On the evening of Wednesday, March 9th, Michael Lahr and Gregorij von Leitis hosted a special remembrance of the great Italian American (Born in Pennsylvania) soprano Anna Moffo (1932-2006) who passed away 10 years ago to the day. Many friends operatic, literary, legal and medical from Ms. Moffo’s legendary past stopped by to offer some insight into her vocal accomplishments as recordings of her signature roles were heard.
I was privileged to have seen and heard her amazing Violetta in La Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera (Debut 1959) where she sang countless lyric and coloratura roles such as Lucia di Lammermoor and was a legendary Liu in Turandot. Anna Moffo’s ravishing beauty served her well in Italy where she had her own TV show and made films in Italy and Germany, both operatic and popular.
Ms. Moffo’s heavy workload caused a vocal crisis and she turned to our host Gregorij von Leitis for advice and assistance. I again was among the sold out visitors at the Met Opera house to witness her “comeback” violetta in the 1970’s which was short but very sweet.
Anna Moffo was a long time member of the Elysium-between two continents advisory board and her spirit prevailed at this “swellegant, elegant party” of Cole Porter rank with excellent hosts. Good food, fine champagne and wine and the voice of the angels caressing the ear. Priceless autographed photographs were admired by all.
I am certain that Anna Moffo, opera star, actress and humanitarian would have appreciated this gathering arranged by Michael Lahr and Gregorij von Leitis and she was present in spirit. The Elysium in New York sponsors international educational programs. To live on in the hearts of those you love is to be remembered forever.
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 Martina Arroyo Foundation on Monday, November 16th celebrated its 11th Anniversary of Prelude to Performance. The gala was held at the JW Marriott Essex House in New York City. This was a night to remember, when the worlds of music and fashion merged to form a special magic with an excitement of its own.
Brian Kellow, Features Editor of Opera News and bestselling author and radio WQXR evening’s host Terrance McKnight, lent their abundant charm as co-hosts and introduced many distinguished guests in the audience. Gala Producer Midge Woolsey led us in a brief moment of silence for the victims of Paris. The Michel Maurel Award was given to Ernst Rieser, longtime friend, adviser and personal assistant to Mme. Arroyo. Martina Arroyo looking resplendent in a burgundy gown presented the award named after her late much loved husband.
Martina Arroyo also presented an award to honored guest,Artistic Director Ted Sperling of MasterVoices (formerly The Collegiate Chorale). He then conducted the chorale in a brief magical piece from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with angelic purity of tone.
The operatic portion then began with “The Flower Duet” from Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini. Brandie Sutton, soprano and Hyona Kim, mezzo blended their voices beautifully. Ms. Sutton is a soprano of radiant promise. Ms. Kim’s majestic mezzo mellowness was alluring. Akari Weintzen was an adorable “Trouble,”(Butterfly and Pinkerton’s child) and performed her tasks with deft professionalism. This was a poignant segment beautifully done. Their tossing of the blossoms to prepare for Pinkerton’s arrival melted the heart.
Jennifer Rowley, sang “Pace, Pace, Mio Dio from Giuseppe Verdi’s La Forza del Destino. Ms. Rowleys opening note was held seemingly forever reaching fortissimo and then diminishing to a whisper. A true Verdi soprano, Ms. Rowley went from strength to strength as if combating the caprices of destiny with prayerful defiance. Her “Maledizione’s” were individually spine chilling. Jennifer Rowley made a successful Metropolitan Opera debut as Musetta last year.
Dinner was served and the program continued with international rising tenor Michele Angelini, who was born in Brooklyn-why not? So were legendary tenor Richard Tucker and baritone Robert Merrill. Angelini thrilled us with a powerful interpretation of “Ah! mes amis” from Donizetti’s La Fille du regiment. The 9 high “C’s” were hammered out with insouciance, grit and charm.
Brian Kellow then presented an award gift to Greek born Joanna Mastroianni whose fashion collections reflect her sense of style and elegance. A brief film was shown of her designs accompanied by the haunting voice of Maria Callas singing “Eben” from Catalani’s La Wally.
An auction followed with a real auctioneer-Angelo K. H. Chan! Some of the auction gifts were: a week in the Palais de Paris dans Le Marais, tenor Michele Angelini for an evening of singing, famed Italian Parisian chef Paolo Petrini for a private dinner for eight, and a “poker” night with Martina Arroyo, Marilyn Horne and Tyne Daly were among the highlights!
The Act Two lesson scene from La Fille du Regiment was then performed. Claire Coolen used her saucy soprano and comedic timing and versatility with humor and elan. Karolina Pilou used her dark, plummy and pliable mezzo with great aplomb along with Michele Angelini’s exciting tenor and Jacopo Buora’s resonant bass baritone, put them in a pot and a brilliantly funny brew ensues!
After coffee, tea and desserts and closing remarks from Brian Kellow and Terrance McKnight an “extra dessert” followed. Soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez, who caused a sensation as Violetta in Prelude to Performance in 2014, sang the “Csardas” from Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. Ms. Lopez‘s flourishes, scales and exciting coloratura took us on a roller coaster ride that ended with a sustained high note and brought down the house. It was a rousing finale from a young and gifted singer. The exceptional accompanists were Lloyd Arriola and Noby Ishida.
Metropolitan Opera baritone Mark Rucker who coaches the awardees, and his wife Sadie (Publicity) have given their all since the conception of Prelude to Performance and deserve great kudos.
Our table was graced by Gerda Lissner President Stephen De Maio with Board of Directors Michael Fornabaio, Karl Michaelis, Joyce Greenberg, also Gloria Gari from The Giulio Gari Foundation, Maestro Eve Queler, Robert Lombardo famed vocal agent, soprano Barbara Ann Testa vocal judge, Cavaliere Edward Jackson, and we greeted F. Paul Driscoll, Editor of Opera News, Sachi Liebergesell, President of the Licia Albanese–Puccini Foundation, Murray Rosenthal from Opera Index, Maestro Stephen Phebus and Linda Howes were also present.
It was a pleasure to meet Rufus Wainwright (Benefit Committee) composer/musician who had a huge success at The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) with his opera Prima Donna as well as fashion honoree, Joanna Mastroianni. Famed coloratura soprano Harolyn Blackwell was as perky and vital as when she sang an unforgettable “Oscar” in Verdi’s Ballo in Maschera with Luciano Pavarotti at The Metropolitan Opera. This was a night of good friends, good food, great singing and all the good and beautiful things in life. Thanks to Gala Chair Cecilia Teng, Gala Producer Midge Woolsey and co-chairs Donna and Richard Esteves and Andrew Martin-Weber.
Martina Arroyo, magnificent Metropolitan Opera and international soprano, human being and humanitarian fully deserved her recent honor at the Kennedy Center. Madame Arroyo’s work with young promising opera singers is through her Foundation in its Prelude to Performance at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College. This program prepares the winners with scholarships plus a stipend for six weeks of study and presents them in four fully costumed productions with orchestra. In July 2016, Prelude to Performance will present two performances each of Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss and Puccini’s La Boheme. This also provides the true antidote for the evils in the world by letting the indelible imprint of enlightenment through music enter.
Thanks to the Martina Arroyo Foundation, opera will continue to thrive as young singers are granted the opportunities to perform and offer their special gifts to the world.