By Nino Pantano
For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
On the evening of Thursday, May 30, a large crowd arrived at Casa Duse to celebrate special clips of a new film entitled “27.” It was made to launch the bicentennial of the great Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) whose 27 operas are as inspiring and thrilling now as they were then.
Our host, architect, journalist and filmmaker August Ventura, told his guests that the Casa Duse, a limestone townhouse built in 1896 and located at 16 Prospect Park West, was purchased by the noted actor, artist and mentor to many, Martin Waldron. Waldron was a passionate opera lover and close friend of the incomparable soprano Zinka Milanov. He owned the house from 1958 until his death in 2009.
For decades, through Waldron’s largesse, diva Joan Sutherland and her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge, lived at the Casa Duse. Opera greats Luciano Pavarotti, Marilyn Horne, Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and others were frequent visitors here. The house was named after actress Eleanora Duse (1858-1924), Waldron’s godmother. Many letters, portraits and memorabilia of La Duse, Caruso, Toscanini, Giuseppe De Luca and countless other titans of Italian culture adorn the walls.
The residence is presently called the “Casa Duse Artists Collective” and is managed by our host emeritus Rob Krakovski, whose generosity allowed this evening to happen. Its mission is to encourage and nurture the performing arts in the spirit of Martin Waldron. Our host August Ventura, correctly called Casa Duse “a sacred place.”
An invocation from Verdi’s opera “I Masnadieri” was played by Emirhan Tunca on the cello to help set the mood for something rare and beautiful. A 1963 TV documentary dealing with a group of singers preparing for their performance of Verdi’s “Louisa Miller” at the Parma’s Teatro Regio, which has the most critical audience in the world, was also shown. The local bartender narrated the film. A young American singer, Margherita Roberti (Iowa-born Margaret Roberts), tenor Renato Cioni, famed Verdi baritone Pierro Cappuccilli, conductor Alberto Erede and the entire cast were in fear of Parma, where everybody sings and knows all the arias –from the traffic cop to the butcher. All ends well on opening night, and it was a resounding success.
The video was followed by a sumptuous supper including wine, pasta, desserts and cookies that were made by Ventura’s charming mother Romola. Then a very special Skype guest greeted us. The star of the documentary, Ms. Roberti, vibrant and well after a half century, spoke to us from her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Viewing the guests bravoing and applauding she exclaimed “Mr. Ventura, are you the gentleman I see applauding in the white jacket?” Ventura answered, “No! Margherita, that’s Nino Pantano from the Brooklyn Eagle!”
A cello excerpt from Verdi’s “Don Carlo” was movingly played by Mr. Tunca, and some delightful, tantalizing and touching clips from the film “27” were shown.
There is an exclusive club in Parma of 27 men, each one named after an opera by Verdi. Some of them were interviewed, and one, with tears in his eyes, even compared Verdi to his mother’s milk. Most impressive was a school where the youngsters were beautifully miming and acting in costume to a recording of Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
Among the guests were Brooklynites Maestro Anton Coppola (age 96) and his wife Almerinda; Cavaliere Ufficiale Aldo and Lisa Mancusi, founders of the Enrico Caruso Museum of America; Bill Ronayne, president of the Mario Lanza Society of New York; Ken Benson, radio host and artists’ manager; Judith Barnes, founder and soprano of the Vertical Player Repertory; Bill Safka of Safka-Bareis opera autographs; Maria Valenti, Italian translator; Professor Lou (and Cathy) Barrella, opera lecturer; and George Voorhis from Columbia University Communications.
We thank August Ventura and singer Robert Osborne for their efforts and we wish them Buona Fortuna in attaining the funding so that the film “27” can be completed and presented by Oct. 10, Verdi’s anniversary date. The film may have been conceived in Parma, Italy but it was born that special evening at the historic Casa Duse in Park Slope, Brooklyn.