The Giulio Gari Foundation presents 2014 Vocal Award Winners

October 3, 2014 By Nino Pantano Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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On the evening of Sept. 28 at the legendary New York Athletic Club on Central Park South, fresh voices rang out in song. The mission of the Giulio Gari Foundation, according to Gloria Gari (Giulio), chair, is to discover and encourage young classical singers and to provide them with grants and performance opportunities.

President Paul E. Cohen spoke of the goals of the foundation, now in its 11th year.

Artistic Adviser Stephen De Maio informed the audience that the Giulio Gari Foundation was the inspiration of the late soprano Licia Albanese. Stephen De Maio admired the New York City Opera (NYCO) and Metropolitan Opera (Met) tenor Giulio Gari (1909-94), who was also a vocal coach. Among Gari’s vocal students was Brooklyn-born actor Paul Sorvino, who had a second career as an operatic tenor.

Opera News features editor and the host for the evening, Brian Kellow, introduced the two honorees and presented them with Lifetime Achievement Awards.

Famed American tenor Richard Leech (NYCO and Met Opera) gave a humorous and eloquent speech. He recalled a Rigoletto early in his career with a large costume and a small entrance way, saying he had to squeeze out with the sound of “RIPP.”

Leech also encouraged all to assist young singers so their efforts may result in successful careers. Leech recently returned to the Met and coaches with the Martina Arroyo Foundation.

Marilyn Horne, legendary Met mezzo, also spoke of the determination and grit that go into a successful career and how important financial and career assistance can be to help fulfill the artistic dreams of many talented, young singers. She celebrates her current life, a vibrant 80, with humor, students, family and friends.

Horne thanked her many colleagues in attendance, mezzo Rosalind Elias, soprano Diana Soviero, Brooklyn’s own soprano Elaine Malbin and soprano Elinor Ross, to name a few. Leech laughed when Brian Kellow compared Leech’s “all American” good looks to Hollywood heartthrob film star Van Johnson.

The concert began with bass-baritone Leo Radosavljevic, who sang a spirited “Aprite un po’quegl’occhi” from Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro. He negotiated the quicksilver terrain with dexterity, ease and a voice aimed to please.

Puccini was then beautifully served with the “O Soave Fanciulla” duet from La Boheme with soprano Liana Guberman, who sang Mimi in Brooklyn in 2004 and rising tenor Riad Ymeri. The finale had the star-crossed lovers walking to the back of the room holding on to a solid high C.  

Soprano Mia Pafumi and tenor Mingjie Lei sang “Una Parole, O Adina” duet from Donizetti’s L’Elisir D’Amore. Her perky soprano inter played beautifully with his sweet robust tenor and his amusing, “I still can’t figure her out” frustration — all leading to a strong finale. 

The “Dunque Io Son” duet from Rossini’s Barber of Seville was brilliantly sung by mezzo soprano Shirin Eskandani with a strong assist by robust baritone Christian Bowers. It was a performance that harkens back to a golden age, a delicious confection to be savored. Their cell phone communication additionally had a humorous result.

“Ah! Qual Sin Cercar Non Oso” duet from Anna Bolena was sung by mezzo Lisa Chavez and baritone Jarrett Ott.  Chavez’s amber mezzo and Ott’s rich baritone made for a dynamic duo.

The next selection was the popular Bellini “Suoni La Tromba” duet from I Puritani, performed by baritone Jamez McCorkle and bass Patrick Guetti. McCorkle has a more modest sound, albeit a beautiful one.  Guetti, however, is a force of nature with a huge cavernous voice. I see a legendary Ramfis in his future. At age 24, he is precious Carrara marble in Michelangelo’s hands. 

“Acerba Volutta” from Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur was sung by Polish singer Ewa Plonka with mellow mezzo magic in a captivating and gripping performance.

The poignant aria “Je dis” Micaela’s air from Carmen, was impressively sung by soprano Elise Brancheau. There is a darker mezzo sound to her voice that may extend her future repertoire.

“Ya Vas Lyubil” from Pique Dame was sung by baritone John Viscardi. His is a pleasing plangent instrument with genuine warmth and beauty.

Bass-baritone Musa Ngqungwana sang “Riez allez, Riez du Pauvre Ideologue” from Don Quichotte with masterful authority, grace and beautiful tone. 

Chloe Moore sang “La Gavotte” from Massenet’s Manon with power and dexterity. Her ample soprano is ripe with promise. 

Michelle Johnson sang “Io Son L’umile Ancella” from Ardriana Lecouvreur in a creamy soprano — Verdi, Puccini samplings next?

First prize winner Marina Costa-Jackson sang “Stridono Lassu” from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. Her voluptuous soprano gave us trills and thrills galore with some lovely portamentos.  Costa-Jackson truly became Nedda, bored circus housewife who wants to be as free as the birds. Her upper register soared easily and she imparted a special blessing on us all with her lusty interpretation of this riveting aria.

The splendid pianists Arlene Shrut and Mikhail Hallak deserve kudos for their brilliant and versatile accompaniment. 

The evening progressed to the dining room where great food and drink awaited attendees. The zabaglione dessert was a symbol of the many operatic delights shared. The Giulio Gari Foundation with Gloria Gari, assisted by Stephen De Maio and benefactors is proud to carry on Giulio Gari’s legacy of assisting young singers and to fulfill the wishes of his life and beliefs.

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