By Nino Pantano
Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The “opera nights” at the elegant Columbus Citizens Foundation at 8 E. 69th Street in Manhattan combining opera and food are an opera lover’s dream. It was a pleasure to be greeted by Board of Governors member Anthony Correra and his wife Maria.
On Friday, June 13, our host Steve De Maio, President of the Gerda Lissner Foundation, had four promising young singers perform for the first part of the program. They were accompanied by gifted virtuoso pianists Mary Pinto and Mikhail Hallak. Each singer was interviewed briefly by De Maio and sang an encore.
Elise Brancheau, soprano sang Michaela's air “Je dis que rien ne m’epouvante” from Carmen with soaring highs and the purity and innocence her character called for. Brancheau’s voluminous power and Sambucca like warmth were an irresistible combination. Her encore offering was a haunting “What good would the moon be” from Street Scene by Kurt Weil. Every word made its mark evoking memories of the great soprano Eleanor Steber.
Riad Ymeri who is from Italy via Kosovo sang “De’miei bollenti spiriti” from Verdi’s La Traviata with a good strong opening, lovely floating tones and a full lyric tenor voice of strength and beauty. His encore was another Verdi selection, this time from Rigoletto, the bravura “Questa o quella” sung with elan, insouciance and dexterity and with a ringing note at the finale. A third encore was a delightful Pavarottian “O sole mio” that had the audience cheering. Riad has a rare gift of talent and the joy of singing and with the proper guidance, will soon beguile audiences everywhere.
Mia Pafumi sang a delightful “Prendi, per me sei libero” from Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’amore” with delicate shading, a nice cutting edge, excellent breath control, marvelous cadenzas and a sweet and strong soprano. Her encore presentation of “Mi chiamano Mimi” from La Boheme was poignant and stirring.
Sean Sullivan sang “Bella siccome un angelo” from Donizetti’s Don Pasquale with a vibrant and caressing Bel Canto style, his youthful baritone granting us all the pleasures of this ornate style of singing. His encore, reminiscent of legendary baritone Thomas L. Thomas was “Whither Must I Wander” by Vaughn Williams an English composer who wrote some wonderful operas also.
The guests then entered the dining room where General Manager John Boden prepared a repast of delicious food and wine for the intimate audience of 75.
After this feast, for part two of the program, famed opera lecturer Lou Barrella presented a brief lecture with DVD film entitled “Opera Aria Diversions.” This wonderful presentation took us to various interpretations of Rossini’s “Non piu mesta” fromCenerentola with Cecilia Bartoli’s spectacular performance and musicians worldwide playing variations of this enchanted music, Verdi’s Caro Nome from Rigoletto and Bizet’s Habanera and gypsy song from Carmen were also explored.
Among the singers were mezzo Rise Stevens as Carmen soprano Licia Albanese singing a passionate Star Spangled Banner from 1994 hitting two optional high notes at age 80 plus! Other highlights were pianist Vladimir Horowitz playing Carmen fantasies at the Jimmy Carter White House, Victor Borge and soprano Marilyn Mulvey doing a hilarious travesty of Caro Nome, violinist Sarah Chang playing the Carmen fantasy, Bobby McFerrin Jazz ensemble, and clips with Dorothy Dandridge and Sidney Poitier from the film Carmen Jones including Pearl Bailey.
After that, Barrella accompanied by his wife Kathleen, took his bows from the bravos and we went back to the dining room for desserts and coffee. It was nice to chat at our table with tenor Riad Ymeri and his charming actress wife Leonora, Stephen De Maio, the founder of the feast, Karl Michaelis and Joyce Greenberg from the Gerda Lissner Foundation, Cav. Uff. Aldo and wife Lisa Mancusi from the Enrico Caruso Museum in Brooklyn, famed attorney Lou Aidala and wife Maryann also from Brooklyn, Gloria Gari from the Giulio Gari Foundation and soprano Teresa Apolei and goddaughter Eva Volpe. Murray Rosenthal, Philip Hagemann and Janet Stovin from Opera Index also contributed to the festive atmosphere. It was a stormy night outside but with food, wine and opera, the room was filled with the sunshine, good spirits and the buona fortuna that only young promising voices and great music can bring!