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Subject: The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation Celebrates 42nd Annual International Vocal Competition
From: Judy Pantano <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Judy Pantano <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 3 Nov 2016 12:39:06 -0400

text/plain (155 lines)

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 
Verdi's Macbeth!

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 
John McCormack. 

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 
the audience. 

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 
competition winners. 

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