By Nino Pantano
Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle
On the evening of Thursday, July 10, the Martina Arroyo Foundation celebrated the 10th anniversary of their Prelude to Performance series at the Sylvia Fine and Danny Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College (where Arroyo was also a graduate) with a performance of La Traviata.
The husband and wife team of Kaye and Fine came from Brooklyn and his films are classics today. Kaye, who worked with UNESCO, would be so proud to witness young people of all nationalities having their dreams fulfilled in a theater bearing his name. Fine was a lyricist, composer and producer of many of Kaye’s productions.
Fresh from her triumph in Washington D.C., having received an award from the President with several other illustrious Americans, legendary and beloved soprano Arroyo returned to New York to continue her work with her students and foundation as founder and artistic director.
The Martina Arroyo Foundation coaches and prepares its young singers free of charge for the art of opera. Over a six-week period, those selected singers study with vocal coaches, learn about the operas, their characters, diction, costumes, makeup and stage actions including attending seven master classes. The students then participate in Prelude to Performance by acting in fully staged and costumed productions of operas.
Arroyo told me that her father Demetrio worked as an engineer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to pay for her music lessons and to support the family including her mother Lucille and her older brother Theodore. Arroyo happily recalled her father taking her to Ebbets Field to see the Brooklyn Dodgers and her enjoying the experience all the more by his feeding her hot dogs and all kinds of “goodies.” Years later, when Martina was known all over the world for her incomparable voice and sense of humor, she recalled at a Metropolitan Opera (Met) broadcast her triumphant Madama Butterfly and referred to herself as “Madame Butterball!”
We spoke to famed Met tenor Richard Leech who coaches for foundation and who eloquently addressed the audience. We also chatted with rising resonant basso Kevin Thompson, who is keeping busy with his career. It was nice to see soprano-coach Diana Soviero and her husband Bernard Uzan (Montreal Opera) and Channel 13’s Midge Woolsey and husband Jerry Stolt. Opera Index President Murray Rosenthal attended with his two Vice Presidents Philip Hagemann and Janet Stovin, who also shared Ebbets Field memories with us and Secretary/Treasurer Met mezzo Jane Shaulis and Executive Director Joseph Gasperec.
The house lights dimmed and the curtain went up in a blaze of color to the world of La Traviata, music by Giuseppe Verdi and libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. (Premiere 1853) The opening titles by Cori Ellison show Violetta tired of the life she has been living.
Cecilia Lopez portrayed the lead role as Violetta Valery (The Fallen One). Lopez possesses a lovely, radiant soprano, plus a spirit of abandon. The climax of “Libiamo” with the splendid chorus and Alfredo (tenor Paul Han) was truly effervescent. Lopez sang a haunting “Ah fors’ e lui” and nailed the “Sempre libera” with the optional high note that was thrilling! Violetta’s defiance of the elder Giorgio Germont in Act Two was touching and after Alfredo hurls his winnings at her, she melted our collective hearts. The final act was the bringing together of all that preceded it. “Addio del passato” was sung with pathos and power and the duet “Parigi, o cara” with both joy and futility. The letter reading scene had us in tears and her final burst of strength just before dying of consumption earned her an ovation. Tears and cheers is what opera is all about!
Alfredo Germont (Fils) was Paul Han who possesses a tenor voice capable of thrilling bursts of power and pathos. His singing of “De’miei bollenti spiriti” was a model of restraint and legato. His anger and defiance were all indicated in the shading of his lovely instrument. He soared in the card scene in Act 2 in duet with Violetta and proved himself an artist with an exceptional voice of prominence and promise. Han’s remorse in the final act was gripping.
Giorgio Germont (Pere) of baritone Robert Kerr was impressive. His pity for Violetta was real and their “Piangi, piangi” duet was touching. His aria “Di Provenza, il mar il suol” was sung with firm control, beguiling tone and lyrical beauty. His chastising of Alfredo in the card scene was striking. At the very end, standing off to the side dumbfounded, Germont gets special emphasis because he was the protagonist whose foolish bourgeois pride destroyed two lives - three if he is counted.
Flora Bervoix, Violetta’s friend and confidante was brought to the fore by Marison Corsino, with a mellifluous mezzo and a solid characterization.
John Callison was a strong Marchese d’Obigny and also played the Messenger, Samuel McDonald a properly enraged Baron Douphol with a good “slow burn” before he challenges Alfredo to a duel, Eric Delagrange was a resonant and sympathetic Dr. Grenvil, Tyrone Chambers II impressed as Gastone, Elizabeth Kelsay was a dutiful Annina whose voice and countenance were barometers of love and loyalty, Thabang Masango was a noteworthy Giuseppe and Danielle Nicolosi captivated as the Spanish dancer in the vibrant and colorful party scene. Ole!
Daniel Lipton conducted the 28 piece orchestra with solid brisk tempi and the prelude and interlude were nicely done. Nicholas Fox was the Chorus master andGregory Hopkins was the Chorus contractor. Kudos for their fine work.
Charles Caine’s program drawings of Verdi and the dazzling opera costumes chosen were brilliant. The costumes were courtesy of A. T. Jones and Sons. Laura Alley’s secure stage direction made for smooth stage deportment and focused the action where it belonged.
Thank you Martina Arroyo and our host, Advisory Board Member Stephen De Maio from The Gerda Lissner Foundation for a magical evening of glorious opera and high hopes for its future!