Opera-based foundation holds gala concert & dinner

November 1, 2013 By Nino Pantano For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Many Brooklynites in attendance

Sunday, Oct. 27, at Alice Tully Hall, was an afternoon to remember. It showcased the scholarship winners of the International Vocal Competition, an annual event sponsored by the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation.

Just before the National Anthem was sung, the “founder of the feast,” the legendary Italian-born soprano Licia Albanese, over a century old, was escorted out. She blew many a kiss to the audience who gave her a standing ovation!

A stirring rendition of our National Anthem followed, performed by all the singers with Maestro Eve Queler at the baton and members of the Opera Orchestra of New York.

Opening remarks were given by Sachi Liebergesell, president of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation, with praise for Artistic Director Stephen De Maio for his many miraculous deeds. The Deputy Consul General of Italy, Lucia Pasqualini, spoke of her admiration of the work that the foundation accomplishes. The program was hosted by the effervescent Midge Woolsey, famed WQXR and PBS host.

We chatted with soprano Brooklyn’s Elaine Malbin, soprano Barbara Meister Bender with husband tenor David Bender from Career Bridges, Gloria Gari from the Giulio Gari Foundation, Murray Rosenthal and Philip Hagermann from Opera Index, Duane Printz from Teatro Grattacielo, board member Barbara Ann Testa, soprano Teresa Apolei, Cav. Uff. Aldo (and Lisa) Mancusi from the Enrico Caruso Museum and Bill Ronayne from the Mario Lanza Society (both Brooklyn-based), Verdi lecturer Lou (and Kathy) Barrella, Italian language teacher Cav. Edward Jackson, coach and agent Robert Lombardo,  opera agent and radio host Ken Benson and Dr. Anthony Abbate (LICH Urology) and his wife, actress and stage director Geraldine Abbate.

The program began with the “Brindisi” duet from Verdi’s La Traviata with soprano Mary Jane Lee and tenor Victor Antipenko. Antipenko’s firm vibrant tenor and Ms. Lee’s radiant soprano sparkled with plush sound, lush trills and youthful beauty. Their dancing together was a lovely touch!

Jamez McCorkle used his beautiful baritone in a poignant “Ya vas lyublyu” from Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame.

Marina Costa-Jackson, soprano and Dominick Chenes, tenor, poured out their love in a beautifully sung “O soave fanciulla” from La Boheme complete with an exquisite high “C” at the finale as they walked arms entwined offstage.

Aaron Blake, tenor, and Brooklyn baritone Riccardo Rivera sang a touching “O Mimi, tu piu non torni” duet from Puccini’s La Boheme with youthful abandon.

From Delibes’s exotic opera Lakme, Shelley Jackson’s full coloratura soprano with Shirin Eskandani’s haunting dark mezzo brought new life to this famed duet.

From Rossini’s Barber of Seville came high jinx and vocal fireworks galore with Courtney Johnson’s soaring soprano and Tobias Greenhalgh’s formidable baritone.

Yunpeng Wang’s ardent singing in a plangent baritone of Silvio’s aria from Pagliacci ended Part I of the program.

Metropolitan Opera honorees that “guest” performed included mezzo soprano Jennifer Check who thrilled us with “Vieni t’affretta accendere” from Verdi’s Macbeth. A tour de force! Mezzo Kirstin Chavez sang Habanera from Carmen sizzled with passionate intensity and vocal heat as she stalked her male prey. (Audience member Joseph Puglisi in the first row made a gesture as if climbing onstage which brought down the house). Mezzo Jill Grove sang “Acerba volutta”from Adriana Lecouvreur with beguiling warmth and power.

Special guest appearances included coloratura soprano Eglise Gutierrez who thrilled us with Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro” from Gianni Schicchi with prolonged ascents and golden age glory.

New Met tenor Riccardo Tamura sang “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot with fervor and brilliance.

Part II opened with “Ritorna vincitor” from Aida with Courtney Mills, a powerful Verdi soprano of the future with a resounding robust golden voice.

Musa Ngqungwana sang “Vi ravviso” from La Sonnambula in a caressing and sumptuous basso that suited Bellini like a velvet glove.

Anthony Kalil used his dark and powerful tenor with passionate outpourings in a stirring “E lucevan le stelle” from Puccini’s Tosca.

Jennifer Rowley sang with powerful eloquence in “Come in quest’ ora bruna” from Simon Boccanegra her dark amber soprano caressing the ear.

First prize winner Takaoki Onishi enthralled us with “Per me giunto” from Verdi’s Don Carlo in a beautiful eloquent and compelling baritone.

Top award prize went to baritone Anthony Clark Evans who sang “Zurga’s aria” from Bizet’s Les Pecheurs de Perles with captivating charm, ringing highs and vocal splendor.

The excellent pianists for the guest artists were Jonathan C. Kelly and Arlene Shrut. All the principals returned for a final bow with Maestro Eve Queler and the Opera Orchestra of New York, who truly added to the joys of the occasion. Closing remarks were by Brian O’Connor Esq., vice president and general counsel of the foundation.

We look forward to the 40th Gala 2014 with Licia Albanese at the helm!