By Nino Pantano
For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Columbus Citizens Foundation, located in a townhouse on 8 East 69th St. near Central Park, was the scene for a two-part musical treat on the evening of Friday, June 21. What better way to begin summer!
The first part was the presentation of four promising scholarship winners accompanied by the superb pianist Arlene Shrut. This special event was hosted by the effervescent Stephen De Maio, president of the Gerdal Lissner Foundation and artistic director of the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation and the Giulio Gari Foundation, all of which offer scholarships to gifted young singers. De Maio has been a beacon of light to so many talented and aspiring young singers and has ensured us that the future is full of promise. Each singer sang one aria and then one song as an encore.
Mary-Jane Lee sang the haunting “Song to the Moon” from “Rusalka” by Anton Dvorak in a dark-hued, honey-toned soprano with exciting ascents and a thrilling top. Her subtle gestures and fine portamentos evoked sympathy for this nymph who wanted to be human for the sake of her beloved. Ms. Lee’s encore was “Zdes Khorosho,” Opus 21 No. 7 by Rachmaninoff, and was a tour de force of almost Wagnerian power.
Domenick Chenes used his beautiful tenor in a stirring “Recondita armonia” from Puccini’s “Tosca” and a Caruso favorite, Paolo Tosti’s “L’alba Separa Dalla Luce L’ombra.” It was “all out” robust Italianate singing. Aldo and Lisa Mancusi from Brooklyn’s Enrico Caruso Museum were particularly pleased. Aldo and his museum were just profiled along with Enrico Caruso in the July “Opera News.”
Chloe Moore possesses a subtle, pliant and powerful soprano, and all of these outstanding qualities were exhibited in her singing of “La Gavotte” from Massenet’s “Manon.” Ms. Moore’s encore of “La Vie en Rose,” a Piaf favorite, embraced our hearts with its poignant melody.
Takaoki Onishi is the possessor of a warm “Italianate” baritone. His ardent singing of “E Fra Quest’ Anise” from Leoncavallo’s “I Pagliacci” was enough to melt any Nedda. Onishi’s encore was Gastaldon’s song “Musica Proibita,”a Caruso favorite; Mr. Onishi’s robust, intense and passionate outpouring took us on a journey to Italy.
Part Two was hosted by teacher/lecturer Lou Barrella, whose lectures for the Metropolitan Opera Guild and other venues are the talk of the town. Mr. Barrella’s theme was “The Piano Goes to the Opera.”
Combining the pianistic talent of Jean-Yves Thibaudet from his album “Opera without Words” and photographs on a large screen, we were treated to vistas of Florence from Lou Barrella’s camera. Among the artists featured were Licia Albanese in a studio recording Doretta’s song from Puccini’s “La Rondine”; Monserrat Caballe “Live Concert 1990” singing “O Mio Babbino Caro,” Renata Tebaldi singing “Vissi d’Arte from Tosca “Live Performance 1961”; and Marilyn Horne singing from “Samson and Dalilah’s” “Mon Coeur S’ouvre a Ta Voix” at the “Met Centennial Concert 1983.”
Other highlights were Maria Callas singing “Casta Diva” from Norma “Live Concert Paris 1958” and a discussion of Bel Canto’s mournful melody -- a comparison of the composers Bellini and Chopin. The legendary soprano, Elinor Ross, in the audience, a great Norma of the past, was asked to take a bow. Artur Rubinstein was shown at age 88 tenderly playing Chopin’s Piano Concerto 2 in F minor. For comic relief, we saw a film clip of Mae West in “Goin’ to Town” (1935) singing “Mon Coeur” in her own unique way.
The program finale was the Rigoletto Quartet from Jean-Pierre Ponelle’s 1982 film with Pavarotti, Gruberova, Wixell and Vergara contrasted with “Everybody Sing,” a 1938 MGM film, doing the quartet jazzed up, with Judy Garland, Reginald Owens, Lynne Carver and Adia Kuznetsoff.
At the finale, Brooklyn lawyer Lou Aidala Esq. got up and showered the singers with praise. His wife Maryann said that this concert really moved him! We all “second the motion!”
General Manager of the Columbus Citizens Foundation John Boden provided us all with a superb dinner and dessert, but the team of Steve De Maio and Lou Barrella provided us with “operatic desserts” and sweet memories to savor.