Martina Arroyo Foundation Presents Its Thirteenth Annual Gala

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

Gala Host Terrance McKnight. Photo by 8salamander productions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Martina Arroyo Foundation Presents Die Fledermaus in Prelude to Performance

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

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

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

Eisenstein & Adele & Chorus. Photo by Jen Joyce Davis
Eisenstein & Adele & Chorus. Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

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

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

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

Rosalinde with fan & Chorus. Photo by Jen Joyce Davis
Rosalinde with fan & Chorus. Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prince Orlofsky & Chorus. Photo by Jen Joyce Davis
Prince Orlofsky & Chorus. Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opera Soprano Legend Martina Arroyo Photo by Jen Joyce Davis
Opera Soprano Legend Martina Arroyo
Photo by Jen Joyce Davis

Maestro Eve Queler’s Opera Orchestra of New York Presents Donizetti’s Parisina d’Este

Italo Marchini, Aaron Blake, Angela Meade, Eve Queler, Yunpeng Wang, Sava Vemic and Mia Pafumi. Photo by Meche Kroop
Italo Marchini, Aaron Blake, Angela Meade, Eve Queler, Yunpeng Wang, Sava Vemic and Mia Pafumi. Photo by Meche Kroop

Maestro Eve Queler’s Opera Orchestra of New York presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Parisina d’Este on the evening of Wednesday, May 4th at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall at Columbus Circle on Broadway and 60th Street.

This is a rare presentation of a work that calls for a revival. Maestro Eve Queler and the Opera Orchestra presented this work in a memorable Carnegie Hall Concert with Montserrat Caballe forty years ago. All that is needed are great voices and on this evening we had one in Angela Meade. The libretto is by Felice Romani after Lord Byron’s 1816 poem Parisina. The setting is Ferrara, Italy in the 15th century. The work premiered at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence, Italy in 1833.

Angela Meade, Metropolitan Opera soprano, resplendent in a red gown, sang Parisina, wife of Duke Azzo in love with Ugo. Ms. Meade sang with gorgeous tone and superb coloratura embellishments. Occasionally she would literally “touch a shooting star” by lightly hitting a note seemingly in outer space. Her caressing tone in her Piangi aria touched the heart. (That I am chosen to weep) Ms. Meade gave us some exquisite silken phrases both ethereal and on a thread of spun gold. This is Bel Canto singing of the highest order. However, there is another side to her artistry. In the final scene, after viewing her lover dead, her singing of “Ugo e spento! A me si renda!” had the passion of a Tosca and this “victimized” persona was struck by unfathomable rage as she kills herself after viewing Ugo’s body. It was an unforgettable operatic moment that one recalls for a lifetime.

Aaron Blake was Ugo, Parisina’s lover. His full lyric tenor was serviceable but he labored in passages where he should have soared. He tried to attain the tenorial heft needed both in duet and solo. The audience was supportive of his effort but one hopes he will stick to proper roles and not have to push hard in his upper register.

Duke Azzo was sung by Yunpeng Wang in a powerful  resonant  baritone that indicated the intensity and cruelty of his character. His “River Po” duet with his minister Ernesto was captivating. His shifts of mood, bad to worse, were heard in his vocal offerings and he was wholly believable and well defined.

Ernesto, Duke Azzo’s minister was sung by basso Sava Vemic. He attempts to be the peacemaker, even announcing that Ugo is the Duke’s long lost son, raised by himself, from the Duke’s first deceiving wife Matilde. Vemic’s basso cantante had nobility and depth.

Imelda, Parisina’s handmaid, vividly portrayed by soprano Mia Pafumi in her debut with the Opera Orchestra, made a very strong impression with her sympathetic portrayal, duet with Parisina, and vocal bursts of glory. One would like to see and hear more of Ms. Pafumi in the future.

We envisioned what a stunning staged opera this could be with knights, handmaidens, gondoliers, squires and soldiers in a fully costumed production.

The chorus from the New York Choral Ensemble under Chorus Master Italo Marchini sang lustily and with inspiration.

Maestro Eve Queler conducted the Opera Orchestra of New York with mastery and love. There were passages with the chorus singing and the trumpets playing with the full rich sound of Donizetti’s melodic music that made one say “thank you Eva Queler for all this glory.” The audience cheered for the ever youthful and indomitable Maestro and founder Eve Queler for this great triumph!

The Gerda Lissner Foundation and Stephen De Maio are to be thanked for nurturing so many of the wonderful singers.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ricardo Tamura Triumphs in Cavalleria Rusticana at The Metropolitan Opera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conductor Claudia Dumschat
Conductor Claudia Dumschat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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