On the evening of Sunday, Sept. 23 at the New York Athletic Club, the Giulio Gari Foundation presented the winners of the 2012 International Vocal Competition.
The foundation is dedicated to nurturing, mentoring and promoting young classical singers as they launch their careers. It is named after tenor Giulio Gari (1909-1994), whose name adorned the roster of The New York City Opera (1945-52) and the Metropolitan Opera (1953-61) and who taught, helped and encouraged young singers. His charming and industrious wife Gloria Gari continues that noble cause with her foundation.
Paul E. Cohen, who serves as president of the executive board of the foundation, introduced his mother-in-law, the ever gracious Gloria Gari.
Our eloquent host Brian Kellow, who is features editor of “Opera News,” presented a lifetime achievement award to Metropolitan Opera legend Diana Soviero, now retired and teaching. Ms. Soviero spoke from the heart of her father’s influence on her singing ambitions. I heard Ms. Soviero sing the title role in Puccini’s “Suor Angelica” at the Metropolitan Opera, and count that performance among the handful I will never forget.
Ms. Soviero was born into an Italian-American family in Jersey City and sang with The New York City Opera before her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1987. She has sung many lead roles to international acclaim.
Rising star tenor Bryan Hymel also was presented with a Distinguished Achievement Award. Both artists gave thanks to such splendid organizations as The Giulio Gari Foundation for its invaluable assistance for young singers.
Steven La Brie used his ardent and caressing baritone as Don Giovanni to bewitch the peasant bride Zerlina, Kaley Soderquist, whose sparkling soprano was truly a barometer that could not resist his “high pressure” attempts at seduction. Rev. John Kamas and Anne Benoit presented the awards.
“O Mio Babbino Caro,” from Puccini’s great comedy “Gianni Schicchi,” was sung with sweet and delicate tone by Lara Secord-Haid, who brought a special sense of longing to her plea to her “beloved daddy.”
“The Barber of Seville” and Rossini were very well served by Edward Parks, whose lusty and vibrant baritone gave us an irresistible “Largo al Factotum” sung with speed, versatility and precision. Michael Fornabaio presented him with a grant.
Courtney Mills sang “Ritorna Vincitor” from Verdi’s Aida with a powerful clear soprano, strong declamatory utterance and soft caressing tone. She is “to the manor born” and a true Verdi soprano of the old school.
Tenor Yi-Li and baritone Takaoki Onishi were a beautiful blend and an audience favorite in the tuneful and lovely duet “Au Fond du Temple Saint” from Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers.” Mr. Yi-Li‘s upper reaches were exciting and Mr. Onishi’s rich middle and high tones showed vocal warmth and largesse.
“Oh Du Mein Holder Abendstern” from Wagner’s “Tannhauser” was carried to heavenly heights by the noble and dark baritone of Norman Garrett. Joyce Greenberg presented him with a grant.
Tenor Jonathan Winell sang “Salut Demeure” from Gounod’s “Faust” with introspective restraint, and he hit a lovely high C at the finale.
Third-prize winner Tenor Adam Bonanni sang an impassioned perfectly balanced, poetic and nuanced “Lensky’s Aria” from Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin.” Gloria Gari was the presenter.
Second Prize winner soprano Courtney S. Johnson sang a richly hued “Mi Chiamano Mimi” from Puccini’s “La Boheme” with beautiful tone and shimmering portamentos. Stephen De Maio was the proud presenter.
The “O Soave Fanciulla” duet from Puccini’s “La Boheme” enabled Eric Margiore and Elise Brancheau to break our collective hearts with their youthfulgood looks. Margiore’s plangent ringing tenor and Branchea’s limpid soaring soprano evoked the joys of new love.
Anthony C. Evans, a young baritone from Kentucky, sang the Prologue to Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” with personality and aplomb! His voice is of even quality with a sudden burst of reserve power at the two climaxes. Patron Louise Martone-Peluso, whose brother, the much loved John Martone, passed away a few days earlier gave the First Prize Scholarship check on John’s behalf to the proud and beaming Evans in a bittersweet moment. The pianist-accompanist was the incomparable Arlene Shrut.
All of the glitterati from the opera and music world could be seen among the hundreds attending the wonderful dinner that followed the concert. Met opera legends Martina Arroyo and Eleanor Ross were happy to hear these future stars in such a fine program.
At our table, graced by Stephen De Maio and his charming sister Marie and board member Karl Michaelis, we had the joy of meeting Rose Laccone and her daughter Joann. Rose, who is 89 years young, has had several one-woman shows on Broadway (since she turned 65) and gave us a vibrant sampling of “Bill Bailey Won’t You Please Come Home.”
We all sang Happy Birthday to Louise Peluso and were enchanted by a slide show with recordings and photos of Giulio Gari. Gari’s singing of “Celeste Aida” via a recording brought down the house. Thank you Gloria Gari and Stephen De Maio for giving us hope for the future of opera.