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Subject: Marcella Sembrich Museum Gala Tribute to Caruso
From: Judy Pantano <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Judy Pantano <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Fri, 15 Sep 2017 10:26:23 -0400

text/plain (156 lines)

Marcella Sembrich Museum Gala Tribute to Caruso

A review by Nino Pantano

Marcella Sembrich (1858-1935) was a great Polish soprano of the past whose life and career 
are legend. Mme. Sembrich was Gilda to Enrico Caruso's Duke of Mantua in Giuseppe Verdi's 
Rigoletto at his debut in November 1903 at the Metropolitan Opera. They also recorded the 
Rigoletto Quartet and the Sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor. Caruso, a skilled caricaturist, 
made several caricatures of his friend Marcella and they are in his book of caricatures. Mme. 
Sembrich bought a pink stucco cottage on the banks of Lake George, NY which became her 
studio where she taught voice until her passing in 1935. It has since become a museum, 
shrine and cultural oasis when it is open from June through mid September.

This season was an active one and was concluded with a gala honoring the immortal tenor 
Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) on Saturday, September 2nd. His star has never faded and 
continues to shine almost a century since his untimely death of a lung abscess at age 48 in 
his native Naples on August 2, 1921.

Richard Wargo, curator and music director, introduced host Barrymore Laurence Scherer, 
tenor Daniel Montenegro and pianist Michael Clement. Wargo then went to the old wind up 
phonograph and played Enrico Caruso singing "La Donna e mobile" from Giuseppe Verdi's 
Rigoletto. After Caruso's golden voice negotiated the brilliant cadenza and finale, our tenor 
of the evening, Daniel Montenegro appeared, accompanied by Michael Clement and sang 
"La Donna e mobile." Montenegro possesses a fine lyric tenor that is flexible, with a pleasing 
tone and theatrical flair. He sang the cadenza and hit the final note with ease and whetted 
the appetite for the remainder of the program. The intimate living room setting for the 
performance seats close to one hundred guests and has a Victor console and a baby grand 

Barrymore Laurence Scherer spoke eloquently of his boyhood, his parents and how the 
voice of Enrico Caruso played such a large part in all their lives. Scherer especially 
remembers Caruso's great recording of "Rachel quand du Seigneur" from Jacques Halevy's 
La Juive which was the great tenor's final performance at the Metropolitan Opera (Met 
Opera) on December 24, 1920. Mr. Scherer mentioned that while Enrico Caruso was not a 
matinee idol in looks, he possessed a round kindly face, a pug nose and a smile of comet 
wattage and his glorious voice was in the right body - He was simply CARUSO!

The operatic portion continued with "Una furtiva lagrima" from Gaetano Donizetti's Elisir 
d'amore which was sung with lyricism and elan. Montenegro mentioned that Caruso suffered 
a throat hemorrhage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) on December 11th 1920 
while singing in Elisir d'amore. Caruso did sing three times more at the Met in great pain 
afterwards but it signaled the beginning of the end.

"Amore o grillo" from Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly was sung with the proper 
bravura. "La Fleur que tu m'avais jetée" from Georges Bizet's Carmen  was sung with 
admirable restraint and a pianissimo high at the finale that was both tender and caressing.

Piano accompanist Michael Clement from Skidmore College and the College of Saint Rose 
played the Intermezzo from Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana with all due passion and 
white hot inspiration.

Our erudite host Barrymore Laurence Scherer who is the opera and fine arts critic for The 
Wall Street Journal and the author of several books on opera, was able to speak volumes in 
a few short memorable phrases. What could be a better way to describe Caruso as he did 
than "the strength and beauty of his matchless voice?"

The concert continued with rising tenor Daniel Montenegro singing Neapolitan songs, many 
of which were immortalized by Enrico Caruso's Victor recordings. Like Milton Berle who 
made television, it was Enrico Caruso who made over 240 recordings by use of the 
phonograph. The phonograph improved in quality to accommodate the demands of the 
public who clamored for his recordings. The first million seller was "Vesti la giubba" from 
Pagliacci in 1907.

I first heard Daniel Montenegro in La Hija de Dr. Rappiccini (Rappiccini's Daughter), an 
opera by Daniel Catán at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I praised him highly in my review in 
The Brooklyn Eagle.

Montenegro sang "La danza" by Gioachino Rossini and caught the tarantula spider dizzying 
madness ending with a sustained high note.
"Santa Lucia" by Theodoro Cottrau followed with just a hint of melancholy as Caruso did. 
Caruso was booed in his native Naples early in his career by a jealous claque and he never 
sang there again. He exclaimed he would only "go to Naples to eat spaghetti." He always 
sang of Naples "Addio mia bella Napoli" and went there to die.

"Tu ca nun chiagne" by Ernesto de Curtis was sung by Montenegro, with true Italianate flair 
and plumbed the emotional depth and despair with a vocal frisson that was very exciting. 
Then we heard Core 'ngrato written for Caruso by Salvatore Cardillo and was sung with 
intensity, longing and beauty of tone.

A virtuoso piano solo by Michael Clement with Rigoletto Concert-Paraphrase, Giuseppe 
Verdi/Franz Liszt was exciting. I thought of Vladimir Horowitz as the notes and melodies 
danced together and his fingers flew like winged chariots to fulfill the dynamic pulse of Liszt 
emulating Verdi in this virtuoso showpiece!

"L'ultima canzone" by Paolo Tosti followed, and was a favorite of Caruso contemporary-tenor 
Giovanni Martinelli (1885-1969) and romantic basso Ezio Pinza.(1892-1957) Montenegro 
sang it with generous tone, passion and pianissimo shading  combined.

"Ideale" also by Tosti was sung with profound melancholy with a brilliant high note at the 
end ŕ la Caruso. Caruso recorded a "Non t'amo piu" early in his career, (1902) written by 
Luigi Denza, but the one offered by Daniel Montenegro was by Tosti and has become a great 
favorite of tenors. Montenegro captured every bit of the gripping emotional intensity of this 
beguiling song in the true Italian way.

Next was the charming song "A vuccella" which Montenegro described as "the lady love 
having lips like a posy that simply have to be kissed." It was the Caruso hit of 1919.

The final number by Stanislao Gastaldon was "Musica proibita" whose haunting melody was 
so beautifully articulated by Daniel Montenegro right up to the exciting finale.

The sold out audience insisted on an encore and the result was "O sole mio" sung not with 
Carusian melancholy but with Pavarottian joy with some wonderful trills more suited to 
Montenegro's vocal terrain. Montenegro's encore, true to his Latin roots was "Ay, Ay, Ay" 
(Osmán Pérez Freire) which was sung with brio, charm and some beautiful pianissimi." His 
final outpouring was "Princesita" (José Padilla) which was sung with infectious charm. 
Montenegro loves to sing and shares that joy with his audience.

Barrymore Scherer made some closing remarks and concluded his lecture quoting a poem. 
The poem was written by me in 1963 and was printed in the Brooklyn section of The Daily 
News in 1971. The poem recalled the 42nd anniversary of Caruso's death with a recorded 2 
hour memorial tribute to Caruso in New York's Bryant Park! Barrymore Laurence Scherer 
read the poem with great eloquence and feeling and introduced my wife Judy and myself. I 
was surprised, proud and humbled by the reading, the mention and the applause!

The reception before and after the gala was under a tent outdoors on the glittering shores 
of Lake George. The versatile fleet fingered accordionist Tom Persinos from Boston played 
many Italian favorites. The delicious finger food, one of which was a meatball with sauce on 
a toothpick with spaghetti swirled on top was new to me. It was provided by caterer Susan 
Minucci, owner of The Inn on Gore Mountain in North Creek, NY. It was a joy to "meet and 
greet" so many opera aficionados and wonderful people midst pastries and connoli's 
including the artists and enchanting Michelle Scherer, wife of Barrymore. 

Marcella Sembrich and Enrico Caruso must have joined us on "cloud 9" because that's 
where we were! We will inform Commendatore Aldo Mancusi of the Enrico Caruso Museum 
about this wonderful tribute. Hopefully we will have Richard Wargo come to Brooklyn, 
sample some good Polish food at Teresa's on Montague Street. Then a visit to The Enrico 
Caruso Museum near Sheepshead Bay where Caruso sang on Labor Day for 125,000 people 
on August 31,1918 at the Sheepshead Bay racetrack as part of the police games. Caruso 
was made an honorary Police Captain at the ceremonies. A few days earlier Enrico Caruso 
sang at the convention hall in Saratoga.

To stroll the spacious grounds of the Sembrich after a visit to the house and museum and sit 
on one of the benches and "lookout" points, watching the ducks, boaters and revelers is like 
being in paradise. 

We wish to thank Richard Wargo, our gallant and gracious host and "founder of the feast" 
for his flowers for Judy at the train station and his planning the "surprise" reading of my 
poem. Richard Wargo and staff, Beth Barton-Navitsky and Michelle San Antonio are to be 
commended for their efforts on behalf of making treasures from the past still so vital for 
today. We shall never forget the Enrico Caruso evening at The Sembrich. We also thank 
Barrymore Laurence Scherer, Daniel Montenegro and Michael Clement for their talent, skills, 
devotion and love for recalling the memory of the one and only "King of Tenors" - Enrico 

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