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

Marie Cantoni

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Regina Opera Presents Puccini’s Manon Lescaut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regina Opera Presents a Thrilling Lucia di Lammermoor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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