By Nino Pantano
For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Opera Index celebrated its 29th Annual Awards Dinner on Sunday, Jan. 13 at the elegant J.W. Marriott Essex House overlooking Central Park South. Through the years, Opera Index, Inc. has given grants and scholarships to young operatic talent to assist them on their way to performing on the world’s stages.
Murray Rosenthal, president of Opera Index, proudly told the attendees that this was the most successful of all the dinners, and that the awardees would make for a very promising showcase of talent and grit.
Brooklynites who attended included Elaine Malbin, who recorded with Mario Lanza and sang with the New York City Opera (NYCO) and was a pioneer in early TV, Bill Ronayne, president of the Brooklyn based Mario Lanza Society of N.Y., Ira Siff, opera coach and co-host of the Met Opera broadcast and who, as Diva Madame Vera Galupe-Borszh, won a worldwide following, Ken Benson agent and off times host of WQXR Opera Quiz and Music Director Mara Waldman from Brooklyn’s Encompass New Opera Theatre.
The recital began with Jeongcheol Cha, bass baritone, who captivated us with “O! Du Mein Holder Abenstern” from Wagner’s “Tannhauser.” Mr. Cha has a commanding vocal presence and a voice of dark beauty and spiritually.
Courtney Johnson regaled us with “Signore, Ascolta!” from Puccini’s Turandot. Ms. Johnson possesses an instrument of power and beauty that stays with you.
Alexander Lewis sang “Di Rigori Armato Il Seno” (the Italian tenor aria) from Richard Strauss “Der Rosenkavalier” which is a showpiece for its forays into the higher tessitura. Lewis sang it with vibrant ringing tone and marvelous breath control.
Anthony Clark Evans sang “Avant De Quitter Ces Lieux” from Gounod’s “Faust.” Evans has a strong baritone with a beautiful quality and marvelous reserve.
Luthuando Qave sang “Donne Mie, La Fate” from Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte” with dexterity, verve and clarity.
Adam Bonanni sang an impassioned and heartfelt “Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Herz” from Lehar’s “The Land of Smiles.” Bonanni has an ideal tenor for this repertoire, and his German was impeccable.
The last performer and winner of the Gerda Lissner Charitable Fund award of $10,000 was baritone Takaoki Onishi who sang “O Carlo, Ascolta” from Don Carlo by Verdi. Onishi’s voice has mellowness and nobility. His proud and youthful mother, Mrs. Onishi, in a beautiful kimono, flew in from Japan to attend.
Michael Fennelly was the marvelous and versatile piano accompanist.
Janet Stoven, Vice President of Opera Index, spoke proudly of the guest of honor, American basso Eric Owens, whose promise she recognized more than 20 years ago and who received an Opera Index scholarship in 1993. Owens made his Metropolitan Opera (Met) debut in “Dr. Atomic” in 2008. After getting the award, Mr. Owens gave a speech in which he acknowledged how much he appreciated the support of Janet Stovin and Opera Index and which he humbly accepted. He then offered us all a “gift in return” by singing “Before Lord God Made the Sea and the Land” from Kurt Weill’s “Lost in the Stars.”
This was a night of stars, and we thank Stephen De Maio, our host and president of the Gerda Lissner Foundation.