Opera Index honors mezzo Susan Graham at dinner

January 15, 2015 By Nino Pantano For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Left to right: Karl Michaelis, Sachi Liebergesell, Stephen De Maio, Eve Queler, Michael Fornabaio and Joyce Greenberg. Photos by Judy Pantano
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On the evening of Jan. 11 at the JW Marriott Essex House on Central Park South, with holiday decorations still adorning the lobby, we gathered for a concert and dinner sponsored by Opera Index.

Opera Index is a nonprofit volunteer organization, founded in 1982, that provides support for opera singers at the onset of their careers. Opera Index’s first honoree was American baritone Sherrill Milnes. The effervescent Murray Rosenthal, president of Opera Index, made introductory remarks and introduced the many notables in the audience. Judy and I were mentioned as the dynamic duo from the Brooklyn Eagle who have done so much via newspaper and photo coverage to help promote the aspiring young singers. We were happy to see Opera Index Vice Presidents Janet Stovin and Philip Hagemann, Secretary/Treasurer and Met mezzo-soprano Jane Shaulis and Executive Director Joseph Gasperec.

Daniel Noyola began the concert with “Vi Ravviso  … Tu Non Sai” from La Sonnambula by Bellini. His beautiful basso cantante is well suited for Bellini’s music, and he sang with intimacy and longing with a florid and impressive cadenza. The cabaletta led up to an exciting climax and his cavernous sound, tapered with fine shading, made a solid impression.

Marina Costa-Jackson sang “The Jewel Song” from Gounod’s Faust, her strong sensual soprano soaring to heavenly heights. She is a consummate artist attaining levels of sheer perfection with trills and some stunning coloratura. Costa-Jackson has many captivating qualities and made a strong impression on her audience.

Cesar Delgado sang “Je Veux Encore Entendre” from Verdi’s Jerusalem with a flexible tenor of moderate size. Delgado negotiated the elaborate terrain of this aria with a fine cadenza and high note at the finale. He has a pleasing plangent tone with a voice that can surprise and oblige.

Andre Courville used his impressive bass-baritone in the “Air du Tambour Major” from Le Caid by Thomas. This aria, a favorite of many bassos, is a real showcase number with a solid foot-stomping beat. Mr. Courville has a nice cutting sound and did his flourishes with great relish and panache, going around the room and sharing the joy.

Hyesang Park regaled us with “Squallida Veste e Bruna” from Il Turco in Italia by Rossini. She proceeded to captivate and enchant us, lyrically at first and with the cabaletta, a display of fireworks that made it July in January. She had amazing dexterity, beauty of tone, certainty and some remarkable embellishments and ornaments. Her finale was stratospheric. 

Joo Won Kang gave us a solid and compelling rendition of “Di Provenza” from Verdi’s La Traviata. Kang sang it as a solid bourgeois, but with the underlying passion of a man melting by Violetta’s impact. His strongly hit high note and his final prolonged “Dio M’esaudi!” at the finale is a testament to his fine training.

Andrew Stenson sang the familiar “Ah! Mes Amis” from La Fils du Regiment” by Donizetti. His lyric tenor was comfortable, and the nine high C’s were done with the proper abandon. Physically, he was supercharged and strutted about like a gymnast. Contagious enthusiasm always is nice to see in such a spirited aria.

Michael Fennelly was the brilliant accompanist to the singers. Fennelly has the magic touch!

The Awards ceremony followed, with the legendary mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne presenting the Distinguished Achievement Award to Metropolitan Opera mezzo Susan Graham.

Horne, a Kennedy Center awardee and a vibrant Met Opera legend from Pennsylvania, had an internationally acclaimed career and heads the Marilyn Horne Foundation. She introduced and spoke of her admiration for Graham, her fellow mezzo, in a brief and witty talk.

Graham accepted the award with genuine humility and pride. With only a few years of experience, Graham was accepted by the Metropolitan Opera and now has more than 20 years and an acclaimed career under her belt, still can’t believe it. She recalled, with family and friends at her Met debut, that her heart beat so loudly that she thought they could hear it also. “It won’t happen overnight” she said, facing the eager, wide-eyed young singers “but it will happen!”

We were happy to sit with our gracious and respected host Stephen De Maio, president of the Gerda Lissner Foundation, as well as Gloria Gari of The Giulio Gari Foundation; Sachi Liebergesell, president of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation; Karl Michaelis presenter; Michael Fornabaio and Joyce Greenberg, truly “movers and shakers” in the opera field.

The celebrity crowd had many operatic glitterati. Among them were Midge Woolsey from PBS and her husband Dr. Jerry Stoltz; Maestro Eve Queler, who was celebrating her birthday; famed soprano and Kennedy Award winner Martina Arroyo; David and Barbara Bender from Career Bridges; Duane Printz from Teatro Grattacielo; Elaine Malbin, Brooklyn-born soprano who sang with Mario Lanza; Bill Ronayne, head of the Brooklyn-based Mario Lanza Society; opera manager and Brooklynite Ken Benson; opera legends Met soprano Elinor Ross and mezzo Rosalind Elias; composer Stephen Phebus and wife Linda Howes. Presenters and benefactors Cesare Santeramo and Dr. Robert Campbell all added to the evening.

At the end of the evening, Graham, who greeted one and all at each table, admired my scarf, which had musical notes. She then went to the piano and like a virtuoso, draped the scarf and literally played the music that decorated my scarf. The notes were from “Mozart’s Piano Sonata.” Before her voice was discovered, Graham was a pianist of great promise. 

As we were leaving, we were serenaded by former Met soprano and Armenian-American Lucine Amara. She sang the opening bars of “Pace, Pace, Mio Dio” from Verdi’s La Forza del Destino. At age 90, her still-vibrant voice warmed the heart and reverberated through the lobby.

What unforgettable memories! All that and the echoes of the young promising voices all set to go and eager to conquer in 2015!


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