Giulio Gari Foundation Presents 2016 International Vocal Competition Winners
A review by Nino Pantano
The New York Athletic Club on 59th Street and Central Park South was the venue for an
unforgettable evening of remembrance and celebration on the evening of Sunday,
September 25th. The evening was dedicated to Glen Gary, beloved son of Giulio and
Gloria Gary who passed away a few months ago. May his spirit soar as music reigns.
Greetings were given by Chairman of the Board Gloria Gari, always a source of
inspiration and courage and Artistic Adviser Stephen De Maio who always pans for vocal
gold and finds it!
Our host of the evening was Brian Kellow who has written best selling books and was
famed for his many articles in Opera News. Mr. Kellow instantly draws the attention of
those present by his intimate warmth, vast knowledge and great love for opera and
people. Kellow introduced the two honored guests beginning with the Metropolitan Opera
and Grammy Award winner soprano Ana Maria Martinez who accepted her award with
humility and grace. I recall her in concert with Andrea Bocelli and I was dazzled by her
clarion angelic voice and its passionate and beautiful qualities. Ms. Martinez, who is from
Puerto Rico, is truly an ambassador of opera to the world. Her recent Madama Butterfly
at the Metropolitan Opera won rave reviews.
Soprano Catherine Malfitano brought back wonderful memories of both the New York City
Opera (NYCO) and the Metropolitan Opera (Met Opera) where her acting and singing
made for performances of blazing intensity. Ms. Malfitano who was born in New York, told
the awardees and the audience to "share the passion" and the importance of "words
matter." She is presently both opera director and teacher and her mission continues.
Unfortunately Rolando Villazon, acclaimed Metropolitan Opera tenor was unable to attend.
Jin Sol baritone sang "Di provenza il mar, il suol" from La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi. Mr.
Sol's lyric baritone had both ardent and sweet qualities and he used his "brakes" to soften
and slow down so that the moments of soft lyrical sound and bursts of intensity were well
contrasted. A good and proper job for this beautiful aria. Sol accepted his 2nd prize award
from Tarquin M. Callen.
The duet from Puccini's La Boheme,"O soave fanciulla," was next with soprano Antonina
Chehovska and tenor Fanyong Du. Ms. Chehovska's sweet and ardent soprano was a
perfect blend with Mr. Du's tender tenor and their walking towards the exit while capping
the high C had its sealing the discovery of young love in a rhapsodic and indelible
moment. Tamie Laurance and Joyce Greenberg from the Giulio Gari Foundation presented
The quartet from Puccini's La Boheme followed - "Addio dolce svegliare" with Antonina
Chehovska, soprano, Marco Cammarota tenor, Meryl Dominguez, soprano and Andrew
Manea baritone. A quartet that doubled ones pleasure was a poignant Mimi, a robust
lamenting Rodolfo, an exasperated vocally rich Marcello and a vibrant outstanding and
sparkling Musetta. Awards were given by Lucia Derosa, Dr. Philip and Mrs. Frezzo, Robert
Fellows Esq. and Dr. Barry Schenk.
"O Mimi tu piu non torni" from Puccini's La Boheme followed with Jamez McCorkle tenor
and Norman Garrett baritone. Mr. McCorkle's ringing tenor voice was captivating as the
heartbroken poet and blended with Mr. Garrett's caressing and mellow baritone. Both
cannot focus on their activities because they long for their sweethearts. The blend was as
warm as a cappuccino with cinnamon after a jog in the autumn chill. The ever dapper Karl
Michaelis presented the award from the Lissner Charitable Fund.
On the lighter side, Christopher Magiera stepped in and replaced someone who cancelled
and sang "I'm going to Maxim's" from Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow and his provocative
baritone filled the void with mayhem and merriment. Magiera's instrument has power,
color and vitality and he helped remove the melancholy of the poor Bohemians in that
garret in Paris with this lively tuneful melody of the fabled Parisian nightspot maxims.
A bit of Mozart followed with "La ci darem la mano" from Don Giovanni with Hanna
Ludwig, mezzo soprano and Pawel Konik, bass baritone. Konik's beguiling basso caught
the soul of Zerlina, whose saucy and sparkling mezzo became entangled in his basso
lasso. The reluctant bride yielded big time to her new suitor as they ran offstage together
with her leading the way. Betty Cooper Wallerstein, Louise Simmons and Robert Funck
presented the awards.
Daniel Bates sang "Una furtiva lagrima" from Donizetti's Elisir d'amore. His is a purely
"American" sound and recalled such tenors as James Melton, Charles Kullmann, Dennis
Day and Jerry Hadley. Bates sang in a straightforward manner - sweet but not saccharine
including a strong cadenza and finale. The award was given by Amazon.com, Inc. in
memory of Glen Gary.
Sava Vemic-tall and imposing, sang a noble and glorious" A te l'estremo addio - Il
lacerato Spirito" from Verdi's Simone Boccanegra. His basso cantante was thrilling to hear
for those who long for the days when Pinza and Siepi reigned. Mr. Vemic will be making
his Met Opera debut as the High Priest in Nabucco this season. His "Prego Maria, per me"
haunts the memory! The award was given by Stephen De Maio, President of the Gerda
Lissner Foundation in which Vemic was a first prize winner. We heard Mr. Vemic sing at
Rose Hall recently with Maestro Eve Queler's Opera Orchestra in Donizetti's Parisina
d'Este. Maestro Queler was also present at the Gari Gala.
Lastly, first prize winner Vanessa Vasquez, sang "Un bel di" from Puccini's Madama
Butterfly. Her soprano is clarion and powerful. Ms. Vasquez sang softly, much of the time
and was a model of restraint. It was a reflective performance rather than an "all out"
one. It was full of hope on the cusp of rage; more self deceit than selflessness. Surely
like the great Licia Albanese whose advice was "singing on the word" will help the
promising Ms. Vasquez evolve into the perfect Butterfly. Ms. Vasquez's award was given
by Dr. Lya Friedrich Pfeifer, President of the Max Kade Foundation.
The gifted pianists were Jonathan Kelley who appeared courtesy of the Metropolitan
Opera and Arlene Shrut, both of whose accompaniment to the singers was sheer
We then all went into the dining room where great food, wines and desserts awaited one
and all. As we entered we saw legendary Met dramatic soprano Elinor Ross, unforgettable
Met mezzo Rosalind Elias and renowned coloratura soprano Harolyn Blackwell. Writer and
stage designer Scott Barnes who was wearing his famous "bumble bee" pin was busy as a
bee while buzzing around the festivities!
At our table we enjoyed the delightful company of Catherine Malfitano and her debonair
husband Steve, the effervescent Sachi Liebergesell, President of the Licia Albanese-
Puccini Foundation and family and the urbane Michael Fornabaio from the Gerda Lissner
Foundation. Many admirers stopped by our table to meet and greet Ms. Malfitano whose
fans and admirers were thrilled to express their admiration. I cherish her internationally
viewed Tosca with Placido Domingo on location in Rome as well as performances at New
York City Opera and the Metropolitan Opera.
There were many luminaries and friends in the audience. Sopranos and vocal judges
Barbara Ann Testa and Teresa Apolei, Brooklyn born and bred soprano Elaine Malbin, who
recorded with Mario Lanza and sang at New York City Opera and was a television pioneer
with NBC Opera. Brooklynites Maestro Jan Wnek, Bill Ronayne, President of the Mario
Lanza Society located in Brooklyn, Ken Benson, opera manager, Lou Barrella, noted
educator and opera lecturer also from Brooklyn and Italian teacher/translator Cav.
Edward Jackson, tenor Keith Johnson, Eva De La O from Musica De Camera, Meche Kroop,
chef/writer all marveling at the talent displayed by the young performers.
Cornelia Beigel, Secretary of the Gerda Lissner Foundation lent her vivacious presence.
Opera Index President Jane Shaulis and husband Executive Director Joseph Gasperec,
composer and Vice Presidents Philip Hagemann and Janet Stovin and Treasurer Murray
Rosenthal, were all excited about the new awardees. Nedra Zachary and Peter Hubner
from the Loren L. Zachary Society for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles flew in for this
Some background recordings by Giulio Gari were played including his brilliant "Celeste
Aida" and clips from a future documentary on his life was also shown. Gari sang at both
the New York City Opera and the Metropolitan Opera in the 1950's and 1960's and was
loved for his voice and generosity.
The crowd of several hundred were inspired by the voices of the past and the bright
talented young voices of the future. This foundation through his widow Gloria Gari fulfills
Giulio's dream of helping young singers in their careers.
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