The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation Celebrates 42nd Annual International Vocal
A review by Nino Pantano
On the afternoon of Sunday, October 23rd, The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation
celebrated its 42nd anniversary with a concert at Rose Hall in the Time Warner Building
and presented its awardees.This annual event is looked forward to with great anticipation
by opera lovers and has grown into a "must be there" event. The legendary soprano Licia
Albanese (1909-2014) gave it life and led the "Star Spangled Banner" until her 104th year.
Sachi Liebergesell, President and Brian O'Connor Esq., Vice President of the foundation,
made the opening remarks. Ms. Liebergesell was honored for her eight years at the helm
and given one of Mme. Albanese's Madame Butterfly costumes as a special surprise
gift.The stage had the kimono on display as well as portraits of the late patrons Helen
LaSala and famed restaurateurs Francesco and Mary (Anzalone) Giambelli who was born
in Brooklyn. A poster showing film star Marta Eggerth was also on display. Stephen De
Maio, Administrative and Artistic Director was truly "monarch of all he surveyed."
Past winners who have achieved success at the Metropolitan Opera (Met) and world
stages were presented with distinguished achievement awards. First was to acclaimed
tenor Bryan Hymel, who spoke of Licia Albanese's impact on his career, soprano Ailyn
Perez who sang a haunting "Lumille Ancella" from Adriana Lecouvreur, soprano Nadine
Sierra who captivated us with an ethereal and enchanting "O Mio Babbino Caro" from
Puccini's Gianni Schicchi and Mariana Zvetkova who thrilled us with "Keim liche
Aufforderung" by Richard Strauss.The lifetime achievement award was presented to
soprano Lauren Flanigan whose roles with the New York City Opera (NYCO) and the Met
were riveting. Ms. Flanigan enthralled us with a bloodcurdling "La luce langue" from
Met tenor Ricardo Tamura who flew in from Germany for this occasion with his charming
wife Dagmar, told the audience how Licia Albanese heard him sing when he was ready for
a career as a scientist. She encouraged him to go all out for a singing career instead.
Despite a cold, he had to attend this special event to honor Licia Albanese. Tamura then
sang a brilliant "E lucevan le stelle" from Puccini's Tosca with sublime fortissimos and
breathtaking diminuendos and received an ovation.
Our special host for the gala was the erudite Brian Kellow, who wrote a beautiful obituary
for soprano Patrice Munsel in the November issue of Opera News. Ms. Munsel preceded
Brian as the lively host for the Licia Albanese-Puccini galas.
With the pianistic wizardry of Arlene Shrut and Jonathan Kelly accompanying the singers,
the program began.
Kidon Choi used his mellifluous baritone in "O, Mariya, Mariya" from Tchaikovsky's
Mazeppa. His vibrant, resonant baritone captured the Russian melancholy to the core,
from beautiful top to burnished bottom.
Maria Natale's soaring and lovely soprano and Alexander McKissick's sturdy tenor
transformed us to that garret in Paris in "O soave fanciulla" from Puccini's La Boheme
with soprano sparkle and tenorial triumph. Their final high notes took us "into the rare"
on a stairway to paradise. Ah! young love!
Mozart's Don Giovanni was next with the duet "La ci darem la mano" sung by Mia Pafumi
and Pawel Konik. Ms. Pafumi's caressing soprano and Mr. Konik's beguiling basso made
for a saucy and savory blend.
"Eri tu" from Verdi's Un ballo in maschera was sung with smooth legato and strong pathos
by baritone Norman Garrett. His finale was ardent and touching and in the Verdi baritone
"Je crois entendre encore" from Bizet's The Pearl Fishers was splendidly sung by Fanyong
Du whose dulcet penetrating tenor evoked the style of Nicolai Gedda. Enrico Caruso's
haunting version of this aria was used on the sound track for Woody Allen's film Match
More exotic fare followed with the popular duet "Sous le dome epais" from Delibe's
Lakme. Soprano Amber Daniel and mezzo Samantha Hankey blended as one, their voices
rising and falling and fading from the ear as if produced by a golden harp.
Jared Bybee sing an old favorite, "Vision Fugitive" from Herodiade by Massenet. Mr.
Bybee has a rich expansive baritone, perfect for this aria, which I recall sung by Igor
Gorin from the Voice of Firestone many years ago. Mr. Bybee sang beautifully making me
relive some lovely memories!
Tracy Cantin used her clear, powerful and sumptuous soprano in "Che il bel sogno di
Doretta" from Puccini's Le Rondine. This role suits her voice like a velvet glove! Cantin
and Puccini are a perfect fit!
Australian tenor Alasdair Kent captivated us with "Fantaisie aux divins mensonges" from
Lakme. His technique is as natural as that of a songbird, rhapsodic and superb with a
sudden pianissimo ascent to a high C at the finale. It made me think of the great tenor
Andre Courville sang "Air du tambour major" from Le Cid by Thomas.This popular aria
whose recordings by Pol Plancon and Ezio Pinza merit re-listening was brilliantly sung. Mr.
Courville captured the bravado, swagger and braggadocio of the foot stomping piece,
coupled with scales, ascents and descents. Courville made the adrenaline flow!
First prizewinner Karen Barraza sang "Tu che di gel sei cinta" from Puccini's Turandot. The
death of Liu was the last music Puccini wrote before he himself passed away. Ms.
Barraza's soaring soprano was even and powerful, yet tapered and delicate. She achieved
the essence of the poignant pleas of the slave girl who dies for her master.
The top awardee, Vanessa Vasquez concluded the concert with "Un bel di" from Puccini's
Madama Butterfly. Ms. Vasquez used her lyric soprano with balance and inner focusing as
if we were reading her thoughts. Ms. Vasquez generous and ample soprano enveloped
All these young and gifted singers sang from the heart and made every word matter,
following the sage advice from the great Licia Albanese. We are all the recipients of her
Several hundred of the audience walked over to the New York Athletic Club a block away
to attend the glittering star studded dinner and celebration. We sat at the table of
Stephen De Maio, who also serves as President of the generous Gerda Lissner Foundation.
While "table hopping" we were happy to greet Cornelia "Conny" Beigel, Secretary of the
Gerda Lissner Foundation, Joseph and Maria Gimma, son and daughter-in-law of Licia
Albanese and Father John Kamas from St. Jean Baptiste Church who gave the benediction.
A "quartet" of legendary opera legends such as Diana Soviero, Elinor Ross, Martina
Arroyo and Rosalind Elias, along with Maestro Eve Queler and patron Karl Michaelis,
Michael Fornabaio, treasurer of the Licia Puccini-Albanese Foundation and patron
presenter Joyce Greenberg with the dapper Ralph Petrarca enjoyed the festivities. Other
organizations included were Opera Index's President Jane Shaulis (Met mezzo) Vice
President Janet Stovin, (Brooklynite), Treasurer Murray Rosenthal, Executive Director
Joseph Gasperec, Gloria Gari from the Giulio Gari Foundation, Glenn Morton, Artistic
Director from Classic Lyric Arts, Eva De La O, Executive Director from Musica De Camara
all lent their vibrant presence, as did ever effervescent writers Scott Barnes and Meche
Kroop, while poet/Italian teacher Cavaliere Edward Jackson lent us his joie de vivre!
It was a pleasure to greet Alfred and Christine Palladino who are benefactors and patrons.
Christine shares the joys with my wife Judy of having gone to Lincoln High School in
Brooklyn. Among the guests were Angelo Vivolo, President of the Columbus Citizens
Foundation, Gregorij von Leitis and Michael Lahr from Elysium "Between Two Continents"
both literary and humanitarian endeavors, patrons Cesare Santeramo and Dr. Robert
Campbell, jeweler Mark Bunda, from the Sachi Liebergesell family, presenter Betty
Cooper Wallerstein, Marjan Kiepura and vivacious wife Jane, son of esteemed Met tenor
and film star Jan Kiepura and the unforgettable soubrette soprano Marta Eggerth who to
many were Danilo and Hanna for their countless appearances world wide in The Merry
Widow. Marta Eggerth (1912-2013) sang at the Albanese Gala until she was well into her
90's and lived to the age of 101. Marjan Kiepura is also a virtuoso pianist and Chopin
expert thus continuing the family tradition.
We all feasted on rack of lamb, fine wines and desserts and shared in the joys that Sachi
Liebergesell and the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation gave us, especially the musical
feast which is food to the soul and a soothing balm these mundane days.The fresh young
talented voices of the future give us hope. American poet Emily Dickinson wrote "Hope is
the thing with feathers" or hope is the songbird in our heart that keeps on singing!
A toast to President Sachi Liebergesell and congratulations to the 2016 international vocal
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