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Brooklyn’s Commendatore: High Italian honors for founder of Enrico Caruso Museum

October 22, 2015 By Nino Pantano Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Singers Andre Courville, Alasdair Kent, Cornelia Lotito and Amber Daniel with Stephen De Maio. Photo by Judy Pantano
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A gala celebration was recently held honoring Commendatore Aldo Mancusi and the life and legacy of Mme. Licia Albanese at the New York Athletic Club at Central Park South. Mancusi, who is the founder and curator of the Enrico Caruso Museum in Brooklyn, was recently given the much coveted title of Commendatore, one of the highest honors the Italian government can bestow. It is signed by both the president and prime minister of Italy and was presented to Mancusi at the Italian Consulate on June 2 by Consul Gen. Natalia Quintavalle. Mancusi’s idol, the immortal tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921), was also given the same honor in his lifetime. Special honored guests were Eric Murray, Caruso’s grandson from his marriage to American socialite Dorothy; and his wife Lynne. Eric is the son of the great tenor’s daughter, the late Gloria Caruso.

The program began with a videotape of Mancusi accepting his award and being given the green and gold medallion and sash to wear.

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Board member and opera lecturer Lou Barrella was the articulate host. A film of opera legend Albanese (1909-2014) passionately singing “The Star Spangled Banner” at age 89 at a 1997 Mancusi event celebrating Caruso’s 125th birth anniversary was shown, followed by a brief video of Albanese’s life.

Mancusi spoke about his parents, immigrants from Italy, who came to Brooklyn to start their lives. His mother Marie loved to sing and his father Evaristo had a large collection of Caruso records, which helped to ignite the spark within Mancusi.

The concert coordinator Stephen De Maio, president of the Gerda Lissner Foundation and music director of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation, brought four splendid singers. Prior to the concert, piano virtuoso Rosa Antonelli played “Invierno Porteno” by A. Piazzolla with elegance, grace and style.

The first singer, soprano Amber Daniel, sang “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s “Tosca.” Her voice was impressive from effortless top to formidable bottom, yet she projected Tosca’s vulnerability and strength in a powerful performance.

Cornelia Lotito sang “Una voce poco fa” from Rossini’s “Barber of Seville.” Her flexible mezzo was rich in sound, had volume to spare and remarkable agility easily negotiating this Rossinian terrain.

Alasdair Kent sang a perfect “Una furtiva lagrime” from Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore” in a haunting lyric tenor with diminuendos and swelling of tone that was pure magic. 

Andre Courville, bass, sang the sprightly “Tambour Major” from Ambroise Thomas’ “Le Caid.” Courville went right into the audience and serenaded a number of the ladies. Courville negotiated the coloratura phrases and bravura passages with great skill and was truly a “crowd pleaser.”

After the concert, guests moved into the dining room where a dinner was served. Mancusi set up a wall of memorabilia for both Mme. Albanese and Caruso.

The Hon. Vice Consul Stefano Acunto announced that they are renovating an Italian language studies school near Lincoln Center and a special wing will be used to house Mancusi’s museum. Mancusi’s dream of a permanent safe home for his collection is on its way thanks and Hosanna to the industrious Stefano Acunto. Acunto’s wife Carole joined in the applause.

Board members Lou Barrella and wife Kathleen spoke of Mancusi with love and praise, while Linda and David Mercaldo eloquently capsulized Mancusi’s life and tied it in with the noble aspiration of so many immigrants. Mercaldo moved the audience with his praise of Mancusi’s quest, tenacity and accomplishments.

Audience member and friend John McCormick went to the microphone and spoke of our friendship which dates back to the Class of 1961 at St. Francis College on Butler Street in Brooklyn. We would both entertain ourselves with the priceless recordings of Caruso and the great Irish tenor John McCormack. He told a story of McCormack and Caruso meeting in a hotel lobby and McCormack greeting Caruso with “And how’s the world’s greatest tenor today?” And Caruso saying “Since when did you become a baritone, Mac?” McCormick then regaled us all by singing one of John McCormack’s Irish songs “The Star of the County Down” a Capella and utterly charming. 

Mancusi then introduced his cousins from Italy, Dr. Vincent D’Antuono and son Gerardo who helped petition the Italian government to award Mancusi the Commendatore honor. At our table we celebrated with friends Dr. and Mrs. Anthony Abbate, he a retired urologist and she an actress and former Sarasota Opera director; Professor John McCormick, formerly of Xaverian High School and St. John’s University; Dr. Paul Molnar, professor of theology at St. John’s University; Myrna Wapner, esteemed friend and former public school principal; baritone Bill Safka of Safka/Bareis Autographs; actors Bernie Feinerman and Sheila MacDougall from the Brooklyn Heights Players; and Nicola Arena, professor of Russian law at Columbia University.

In the packed room of happy revelers we chatted with board member and illustrator Anthony Mancino, who presented Mancusi with a brilliant cartoon showing a sketch of Mancusi wearing his new medallion and standing next to a map of Italy. We greeted Sachi Liebergesell, president of The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation; Karl Michaelis, patron and supporter from the Gerda Lissner Foundation; Michael Fornabaio; Teresa Apolei, soprano and now a vocal judge; Elena Heimur, soprano; and Eva De La O, executive director of Musica De Camara, Inc. Gloria Gari from The Giulio Gari Foundation also shared the joy of the occasion with Carmela and Leonard Altamura of the Altamura-Caruso Scholarships; Cavaliere poet Edward Jackson; and Bill Ronayne, president of the Brooklyn-based Mario Lanza Society. It was nice to see Verdi filmmaker August Ventura and the indomitable impresario Michael Capasso (”Biography” Enrico Caruso PBS Film), hopefully Capsso will seal the deal on the resurrection of the New York City Opera.

We congratulate Mancusi and his radiant wife Lisa for their wonderful family and their loving care lavished on the Enrico Caruso Museum for the last 30 years. Mancusi’s grandson T. J. Borriello used his computer skills for presentations, and his daughter Kim Collins from Goldman Sachs were also thanked with the board members on the program. Anton Evangelista was the talented filmmaker and photographer. 

Many of us are friends and admirers of Aldo and Lisa Mancusi, but on that special afternoon we all became family, united by the banner of Enrico Caruso, so proudly held aloft by a son of Brooklyn, Commendatore Aldo Mancusi.


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