By Nino Pantano
Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle
GRAVESEND — The afternoon of Sunday, Feb. 19, marked the 25th anniversary of the Enrico Caruso Museum of America. This unique museum is located in Gravesend and has been a shrine for fans of the legendary Neapolitan tenor since its inception.
The celebration itself took place with a concert and dinner at the famed New York Athletic Club on 59th Street and Central Park South in Manhattan.
The great tenor sang many times at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as well as at a Liberty Loan Drive at the Police Games at the long-demolished Sheepshead Bay Racetrack in 1918.
The world-famous Sicilian tenor Marcello Giordani, who visited the Caruso Museum a few years ago with his enchanting wife Wilma, was so impressed he promised he would sing for the museum at their gala.
Before Giordani sang, we were delighted to hear three young and promising winners of the Marcello Giordani Foundation competition. Jeanette Vecchione sang Olympia’s “Doll Song” from Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann with ravishing trills, roulades, flourishes and effortless stratospheric high notes.
Lisa Chavez used her ilken mellow mezzo to plummet to the sensual vocal depths of “Amour! Viens Aider Ma Faiblesse!” from Saint-Saens’ Samson et Dalila.
Ricardo Rivera captivated us with Silvio’s aria from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. Rivera’s rich vibrant baritone had exceptional warmth and fervor, and you know that Nedda is in big trouble with this irresistible lover.
Marcello Giordani sang a thrilling and deeply moving Caruso trademark piece, “Vestila Giubba” from Pagliacci. Caruso’s 1907 recording was the first million-selling record. Giordani’s second selection, also associated with Caruso, was Cardillo-Cordiferro’s “Core ’ngrato,” which Giordani sang with such passion that it seemed Caruso himself guided him to heavenly heights. The superb accompanist was the gifted pianist Michael Fennelly.
As a delightful “extra,” Enrico Caruso IV sang two songs. A law student, he is an exceedingly good-looking young man of 20, with a classic cherubic face, winning personality and wavy blond hair. He sang the song “Caruso” by Lucio-Dalla, accompanying himself on the piano, and then sang a fun-filled spirited rendition of the popular song “Tuvuofal Americano” by Renato Carosone, accompanied by Fennelly. This song was sung by Sophia Loren to Clark Gable in the 1960 film It Started in Naples.
Members of the Caruso family were present, including grandson Eric Murray (wearing a Caruso tie) and his vivacious wife Lynne. Eric is the son of Gloria Caruso, whose mother was Dorothy, Caruso’s young American bride. Eric and Lynne were raised out of the public eye and are gracious and friendly. The guests of honor were presented with copies of Caruso’s 1906 book of caricatures copied from Marziale Sisca and his publication La Follia Di New York. Caruso was a talented caricaturist and good friend to the late Michael Sisca, Marziale’s son, who bequeathed much Caruso memorabilia to the museum. Frank (Sisca) Angelino represented the Sisca family.
The ebullient Federico Caruso, Caruso’s great-grandson on the Italian side of the family, was present with his charming wife Lavinia and their son, the aforementioned Enrico Caruso IV. The American and Italian branches of the family met for the first time. They are all proud of their illustrious ancestor.
During the course of the dinner, Cavaliere Ufficiale Aldo Mancusi, founder and caretaker of the Enrico Caruso Museum, and his co-host, opera lecturer Lou Barrella, played a 1906 recording by the great tenor of “Di Quellapira” from Verdi’s Il Trovatore on a beautiful golden-horned hand-cranked 1906 phonograph machine. This great aria includes two mighty high C’s.The audience listened and cheered. Two other selections followed: A 1918 recording of “Avuchella,” sung with incomparable voice and charm, and Caruso’s heartfelt “O Sole Mio,” which had many weeping.
A huge round of applause was given to Mancusi’s wife Lisa, who let her home become a shrine and museum to Enrico Caruso. Aldo’s father Evaristo had all of Caruso’s records, and this set Aldo out on his mission.
For further informaiton on Aldo Mancusi and his Enrico Caruso Museum, call (718) 368-3993.