By Nino Pantano
For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The charming and intimate Presidents Room with its wonderful views of Central Park South at the New York Athletic Club was the venue for a very special evening on Dec. 12.
Stephen De Maio, artistic director of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation, made the opening remarks and acknowledged all those who assisted this organization in its artistic goals in the pursuit of helping young and promising operatic talent with scholarships. Fifty-nine singers went on to the Metropolitan Opera.
Sachi Liebergesell, president of the organization spoke lovingly of the accomplishments achieved and the importance of opera in today’s world. Mme. Albanese, now in her 100th year, was at home nursing a cold.
Robert Lombardo agent and opera judge told the audience of his grandfather, Louis D’ Angelo (1888-1958) famed comprimario at the Metropolitan Opera (Met) from 1917-1947 for a total of 1,490 performances and was a friend and colleague of the great tenor Enrico Caruso. It was Lombardo’s grandfather who encouraged him to attend the opera and receive all the treasured moments that such music can give. Lombardo presented a scholarship in his grandfather’s name.
Eve Queler, maestro and pioneer, took a special bow and this reporter was also thanked for “getting the word out” to the public in The Brooklyn Eagle.
The program opened with the beautiful singing of Christmas Carols by the Di Capo Opera’s Children’s and Youth Chorus. They sang like angels and looked adorable. “Jingle Bells” was a highlight, with each of them ringing bells!
The formal concert then began with tenor Luigi Boccia, whose Handel’s “Comfort Ye Every Valley” was sung with all of the coloratura and roulades backed by a voice of steady assurance and manly grace. Boccia’s excellent accompanist was Mikhail Hallak.
Scott Conner used his resonant and agile bass in a stirring “Air du Tambour Major” from Ambroise Thomas Le Caid. I thought of Ezio Pinza and Pol Plancon, legendary bassos that recorded this and thought they would be very pleased at Conner’s interpretive gifts with coloratura ease, breath control and rapid-fire phrasing.
Soprano D’Ana Lombard sang “Ah! Non Credea Mirarti” from Bellini’s “La Sonnambula” with purity and passion, and the cabaletta was sung splendidly with technical assurance, darkish hue and a ravishing ascent at the finale. The song, “Fenesta Che Lucive” made famous by Caruso, is attributed to this aria with its poignant melancholy opening.
Luigi Boccia returned to sing the “Indian Guest Song” from Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera “Sadko.”
When Mme. Albanese first heard Luigi Boccia’s voice, she compared him to Gigli. This aria was one of Beniamino Gigli’s finest recordings and was also made famous by film tenor Mario Lanza in the early 1950s as “Song of India.”
Boccia’s lovely, lilting lyrical voice gave us many magical moments with his exquisite pianissimos. His Russian was excellent, recalling the famed Russian tenor Ivan Koslovsky. Mikhail Hallak coached Boccia in Russian!
The program ended with “O Holy Night” sung by John Brancy, who, despite a cold, sang it exquisitely in impeccable French. Brancy’s strong and vibrant baritone sent us to the stars.
The accompanist to the singers was Arlene Shrut, who plays with the passion and the enthusiasm of a young dancer and made the piano sing. Her husband, the effervescent basso Gary Kendall, was also in attendance.