Opera Index Presents Annual Membership Buffet & Recital

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cesare Santeramo & Dr. Robert Campbell
Photo by Judy Pantano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John David Metcalfe & Ken Benson
Photo by Judy Pantano

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Martina Arroyo Foundation Celebrates its 14th Annual Gala Anniversary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soprano Maria Brea & Tenor WooYoung Yoon
Photo by Sean Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giulio Gari as Calaf in Puccini’s
Turandot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Gloria Gari, Photo by Judy Pantano

 

Elysium between two Continents Celebrates its 35th Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corey Friedlander, Public Relations
Photo by Letizia Mariotti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Rockaway Post Theatre Company Presents A View From the Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Sparkling Hungarian Gala at Marcella Sembrich Museum

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

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

Interior of Sembrich Museum

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

Violinist Daniel Szasz & Cimbalomist Laci Rácz
Photo by Judy Pantano

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

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

Laci Rácz playing Cimbalom. Photo by Judy Pantano

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

Soprano Marcella Sembrich (1858-1935)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dancers Csaba Zsolt Tokes & Julia Redo
Photo by Judy Pantano

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

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

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

Judy & Nino Pantano Photo by Richard Wargo

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

Prelude to Performance Presents an Outstanding Falstaff

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

Composer Giuseppe Verdi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opera Legend Soprano Martina Arroyo.
Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

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

The Regina Opera Presents a Dazzling Aida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hyong Sik Jo as Ramfis. Photo by Colleen Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aida Cast. Photo by Marcello Pantano

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

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

 

The Gerda Lissner & Liederkranz Foundations Present A Celebration Of Opera

The 2018 Winners of the International Vocal Competition & Celebrating 50 Years with Maestro Eve Queler & Opera Orchestra of New York

Sunday, May 6th, was a very special day for opera lovers. The Gerda Lissner Foundation and the Liederkranz Foundation presented their prizewinners in a grand concert at Zankel Hall, part of the Carnegie Hall Complex. It also celebrated 50 years of Opera Orchestra of New York with Maestro Eve Queler who, with the orchestra, accompanied the young awardees on their operatic journey.

Maestro Eve Queler with Winners of the International Vocal Competition 2018. (Photo by Don Pollard)

Midge Woolsey was the host of this exciting event. Ms. Woolsey, who was a familiar radio voice for years, is also a familiar face from her manifold duties as host on PBS Channel 13. She requested the audience greet and cheer her co-host, the well known opera writer and Broadway biographer Brian Kellow, who could not attend and Stephen De Maio President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation and “Father” to so many young singers through the years. We reflect on their fruitful lives, wish them well, thank them for their inspired work and thank dear Steve for this glorious afternoon with legendary Maestro Eve Queler and the splendid young singers.

Lya Pfeifer, Midge Woolsey & Jerry Stolt. (Photo by Don Pollard)

The Liederkranz Foundation sponsored prizes in two categories: the General Division and the Wagnerian Division. The top prize in the General Division went to tenor Matthew White. Soprano Amy Shoremount-Obra was the top prize winner in the Wagnerian Division. President Joseph Pfeifer from the Liederkranz Foundation presented the esteemed awards.

Rusty & Amy Shoremount-Obra &
Joseph Pfeifer. (Photo by Don Pollard)

The program began with “Ah La Paterno Mano” from Verdi’s Macbeth sung by tenor Robert Stahley, who at age 26, is the fine ambrosia for a special occasion. His voice has a very pleasing sound; good secure upper register, fluent legato and breath control building up to a strong finale. A good Verdi stylist ready to go!

Rafael Sanchez, Glenn Morton & Patricia Sheridan. (Photo by Judy Pantano)

Next was “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka by Antonín Dvorák. Elena Perroni soprano sang this rhapsodic and beautiful aria with a dark hued sound, power and a great sense of yearning of this sea creature who desires to be a human woman and love a man. The exotic and passionate orchestra with Maestro Eve Queler made for quite a treat with the sound of music and the quest for magic in the air.

I had some spinal surgery at NYU-Langone Hospital and on the corner entrance (East 17th Street & Second Avenue) there was a street sign that said “Dvorák Place.” That was the house where the great Czech composer Antonín Dvorák lived for three years while composing “The New World Symphony.” Regrettably the new hospital tore it down but the sign is still a significant reminder.

Barbara Ann Testa, Christine & Alfred Palladino. (Photo by Judy Pantano)

Bass William Guanbo Su sang Bellini’s “Vi ravviso o luoghi ameni” from La Sonnambula. Mr. Su has a pleasing sound to his bass and captured most of the poignant Bellinian style. The fioritura was good, the yearning was heartfelt and the “Italianate feel” was intact. With orchestra embellishments at the end of the aria, it was an exciting moment.

Verdi’s “Surta è la notte …Ernani! Ernani involami” from Ernani was sung by soprano Anna Dugan. Since the classic rendition by the great Rosa Ponselle, this haunting and thrilling aria and cabaletta is held to a very high standard. Ms. Dugan possesses a vibrant soprano voice, her highs and lows were forceful and there was a touch of stridency on top in the cabaletta. These insecurities can be worked out and Ms. Dugan will surely help fill the current void of good Verdi sopranos.

Michèle Classe & Betty Cooper Wallerstein.
(Photo by Judy Pantano)

“Ah, lève-toi soleil” from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette was in the capable hands (or voice) of tenor César Delgado. Mr. Delgado is the possessor of a fine lyric spinto voice with softness and thrust. There was good contrast from loud to soft and a strong finale swelling to an impassioned climax.

Baritone Seokjong Baek sang “Cruda, funesta smania” from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. He had just the right amount of seething rage at his sister Lucia and he sang with precision, power, shading and elan. His exciting finale on a good high note was held and inspired the audience to cheers.

During the intermission it was nice to see so many celebrities and friends: Host Midge Woolsey and husband Jerry Stolt, Cornelia Beigel, Michael Fornabaio, Karl Michaelis, from the Gerda Lissner Foundation and Joyce Greenberg loyal patron/contributor of the Gerda Lissner Foundation with friend Ralph Petrarca; Philipp Haberbauer from The Liederkranz Foundation, Gloria Gari from the Giulio Gari Foundation, Met mezzo soprano Jane Shaulis, Joseph Gasperec, Murray Rosenthal, Philip Hagemann, Janet Stovin, Cesare Santeramo, Robert Steiner, Faith Pleasanton all from Opera Index; sopranos Elinor Ross, Barbara Ann Testa, Elaine Malbin; Glenn Morton from Classic Lyric Arts, opera managers Ken Benson and Robert Lombardo, vocal coach Tamie Laurance, Deborah Surdi, from Opera Orchestra, Richard Wargo, composer and artistic director at the Marcella Sembrich Museum in Lake George, Brooklyn reviewer Thomas Lenihan, patron activist Betty Cooper Wallerstein, from Stifel investments Alfred Palladino and wife Christine, Luna Kaufman, author pacifist, export consultant Michèle Classe and husband Anthony, designer Rafael Sanchez, vocal coach Patricia Sheridan, City National Bank’s Joseph Sedillo and John Lawrence and famed opera standee Lois Kirschenbaum.

Robert Steiner & Faith Pleasanton. (Photo by Judy Pantano)

Mezzo-soprano Hyo Na Kim sang “Einsam Wachend in der Nacht” from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Her warm caressing mezzo was indicative of so much more sound being saved for passages of drama. She has both capital and interest on tap and the result leaves one in awe. Her voice evoked the Champs Élysée and the Eiffel Tower in its imposing authority and grace held by great vocal support.

“Dich teure Halle” from Tannhäuser was sung by soprano Amy Shoremount-Obra. It was voice of strength and beauty that lit up the Wagnerian sky with brilliant streaks of light making impact on Wagnerites and giving life to new lovers of Wagner.This selection calls for brilliance of sound and Ms. Shoremount-Obra gave us that in full measure.

The familiar sounds of “Eri Tu” from Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera followed and are reminding us all how wonderful it was to have Maestro Eve Queler and her orchestra behind the singers. Baritone Jaeman Yoon sang this poignant and moving aria from dark menacing phrases to those of longing and heartbreak with a full emotional plate and captured it. He hit some ringing top notes and his final d’amore ended with a passionate Italianate thrust.

Puccini’s iconic “Un bel di” from Madama Butterfly was sung by Maria Natale. In the 1930’s she would have been scooped up by Hollywood like Lily Pons and Risë Stevens Met Opera stars and beauties. Jeanette MacDonald sang in opera after she left Hollywood and sang with Ezio Pinza in Faust. Mr. Eddy had a ten-year opera career before he went to Hollywood. My favorite of their films was Maytime. Maria Natale sang with admirable restraint. Her beautiful soaring soprano seemed to be hearing the legendary soprano Licia Albanese “to always sing on the word.” I told Ms. Natale that she gave me tears with her phrases and determination.The finale was beautifully accomplished with power and pathos and the wonderful Maestro Eve Queler and Opera Orchestra. Maria was a second prize winner and just sang a memorable Violetta in La Traviata in Seattle. I have to admit, I handed her a rose making her both a California gal and a “Roseworthy Butterfly.”

Hubert Zapiór, Polish baritone, was a striking looking Onegin singing” Vy mne pisali”…. from Eugene Onegin – by the great Tchaikovsky. Mr. Zapiór’s beautiful lyric baritone has a lovely quality and Adamo Didur, a star Polish bass during Caruso’s time comes to mind. Beautiful sensual voice, subtle yet moving and powerful. I told Mr. Zapiór that the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky, I am certain in singer’s heaven, is happy to see such a splendid Eugene Onegin now that he is gone.

Soprano Courtney Johnson (3rd-center) & Family. (Photo by Judy Pantano)

Soprano Courtney Johnson sang “Je dis que rien ne m’epouvante” from Carmen iconicallyknown as “Micaela’s air.” This aria is said to have greatly enhanced the career of young Licia Albanese. People would see Carmen just to hear Mme. Albanese sing “Je dis que.” Ms. Johnson has a full, radiant and lovely voice with power and resilience. A beautiful top and generous shading give her a special offering to the audience. Her ample finale was poignant and heart wrenching. The Opera Orchestra of New York made everything the stuff of dreams. It was so nice to see how proud her family was of this emerging opera star.

Tenor Matthew White was the winner of the Liederkranz top prize. His singing of “O Paradis” from Meyerbeer’s L’Africaina was a sensation! I always found the French diction to restrict the tenor from “opening up” and both Enrico Caruso and Beniamino Gigli recorded it in Italian. I said when I saw the program that “O Paradis,” lovely as it is, is usually a downer because the French doesn’t open and diminishes the thrill. Mr. White opened with a lovely vibrant tenor of moderate size and his first high note was full and round and had a Corellian spark to it. Then he sang all the long phrases and at the finale came on an ascending scale evoking the quality of the great Swedish tenor Jussi Björling and brought down the house. We all felt like we were present at the creation.

Seokjong Baek closed Act One in baritonal triumph and Matthew White gave us a visceral thrill with his wondrous tenor to conclude the concert.

Dinner Host Karl Michaelis. (Photo by Don Pollard)

There was a private dinner at the New York Athletic Club honoring Maestro Eve Queler for her 50 years at the helm of the Opera Orchestra of New York. Karl Michaelis hosted, as many sang her praises which she graciously and proudly accepted and a beautiful anniversary cake was presented. She spoke of past triumphs and how she, a female remained firm, certain of her talent and opened the doors for many women who would not have knocked and deprived the world of their talent.

Maestro Eve Queler & her 50th Anniversary Cake.
(Photo by Don Pollard)

Many friends and opera lovers were there to dine on delicious pumpkin ravioli, salad, breaded chicken, wines, coffees and desserts as we heard so many great things about Maestro Eve Queler. Some at our table or passing by to chat, were Dr. Anthony Abbate, urologist and actress/stage director wife Geraldine, opera lecturer Lou Barrella and wife Kathleen, Vito & Rosa Pietanza, formally from the New York Grand Opera, photographer Anita Sanseverino, pianist Alba Mazza and opera aficionado Dianna De Martino were happy to be among the privileged many on this special day. Bravo Gerda Lissner and Liederkranz, so beautiful together.

Judy & Nino Pantano & Dr. Anthony & Geraldine Abbate. (Photo by Don Pollard)

Thank you Steve De Maio for making this event so special! You surely have the magic touch and congratulations to Maestro Eve Queler and her marvelous orchestra, loved and idolized after 50 golden years.This affair was truly special, where past and present united and the fresh young singers gave us a dazzling look at the future.

Franco Corelli – A Revolution in Singing Volume 3 By Stefan Zucker

Franco Corelli Volume 3 arrived and any page that one finds is loaded with fascinating detail and beautiful photographs. There are many tenors mentioned including some current ones.

As a child in Sicilian Bensonhurst Brooklyn, I was familiar with some of these tenors because aside from a SPISA (food shopping), music was a part of life at Sunday dinner. Both my Grandfather’s Francesco and Antonio played guitar and Antonio played the mandolin as well. Uncle Giuseppe played perfect banjo and even had a song on RCA Victor records called “Do You Recall the Hour?” My Mother Marie played the piano and we both sang also. We had a great deal of fun and no one read music!

My grandparents would take me to see Beniamino Gigli films and also such operatic stars as Gino Bechi, Ferruccio Tagliavini and Gina Lollobrigida as Nedda in Pagliacci. My Grandmother Rosalia tended to curse the villains and whores from the audience and I guess this was the way it was supposed to be. My father Santo (Sam) would tell me bedtime stories of Orlando, Rinaldo and Malagigi. Oral tradition was from Orlando Furioso and Enrico Caruso, who had a voice of gold. Thanks to Bertha Lang, my first music teacher, I became a winner on The Ted Mack Hour and the Paul Whiteman show. I sang “Largo al factotum, Vesti la giubba” and many other arias and songs and O Sole Mio was sung phonetically. My very first opera was La Forza del Destino at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) conducted by Father Pavone from Sacred Hearts St. Stephens Church in South Brooklyn. I was 10 years old but recognized the Pace, Pace aria from an olive oil commercial on WOV radio in my grandmother Rosalia’s house.

Beniamino Gigli

My first real opera at the Metropolitan Opera (Met) was Aida with Mario Del Monaco, Zinka Milanov and Leonard Warren on March 8, 1952. This was related to my studying briefly with Maestro Astolfo Pescia at the Hotel Ansonia in 1949-50. He taught Grace Moore, Rina Gigli and Dorothy Kirsten. He also I read, hosted a party attended by Florence Foster-Jenkins and that must have been fun! There are many photos to see and many great and popular voices in Mr. Zucker’s current volume, making it a unique literary experience.

Mario Del Monaco as Otello

I loved Alfredo Kraus. He was a wonderful Edgardo often going “way up” in the Sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor. His elegant singing of the love duet in Lucia was heavenly and his heroic Hoffmann in his late sixties was unforgettable. My wife Judy and I were in a bus in Spain and the driver was playing records by Alfredo Kraus singing Spanish songs, his free flying high notes were thrilling and I made sure to buy that album back in the States. What a singer! His appearance at a Lucia Albanese-Puccini gala concert was simply amazing. I believe he sung “Lamento di Federico” and “La Donna e mobile” then.

Alfredo Kraus

I found tenor Chris Merritt to be without merit. I did not care for the sound and quality of his voice. Corelli is correct on this fact. As for booing, Corelli says that the audience can, if it wishes. I disagree. Boo the management not the singers. Jane Eaglen’s Norma in 2001 was a total disaster. Her “Casta Diva” got scattered applause only. However the jealous claque that booed Enrico Caruso in Naples circa 1901, insulted him so, that he never sang in Naples again. He sang of Naples and died there. I don’t think Corelli enjoyed being booed by a young student for whatever reason, when he challenged him to a duel.

Enrico Caruso as Canio in Pagliacci

I loved the chapter on Michael Fabiano. I saw the documentary on the Met auditions and saw Fabiano attempting to sing one of Caruso’s greatest songs “L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombre” by Francesco Paolo Tosti on the Columbus Day parade a few years ago in New York City. He shouted incoherently and literally killed the song. I find nothing fine in his voice. It is ambition driven – but that clearly is not what it takes to reach the soul of this Tosti song.

Carlo Bergonzi, who I recall singing a superb Ballo in maschera also was a great Edgardo, a very good Radames and Manrico. His tenor, despite its not very open or large size did very well in dramatic parts. I saw a recital of his at Brooklyn College where some of his silvery high notes à la Gigli brought tears to my eyes as did his very moving Canio. His final exit on a banana peel at an Otello concert was a bad dream.

Carlo Bergonzi as Radames

I loved Giuseppe Giacomini’s voice. His Manrico was wonderful, his Canio really good but he had a strange stage countenance that kind of lessened the effect.

Argentine tenor Jose Cura seemed a good poseur but he developed a “sing song” crooning quality that evoked the flaws of John Vickers, Anna Moffo and Renée Fleming that many found irksome.

Ferruccio Tagliavini was much loved and very popular. His films, his sweet, vigorous singing made him quite a favorite. He was Gigli-like in his use of pianissimo and sweetness and his top notes were somewhat pushed but exciting. His debut at the Met on January 10, 1947 was much talked about. His appearances on the Voice of Firestone assured large viewer response for “Anema e core.” I saw him at his “return” to the Met in 1962 in a superb La Bohème and E’lisir d’amore with Salvatore Baccaloni. That and a concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) where he sang the Sicilian song “Amuri, amuri” and the Le Cid aria “O Souverain.” He also came out to the box office afterward to greet his adoring public and hopefully no children yelling “Papa,”Papa”(Quite a Lothario)

Giuseppe Di Stefano, I saw in a wonderful Carnegie concert, then a disastrous Tales of Hoffmann, then at a Maria Callas Farewell. His recordings of Italian songs thrilled us all. His Lucia di Lammermoor with Callas is heaven on disc. However, he sang roles that were too heavy for him, smoked cigars and kept late hours. His voice was ruined and he sang on remnants for quite a while. He died, loved by the multitudes and inspired many for his beautiful, warm, passionate Sicilian sound.

Salvatore Licitra & Marcelo Alvarez

Salvatore Licitra has become a lovely, charming but sad footnote. I saw him in a gutless Canio. He was born in Switzerland and spent some years in Sicily, but like the exquisite Lisa Della Casa, remained emotionally Swiss. The notes were there but Richard Tucker emoted far more. Licitra had a quality in his voice that evoked sadness but not enough. His death from a brain aneurysm while riding his motorcycle in Sicily, was very upsetting indeed. His delivery to me, was more Martinellian than Roberto Alagna who is a very fine tenor but he too, is doomed by his French upbringing.The style differs too much with the Sicilian DNA. Tenor Marcelo Alvarez, a fine artist, is sounding forced and may have sung too much and his reach at this point, may exceed his grasp.

I did a Joe Franklin TV show with Kurt Baum and his spectacular “Di quella pira” was played. He seriously wanted to challenge Pavarotti to see who between them was really the King of the High C’s. He had a radio which he played in the street,of his voice, mentioning to one and all that he was still the King of the High C’s. I liked him despite his braggadocio and I recall the many times he sang the C’s in Il Trovatore. He told me Milanov punched him for not giving her the Aida dressing room and he called Rudolf Bing, threatening to walk out. Bing told him, “Don’t do anything that rash, just step on her gown!”

Kurt Baum

James Valenti who is a sexy, tall and youthful singer was quoted as saying he was influenced by Pavarotti, Mario Lanza, Gigli and Corelli. (Because of his open throated singing and dynamic stage presence). “I am partial to warm Italianate voices.” He likes Gedda and Bjöerling but is partial to Italianate sounds.

Luciano Pavarotti

Marcello Giordani has real squillo and tries for a Carusian sound. This does not always work in this strong Sicilian tenors favor. The result is that at times, his voice sounds colorless and tired. Other times he can belt the notes with the glory of Mount Etna erupting. He visited the Enrico Caruso Museum and I saw the reverence in his soul being near Caruso. Giordani has his own sound and he should pursue that. He is among the few Italian tenors left and should pray to Caruso for guidance.

Luciano Pavarotti had great media and public acclaim but he never made me cry. Gigli would make one laugh and cry with his caressing tenor. Soprano legend, Rosa Ponselle described Caruso as having “A voice that LOVED you. It was gold wrapped in velvet.”

Rolando Villazon, a young, gifted Mexican tenor who wanted to sing all out. I saw his debut at New York City Opera (NYCO) in La Bohème and his top note in “Che gelida manina” was sublime and surprisingly echoed in longevity Björling who I saw at the old Met circa 1954. However, Villazon wanted to become Caruso and not emphasize middle notes and use legato. He literally sang on the capital with no interest. Caruso did not shout as Stefan Zucker has said, but Villazon began doing just that. He could have been a young Domingo with a top but he blew himself out. He is a major disappointment but his lack of restraint overwhelmed him. There is a concert where he sings Rossini’s “La Danza” on Classic Arts Showcase. Caruso sang it with power, brilliance and an element of grace and restraint while Villazon tears it to pieces. Villazon’s downfall is cause to pause and reflect on that fatal disease, “tenoritis.”

Joseph Calleja is the Maltese tenor. His early sounds were of Fernando De Lucia  and the almost moribund fast vibrato school. But it seemed to come naturally to him and now he is doing Pollione in Norma at the Met. His voice is full of surprises and occasionally passion. He is unique because his school of singing (like De Lucia) is gone. I think the Caruso school has won the battle. Caruso did not sing just loud, listen to his delightful “Noche Feliz” recorded in 1920 or his “De che ritorni” from Meyerbeer’s L’Africana. Was there ever a more nuanced voice?

Tenor Jonas Kaufmann, trying to sing like Corelli and Caruso is, at age 48, very loud or very soft. There is no middle to his voice since he has been pushing too hard. There are a few hints of Corelli but the wreckage is pilling up with cancellations, illnesses and personal problems.

The new tenor of promise is Vittorio Grigolo, who exudes freshness, youth, vigor and sings with romance boiling over. He follows in the Tito Schipa tradition with a more lyrical lighter sound and a more aggressive top.

Vittorio Grigolo

Corelli’s comment to Stefan Zucker, that Caruso had a beautiful voice and a beautiful soul” stands out. That is what every tenor should strive for. Arturo Melocchi’s larynx lowering might be as pretentious as Dr. Dulcamara’s elisir. Who knows? Whatever works is good enough! Singers should test their instincts and feel if strain is being put on their vocal chords.

There are many gorgeous photographs in this book, among them are the chapters on vocal teacher Bill Schumann with tenors Stephen Costello and James Valenti. The confusion that seems to come when a talented singer goes to a teacher recalls my own youth. You place your soul in their hands and often fear your talent will fly away, never to return. I recall Maestro Astolfo Pescia making me sing (age 13 years) “ma, me, mi, mo, mu,” higher and higher until I fainted. He would then call his wife “Olga, bring some smelling salts for our young tenore.” Other voice teachers followed but it was a very bumpy ride that led me to love my favorite tenors, avoid vocal teachers and become an avid member of the audience.

Jonas Kaufmann

I don’t know if I would have sung at the Met as Maestro Pescia promised in the far away future, but talent, faith and (mazel) luck mean a great deal!

This splendid book by Stefan Zucker deserves our plaudits, readership and thanks. Mr. Zucker may be an iconoclast but where else and who else can produce such a range of reading on the human voice. “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord” prevails in the brilliance, charm and love that Stefan Zucker has put into these volumes. They keep opening a magic box that modern events have tried to silence by declaring them of the past, forgotten, or of no use. Open the magic box and a pinata of voices come out to enlighten and make one listen to a continuing era of beauty, individuality and creativity! Bravo Stefan Zucker! Franco Corelli Volume 3  Bel Canto Society – 358 pages