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


Opera Index Honors Karl Michaelis at Spring Lunch

The elegant JW Marriott Essex House in New York City was the scene of the annual Opera Index Spring Lunch on Sunday, April 29th, honoring much-loved patron, humanitarian and philanthropist Karl Michaelis. After greetings and “thumbs up” to so many friends and familiar faces, the effervescent President, Jane Shaulis who is THE Jane Shaulis Metropolitan Opera mezzo soprano, sang the opening welcome. It literally “brought down the house” as voices quieted and expectations ran high. In her introductory remarks, Ms. Shaulis eagerly shared the monies collected over the years and the great help it was for so many young and gifted singers. Three talented artists provided the grand entertainment followed by a delicious lunch. All the young artists were accompanied by Michael Fennelly, whose pianistic virtuosity conjures up a full orchestra and gives both reassurance and pleasure.

Michael Fennelly, Kathryn Henry, Michele Angelini, Jane Shaulis, Honoree Karl Michaelis, Michelle Bradley & Murray Rosenthal. Photo by Judy Pantano

Kathryn Henry, soprano was the first, singing “Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante” from Bizet’s Carmen. She sang with power and precision, good breath control, poignant French and evoked Micaela’s basic goodness. Geraldine Farrar and Rosa Ponselle, great sopranos were challenged by Carmen, Farrar made Carmen a silent film hit with Cecil B. DeMille and roughed up Enrico Caruso, her Don Jose and some choristers when she returned to the Met Opera. (Hollywood influence) Ponselle, smarting from some critics’ opinions, retired from opera in 1937. Ponselle was struck by the “Curse of Carmen” breaking her arm during a performance in Baltimore. Ms. Ponselle’s filmed Hollywood screen test survives (1938), ironically with the great soprano doing some exciting singing and dancing. Ms. Henry need not worry, her voice rang free and clear. Her encore later on was, “It never was you” from Kurt Weil’s “Knickerbocker Holiday.” It was a captivating Broadway song with wistful and beguiling tone and Ms. Henry sang it beautifully. Kathleen Henry is a charming singer with a beautiful voice and a kilowatt smile. All of this was part of her satisfying presentation as a young artist as George Gershwin would say or Georges Guétary in the film An American in Paris “on her way to the stairway to paradise.”

(Back) Lucine Amara & Elaine Malbin, (Front) Evelyn LeQuaif & Tamie Laurance
Photo by Judy Pantano

Michele Angelini has grown in name and fame but is still “a wonderful guy” in his friendliness and personal charm. He sang “Ah mes amis” from La fille du Regiment by Donizetti. This aria, with its 9 high C’s, catapulted Luciano Pavarotti to fame. Michele Angelini is very secure in the upper register and each note was hit securely. He did not sound like the usual bleaty tenor giving us a lemon tart but rather like a master baker with a great pizza in fact 9 of them! His middle register has grown in size and I see a Duke and other great Verdi roles in the future. He gave us all a shot of adrenalin and we look forward to a very promising future for this outstanding tenor.

(Standing) Joy Ferro & Philip Hagemann
(Seated) Doris Keeley & Jessie Walker
Photo by Judy Pantano

Soprano Michelle Bradley recently appeared at the Met Opera’s Norma as Clotilde and will soon appear as Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni in Santiago, Chile. Ms. Bradley, a Houston native, opened with “D’amor sull ali rosee” from Verdi’s Il Trovatore. Her powerful voice was lowered for some wonderful soft passages and to show what she took away some small refinement. Ponselle and Milanov had perhaps finer pianissimi but Ms. Bradley has her own way of following the operatic highway and she articulates the speed bumps full drive rather than slowing down. Her soprano is rich and opera worthy and she will be a formidable contender for “whose the best” in the not too distant future.

I heard the divine contralto Marian Anderson sing “He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) circa 1966 at her “Farewell.” Backstage she gave me a souvenir program signed by her to my students at P.S. 129 in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. I still recall the nuance and shades of tenderness with which she lovingly sang the lyrics. Michelle Bradley awakened that immortal memory for me with her passionate encore, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” Her soaring soprano took us all “in her hands and heart” as she literally loved us all in this illuminated text of love. Ms. Bradley’s heavenly highs and burnished lows took us on a trip to paradise. A full concert of of spirituals or a series of encores should be a part of her magical bag of gifts!

Midge Woolsey, Murray Rosenthal & Maestro Eve Queler
Photo by Judy Pantano

It was nice to have mezzo soprano Rihab Chaieb so brilliantly sing “The Composer’s Aria” from Richard Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos. Rihab Chaieb was one of Opera Index’s major award winners in the 2016 competition. She did performances in Cavalleria Rusticana, Louisa Millerand the Sandman in Hansel and Gretel at the Met this last season. She will sing Zerlina in Don Giovanni next season. She had a success at Glyndebourne last summer.

Stephen Phebus, Linda Howes & William Goodhue
Photo by Judy Pantano

Former President and current Treasurer Murray Rosenthal, introduced Karl Michaelis whose work with the Gerda Lissner Foundation, Liederkranz Foundation and Opera Index, have made him like Charles Dickens the voice of Christmas present. He is a philanthropic, kindly, humane man with a fine manner, elegant apparel and a good sense of humor. Karl Michaelis is well deserving of this token of our great esteem. Karl said he was “happy to support the wonderful Opera Index” and stepped down to a fine Tiffany glass apple gift and much applause.

Cesare Santeramo, Corradina Caporello &
Dr. Jose Vito. Photo by Judy Pantano

It was nice to meet and greet President Jane Shaulis and Executive Director Joe Gasperec, Vice Presidents Phillip Hagemann and Janet Stovin, Treasurer Murray Rosenthal, Opera Index board members Robert Steiner, John David Metcalfe, Midge Woolsey, Opera Index patrons Jessie Walker and Doris Keeley, the genial Michael Fornabaio and energetic Cornelia Beigel from the Gerda Lissner Foundation, Gloria Gari from the Giulio Gari Foundation, Philipp Haberbauer from the Liederkranz Foundation, Maestro Eve Queler, opera managers Ken Benson and Robert Lombardo, vocal coach Tamie Laurance, Italian teacher Corradina Caporello and husband Maurice, opera legends sopranos Lucine Amara, Elinor Ross and sparkling New York City Opera and television soprano Elaine Malbin. Other familiar faces in the crowd were virtuoso Chopin pianist Marjan Kiepura and his lovely wife Jane, conductor Stephen Phebus and actress Linda Howes, Joy Ferro from Daniel Ferro Vocal Program, the elegant patron and tenor Cesare Santeramo, David Bender from Career Bridges, Edna Greenwich Director of Operaexposures, classy Michèle Classe, export consultant and husband Anthony and innovative filmmaker Marcelo Remizov.

Michael Fornabaio, Karl Michaelis, Jane & Marjan Kiepura & Philipp Haberbauer Photo by Judy Pantano

We are all friends at Opera Index and were eager and happy to “seize the moment.” Thank you Jane Shaulis and Joseph Gasperec for sharing the beauty of another memorable event together.

Jane Shaulis & Joseph Gasperec
Photo by Judy Pantano