue aria “Madamina, il catalogo e questo” was amusing, especially his master’s 1003 conquests in Spain! He is the possessor of a rich sounding, somewhat understated basso-buffo. Alvarado sang casually and did not exaggerate, but I thought he could have balanced his pleasing voice with a bit more comedic acting. Alvarado’s voice though plangent, does not have the carrying power that the role calls for and more forceful frustrations and fears would have enriched his interpretation. To his credit, he did get many cheers at the opera’s end.

Christina Rohm was Donna Anna, a noblewoman whose father was murdered in a duel by Don Giovanni as the latter was attempting to seduce her. Her singing with Leporello “Notte e giorno faticar – Non sperar, se non m’uccidi” showed her lustrous soprano. Ms. Rohm’s special magic shined in “Crudele, non mi dir,” her passionate versatile showpiece in the second act which was sung with remarkable coloratura precision, power and panache!

Don Giovanni (center, in white) surrounded by villagers. Photo by George Showerer.
Don Giovanni (center, in white) surrounded by villagers. Photo by George Schowerer.

Don Ottavio is somewhat of a wimpish role and he is so bland and ordinary next to the colorful rapacious Don. But he is sturdy, dependable and sincere as opposed to the Don Giovanni’s rascality. Christopher Nelson was an excellent Don Ottavio. He is constantly outraged by Don Giovanni’s insolence!  Mr. Nelson sang brilliantly. His singing of “Il mio tesoro” with its vocal coloratura twists and turns was sung with ease and bravado. His tenor has a beautiful sound and was a joy to hear.

Donna Elvira, a lady of Burgos, is like a gnat in Don Giovanni’s eye. She simply refuses to accept the fact that she was seduced and abandoned by him.  Yet her indignation melts whenever she sees him by stealth and catches him seducing someone. Zhanna Alkhazova was a perfect Donna Elvira: defiant, pouting, yielding, forgiving, accepting like a jealous weak-kneed shrew. She is the possessor of a sultry, rich soprano with power to spare.“Ah! fuggi il traditor!” and her singing of “Mi tradi” was golden age in its perfection.

Zerlina, a peasant girl, was saucily sung and acted by Hannah Stone whose lyric soprano sparkled in duet with Don Giovanni and her naive but sweet spouse Masetto. Her lovely singing of “Batti, batti, o bel Masetto” and “Vedrai carino” were piquant and charming. Her duet “La ci darem la mano” with Don Giovanni was a highlight.

Don Giovanni (Nathan Matticks, seated) is interrupted during dinner by Donna Elvira (Zhanna Alkhazova, right) Photo by George Schowerer
Don Giovanni (Nathan Matticks, seated) is interrupted during dinner by Donna Elvira (Zhanna Alkhazova, right). Photo by George Schowerer.

Masetto, Zerlina’s betrothed, was poignantly portrayed by Jonathan Hare, whose warm charming baritone made him the subject of affection and sympathy rather than ridicule. He was ever the befuddled, simple peasant.

Il Commendatore, Anna’s father was eerily and brilliantly portrayed by basso Antoine Hodge. His singing of “Don Giovanni, a cenar teco m’invitasti” as a statue from his grave, was seeking vengeance. The scene of Don Giovanni’s steadfast defiance, leads to demons that drag him screaming, unrepentant, towards the flames of hell. Hodge’s magnificent cavernous, basso echoing his revenge, will haunt the memory for a long time.

The opera ends happily with the quintet of Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, Leporello, Zerlina and Masetto singing triumphantly. Don Ottavio agrees to marry Dona Anna; Donna Elvira will retire toa convent, Zerlina and Masetto will go home to eat and Leporello will head to the tavern to find a new Master. The morale?” He who lives wickedly – will die wickedly!”

The ensemble were all excellent, both the demons in black and red and all the cast characters. Melissa Guardiola Bijur played Donna Anna’s Duenna. All provided great support. It was so nice to see veteran chorister, the perky sweet voiced Cathy Greco on “double duty” selling refreshments during the intermission.

The 3 Maskers - Donna Anna ( Christina Rohm, left) Don Ottavio (Christopher Nelson, center) Donna Elvia (Zhanna Alkhazova, right) Photo by Sabrina Palladino Photo by Sabrina Palladino
The 3 Maskers – Donna Anna ( Christina Rohm, left), Don Ottavio (Christopher Nelson, center), Donna Elvia (Zhanna Alkhazova, right). Photo by Sabrina Palladino. Photo by Sabrina Palladino

Maestro and principal conductor Gregory Ortega led Regina’s 34 splendid musicians in a performance that was captivating and truly evoked the era of the great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. From the start, the orchestra played as one. From the minuet to the full powered scenes with the Commendatore, the mood was set!

Kudos to Timothy Moody on the keyboard for the serenade and parlando passages.

The magnificent costumes were by Marcia Kresge.the excellent make up both subtle and scary was by Milan Rakic. The stage director, set design and dueling sword fight choreography were by Linda Lehr. The stage was filled with many picture portraits of women dominated by the human body design of Leonardo Da Vinci in the center. Various tree branches and floral benches were used to create a stage always vibrant and colorful.

Don Giovanni (Nathan Matticks, right) is held by the Commendatore's statue (Antoine Hodge) refusing to repent for his sins. Photo by George Showerer.
Don Giovanni (Nathan Matticks, right) is held by the Commendatore’s statue (Antoine Hodge) refusing to repent for his sins. Photo by George Schowerer.

The Commendatore scene was unforgettable in its frightening power. The demons, the flames, the minuets, food and crowd scenes were a marvel of the brilliance of stage director Linda Lehr’s magic touch! Tyler Learned’s lighting brought to the fore the demise of Don Giovanni. The super titles were by Linda Cantoni and were a revelation to newcomers. Wayne Olsen’s set graphics were eye catching. This was a brilliant afternoon and evening of opera at its best. A truly vocally gripping and visually stunning “Don Giovanni!

The Regina Opera owes much to producer Francine Garber. We look forward to this 47th season of serving Brooklyn and opera lovers everywhere.

 

 

Elliott Gould: Son of Brooklyn, lion in winter

Elliott Gould. Photo by Kami
Elliott Gould. Photo by Kami

For Brooklyn-born Jewish men of a certain age, there are three totemic heroes: Sandy Koufax, Woody Allen and Elliott Gould. One of these giants (ah, poor choice of noun to describe a Brooklynite; let’s make that “titans”) afforded me the rare pleasure, and privilege, of hanging out with him on a recent trip to Los Angeles.

To say I “interviewed” Elliott Gould does not begin to do justice to the experience. A hunch I’d had for 45-plus years, ever since seeing him in “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” turned out to be true: Gould is not only a prodigiously gifted actor, but he’s also a warm, wise, soulful mensch. Think Buddha meets Isaac Bashevis Singer or Kwai Chang Caine meets Rebbe Mendel.

On the morning of our interview, when, after parking my car, I have trouble locating his building, Gould steps out on his West Los Angeles apartment balcony to point the way. I have an out-of-body experience: there he is — Trapper John McIntyre (“MASH”), Philip Marlowe (“The Long Goodbye”), Charlie Waters (“California Split” and his third collaboration with Robert Altman) Harry Greenberg (“Bugsy”), Reuben Tishkoff (“Oceans Eleven,” “Oceans Twelve” and “Oceans Thirteen.”)

Not to mention God (or at least, his voice) in the 2007 version of “The Ten Commandments.” Not to mention all the television work, going back to 1964, when he played the Court Jester (and sang “Very Soft Shoes”) opposite Carol Burnett in “Once Upon a Mattress.” Not to mention 26 episodes of “ER,” where he played Dr. Howard Sheinfeld. Not to mention 20 episodes of “Friends,” where he played Courteney Cox’s (Monica’s) and David Schwimmer’s (Ross’) father, Jack Geller. Not to mention 17 episodes of “Ray Donovan,” as Ezra Goodman.

Perhaps most especially, his membership in the elite Five Timers Club, having hosted “Saturday Night Live” six times. Altogether, over an almost 60-year career, Elliott has appeared in, by my rough calculation, 200 movies and television shows. From rabbis to casino owners, from lawyers to gangsters (not that big a stretch, actually), Elliott has played them all. He is the indisputable heir to throne of James Brown, as the hardest-working man in show business.

Born Elliott Goldstein on Aug. 29, 1938 in Bensonhurst, it can be argued that he was the first undeniably Jewish leading male actor in Hollywood. Unlike, say, Kirk Douglas or John Garfield, who, while themselves Jewish, usually played generic roles (with the notable exception of Garfield’s “Dave Goldman” in “Gentlemen’s Agreement”) Elliott always was, and is, unabashedly Jewish.

Before we begin the interview, Elliott gives me a tour of his art- and memento-filled apartment: photos of his and Barbra’s [Streisand] son Jason, paintings and drawings done by Jason and by Elliott’s granddaughter Daisy, three Hirschfield caricatures (Elliott and Marcia Rodd in Jules Feiffer’s “Little Murders”; Elliott with James Caan, Diane Keaton and Michael Caine in Mark Rydell’s “Harry and Walter Go to New York”; and Elliott with Sterling Hayden and Nina van Pallandt in Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye.”) There is also an image that makes my hair stand on end: a numbered lithograph of World War I refugees by the French artist Theodore Steinlen. What makes my follicles stand at attention is the fact that I grew up with the exact same image (a different numbered edition) hanging on my Brooklyn bedroom wall.

After making sure I was comfortable (“You can sit anywhere you want”) and didn’t want something to nosh on (“I have some fresh apples”), we got down to the principal reason for my visit: Elliott’s strong attachment to Brooklyn. As I was to learn over the next two-and-a-half hours, he possesses a photographic memory.

Elliott Gould, 3 years old, with a space-gun, outside back wall of local movie theater. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould
Elliott Gould, 3 years old, with a space-gun, outside back wall of local movie theater. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

The Eagle: Where did your family live in Brooklyn?

EG: 6801 Bay Parkway, Brooklyn 4. N.Y. (West Ninth Street, between Bay Parkway and Avenue O.) Our telephone number was Beachview 2-5524. I went to grammar school at P.S. 247, which was three blocks away from our apartment. One of my earliest memories was the day I found my balance and could take my first steps. I was a bit worried, as kids are, because my friends Stevie Greenstein and Ed Posner had learned to walk before I did. My mother reassured me, “Ah, don’t worry about it, you’ll catch up to them.” My mother was a very practical woman. She was a milliner; she made hats for all the other women in the neighborhood. She also was very fashionable — and beautiful.

Elliott goes to his mammoth desk, which is cluttered with scripts, books and tchotchkes. He extracts a 5-foot-by-5-foot memorial card with a photograph of a striking, stylish woman — circa mid-1940s — wearing a white blouse, billowing slacks and a white gardenia in her hair. Inside the card are the words “Lucy Gould, July 27, 1915 – September 24, 1998. In loving memory and devotion.” At the bottom of the card is this inscription: “Nothing is so strong as gentleness; nothing is so gentle as real strength.” On the opposite page is a photo of Elliott and his mother, also circa mid-1940s.

EG: That photograph was taken outside our apartment. Isn’t she beautiful?

Elliott Gould being held by his father, early 1940s, 73rd Street. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould
Elliott Gould being held by his father, early 1940s, 73rd Street. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Eagle: Yes, and so modern — she must have been a trendsetter.

EG: That she was.

Elliott Gould with his father, who is in uniform, in 1944 (aprox.), across the street from 6801 Bay Parkway. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould
Elliott Gould with his father, who is in uniform, in 1944 (aprox.), across the street from 6801 Bay Parkway. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Eagle: Moving on to your other memories; would you say that the growing up in Brooklyn, at a time when the Dodgers’ standing in the National League was more important than finding the best kale at the Park Slope food co-op, shaped and prepared you for the tough, competitive business you’re in?

EG: Listen, it prepared me for life, and this business is simply another part of life. So in answering your question, I’m not really talking about show business.

Elliott Gould as bellboy at the Palace Theater, NYC, watching Bill Callahan (dancer in silhouette). Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould
Elliott Gould as bellboy at the Palace Theater, NYC, watching Bill Callahan (dancer in silhouette). Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Eagle: Life in general…

EG: Yes, life in general. I’ll give you an example of what I mean. When I was in the middle of second grade, the school felt that I should skip a grade. The school had just started experimenting with something called “Special Progress” for seemingly gifted children. But at the moment they chose to move me forward a grade, I was just getting comfortable, I liked my classmates, I was getting my “rhythm.” I was thinking “I can do this.” But I was too young to think I could object. However, in the third grade you were expected to read out-loud, which I couldn’t do.

Elliott Gould with bassinet in background, in front of 6801 Bay Parkway, early-1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould
Elliott Gould with bassinet in background, in front of 6801 Bay Parkway, early-1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Eagle: Why?

EG: I had no confidence! One of the factors that has been significant in my life, for good and bad, is that I have always had a problem with authority. By that I mean, that authoritative people would tell you how things were and those people weren’t necessarily right. I always had a dislike for having to conform. And it turns out I wasn’t wrong. But one has to be realistic, to deal with the real world.

Elliott Gould seated with his mother and father in Luxor Manor, Ellenville, NY (Catskills), in the mid-1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould
Elliott Gould seated with his mother and father in Luxor Manor, Ellenville, NY (Catskills), in the mid-1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Eagle: After P.S. 247, where did you go to school?

EG: After I finished sixth grade, I went to Seth Low Junior High School. And, while I was in the seventh grade, I played the Palace. My parents had brought me to Manhattan, to a song and dance school, to learn “routines,” which, of course, was not how I had envisioned my life!  My first role was in the stage show celebrating the first anniversary of the return of vaudeville to the Palace. Next door to the dance classes I took was a dance class in which a boy named Bob Fosse was also learning to dance. [Note: Fosse was the celebrated choreographer and the director of such films as “All that Jazz” and “Lenny.”]

A photograph of Elliott Gould’s mother Lucy Gould, circa mid-1940s, from a memorial card following her death in 1998. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould
A photograph of Elliott Gould’s mother Lucy Gould, circa mid-1940s, from a memorial card following her death in 1998. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Eagle: In addition to your acting and dancing studies, were you also taking academic classes?

EG: Yes. After seventh grade at Seth Low, I was accepted in the Professional Children’s School [PCS.] It was a school for child performers who, when they were on the road with a show, would take correspondence classes to get their high school diplomas. In fact, when I graduated PCS, I was accepted into Columbia University. But I don’t think I really wanted to go, plus my family couldn’t afford the tuition. So I graduated PCS at 16 and immediately got a couple of jobs: I danced in the chorus of the “Ernie Kovacs Show,” then I was supposed to dance and sing in the chorus of the summer stock production of “Annie Get Your Gun” with Vaughn Monroe. But at what was to be our very first performance at Brandywine, a huge storm blew away the tent, so, sadly, I never got to perform “Annie Get Your Gun.”

Eagle: So you also took singing lessons?

EG: Oh, yes. When I studied with Charlie Lowe, we had what were called “personality classes,” where you had to sing a solo. In fact, I remember one of my first solos — “Hello Hollywood.”

[At which point, while still seated, Gould starts to perform the song and dance routine “Hello Hollywood.”]

“Hollywood/Here I am/I am looking for a movie man/Like Shirley Temple/I can sing and everything/Oh where is Mr. Warner/I’d like to get him in a corner!/I’ll show him how I sing and dance/Hello Hollywood/Whoop-ee Hollywood!”

Elliott Gould in the mid-1940s, in front of 6801 Bay Parkway. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould
Elliott Gould in the mid-1940s, in front of 6801 Bay Parkway. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Eagle: [Applauding] That was great! Anyway, what happened after the tent blew down and you couldn’t tour with “Annie Get Your Gun?”

EG: I came back to New York and got a job in the chorus of “Rumple,” starring Eddie Foy Jr. and Gretchen Wyler. We played the Alvin Theater, which is now the Neal Simon Theater. (I loved the smell of the Alvin Theater; it reeked of show business history.) This was also the first time I went out of town with a show. We went to Philadelphia and Boston. It was a great experience.

Eagle: So by then you were sure you wanted to be an actor?

EG: No! I’m still not sure! It was not my idea to get into show business; it was my parents’ idea. But I was so shy, and even repressed, that the feeling was that memorizing my lines and performing might be good for me. For example, another routine that was written for me to memorize and perform was, “Mary had a little lamb/Some peas and mashed potatoes/An ear of corn, some buttered beets/And then had sliced tomatoes/She said she wasn’t hungry/So I thought I’d get a break/But just to keep me company/She ordered up a steak/She said she couldn’t eat a thing/Because she’s on a diet/But then she saw ice cream and pie/And thought she’d like to try it/She drank two cups of coffee/And had dessert of course!/Oh Mary had a little lamb/And I had apple sauce!”

Elliott Gould pictured with his mother, Lucy, in the mid-1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould
Elliott Gould pictured with his mother, Lucy, in the mid-1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Eagle [applause again]: Your memory is amazing.

EG: Looking back on it now, it was beyond embarrassing, but I thought, “I have to try this. I can learn something.” The idea was if that I could mimic, if I could memorize, then somehow my own talent would come out. And this was the only artistic activity I was any good at — acting, singing, dancing, performing. I could draw a little; I couldn’t paint, not even finger-painting! But I remember I once saw a paperweight with the saying, “The greatest artist in the world is an uninhibited child at play.” And I subscribe to that. It’s funny, because when I repeated this to Herb Gardner [the late playwright Herb Gardner, another notable Brooklynite, wrote such hit plays as “A Thousand Clowns,” “I’m Not Rappaport” and “The Goodbye People”], he said, “an uninhibited child and Picasso.” And I said, “I didn’t know you were a materialist. I love Picasso, too, but you keep Picasso, and I’ll keep the child.” For me, without the spirit of the child, it’s all meaningless. Then, many years later, I discovered that the quote on the paperweight was actually from Picasso!

Eagle: You were so young when you did, for example, “The Ernie Kovacs Show,” which was a very hip show, way ahead of its time. Were you “getting” material such as Percy Dovetonsils and the Nairobi Trio?

EG: No, it went right over my head. I also appeared several times on “The Milton Berle Show.” I also did Jimmy Durante’s show. I made a couple of commercials. One was for Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy.

Elliott Gould on horse in mid-1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould
Elliott Gould on horse in mid-1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Eagle: I remember Bonomo’s! You can buy it on Google now.

EG: My tagline was “It’s better that delicious; it’s scrumptious.”

Eagle: After your Broadway debut in “Rumble,” was Jules Feiffer’s “Little Murders” next?

EG: Well, after “Rumple,” I started studying Modern Jazz dance with Matt Maddox. And Matt Maddox was about to choreograph a musical called “Say, Darling.” Abe Burrows directed that and Jules Styne and Comden & Green did the music and lyrics. It starred Vivian Blaine, who, of course, was the original Adelaide in “Guys & Dolls.” And I auditioned and auditioned for that show; I wanted so badly to be in it.

Now remember I was still living with my parents in Brooklyn! Well, I got into the show and they gave me the role of Earle Jorgenson, and I had to sing “Old Man River.”

The other thing I remember vividly was that because I wasn’t on until about 45 minutes into the show, I would go across the street from the old Madison Square Garden to watch the “Big O,” Oscar Robertson, play for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats against other college teams. Then I would scoot back to the theater just in time for my cue.

Elliott Gould with his mother and father in the mid-1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould
Elliott Gould with his mother and father in the mid-1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Eagle: You’ve been a sports fan forever, right? In fact, I remember the 1976 Oscar ceremony (when it was still broadcast on Monday nights), when you presented with Isabelle Adjani, and she said, “The winner is…” And you said, “Indiana 86, Michigan 68.”

EG: Yes, I was, and still am, a major sports fan. I remember my parents taking me to Ebbetts Field to see the Dodgers when I was 5 or 6. I also remember my father used to get angry with me, because I always had to go to the bathroom. And, of course, something important would happen — Duke Snider homering or Jackie stealing a base — while we were in the bathroom. My father used to get so mad at me! I’ll tell you another great sports story: Before the first Ali-Frazier fight, Jim Brown introduced me to Ali, and Ali said to me: “You do what you do as well as I do what I do.” That’s the second greatest compliment ever paid me.

Eagle: What was the first?

EG: Groucho Marx! We became friends, and I was at his house changing a light bulb over his bed. And he said, “that’s the best acting I’ve ever seen you do.”

Elliott Gould with teddy bear, in front of 6801 Bay Parkway, early 1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould
Elliott Gould with teddy bear, in front of 6801 Bay Parkway, early 1940s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Eagle: Back to Broadway. After “Say, Darling” …?

EG: After “Say, Darling” closed, I decided to hire Colin Romoff (who had been the assistant choreographer on “Say, Darling”) to help me improve and update my singing. I remember Colin had me sing “Do it the Hard Way” from “Pal Joey.”

[Once again, Gould starts singing. Who knew he was such a crooner? I ask him about this relatively unknown aspect of his career.]

EG: While I was in “Irma la Douce,” I was taking jazz lessons with Gene Lewis. He was friendly with Oona White, who I’d met while doing “Irma.” [Note: Oona White was a celebrated choreographer, whose Broadway credits included “The Music Man, “Carmen Jones” and “Take Me Along”]. After “I Can Get it for You Wholesale,” I went to London to do the West End premiere of “On the Town.”

Eagle: Were you still living at home in Brooklyn during this period?

EG: Yes, I was living at home until I met my first wife.

Elliott Gould being held by his father. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould
Elliott Gould being held by his father. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Eagle: How did you meet?

EG: We met while we were both in “I Can Get it for You Wholesale.”

Eagle: So we’re talking about Barbra [Streisand].

EG: Yes, Barbra. Not only my first wife, my first real relationship; I’d never really been with anyone before.

Elliott Gould performing at Luxor Manor, mid-40s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould
Elliott Gould performing at Luxor Manor, mid-40s. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Eagle: Barbra was Ms. Marmelstein, your assistant, in the play, correct?

EG: Yes. She played the secretary to my character, Harry Bogen. She was terrific. It was Barbra’s Broadway debut. Goddard Lieberson, who produced the cast album for Columbia Records, signed her to a contract and her first solo album was released two months after the show closed.

Eagle: Did the fact that you were both from Brooklyn, and Jewish, add to the appeal?

EG [smiling impishly]: You should ask Barbra that question.

[So, via email, I did.]

Her response: “Our attraction was not based on our being Brooklyn or Jewish … but it didn’t hurt.”

She was also gracious enough to take time out from recording her new album to answer one other question: Why hadn’t she and Gould worked together again after “Wholesale?”

“We never got any scripts that satisfied us.”

[Gould confirms this.]

"I Can Get It For You Wholesale" Playbill cover for 1962 Broadway production. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould
“I Can Get It For You Wholesale” Playbill cover for 1962 Broadway production. Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Eagle: Barbra used to perform a lot at the Blue Angel in the Village, right?

EG: Yes, I’d often go to see her there.

Elliott Gould on the set of the film "The Lady Vanishes" in Germany, 1978 (remake of classic Hitchcock film). Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould
Elliott Gould on the set of the film “The Lady Vanishes” in Germany, 1978 (remake of classic Hitchcock film). Photo courtesy of Elliott Gould

Eagle: The Blue Angel’s gone now…

EG: So is everything … so is Ebbets Field.

Eagle: But you’re still here…

EG: Yes I am!

* * *

Elliott Gould has just completed his starring role in the independent film “Humor Me” and will next be seen as a regular on the new CBS series “Doubt.”