By Nino Pantano
For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
An intimate gathering celebrated the joys of the season in the Presidents Room at the New York Athletic Club. The president of the executive board of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation, Sachi Liebergesell, paid tribute to patron Annie Benoit, who passed away recently. She then acknowledged the presence of the legendary soprano Licia Albanese, who won a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her singing with Mario Lanza in the film Serenade (1956) and for her long career at the San Francisco Opera and the New York Metropolitan Opera.
Born in Bari, Italy in July, 1913, Albanese’s Metropolitan Opera career from 1940-1966 places her among the precious few who are truly legends. Stephen De Maio, who serves as its artistic director, spoke enthusiastically about the aims of the foundation begun by Albanese nearly 40 years ago. Master classes, scholarships, grants and guidance help young artists attain their operatic careers.
Basso Nicholas Masters sang the aria “La Calunnia” from Rossini’s Barber of Seville, in which gossip goes from a whisper to a cannon. Masters’ dark vibrant and powerful basso made us devour every succulent vocal morsel of this delightful aria.
Chloe Moore brilliantly negotiated the sweet coloratura terrain of Marguerite in the “Jewel Song” from Gounod’s Faust. Aside from impeccable French, dexterity and coloratura élan, her soprano has an amber mellowness like a warm cognac.
Steven La Brie provided a “tour de force” with his “Drinking Song” from Ambrose Thomas’s Hamlet. His vibrant, manly baritone and dazzling breath control captivated us.
The “lighter side” of the program consisted of Chloe Moore singing a magical and silken “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from the classic film Meet Me in St. Louis.
Steven La Brie sang the Nat "King" Cole favorite “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”, his beautiful baritone providing the fireplace warmth so vital this holiday season.
Nicholas Masters concluded the program, tapering his large basso with a wistful and moving version of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” The effervescent piano accompanist was Arlene Shrut.
The fabulous dinner with wines and dessert was under the direction of the treasurer of the Foundation, Michael Fornabaio.
It was nice to see among many “glitterati” Gloria Gari (Giulio Gari Foundation) conductor Eve Queler, WQXR Opera Quiz host Ken Benson, Karl Michaelis and trustee Barbara Ann Testa, from the Gerda Lissner Foundation, Cornelia Beigel, Joyce Greenberg and Father John Kamas and to hear the generous laughter of bass and vocal coach Gary Kendall who is married to pianist Arlene Shrut.
Cav. Uff. Aldo and wife Lisa Mancusi of the Enrico Caruso Museum in Brooklyn sat at Licia Albanese’s table, and she vividly recalled the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Caruso Museum of the Licia Albanese-Michael Sisca–Mini Theatre a few years back. It was great to see new Metropolitan Opera tenor Ricardo Tamura and his wife Dagmar, legendary patron Louise Martone-Peluso and her nephew, Michael.