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Subject: Opera Index Presents 2018 Distinguished Achievement Award Dinner
From: Judy Pantano <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Judy Pantano <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 15 Feb 2018 16:03:51 -0500

text/plain (127 lines)

Opera Index Presents 2018 Distinguished Achievement Award Dinner
A review by Nino Pantano

On the evening of Sunday, January 21st at The JW Marriott Essex House in New York City, 
Opera Index celebrated its 2018 Distinguished Award Dinner honoring legendary American 
mezzo Mignon Dunn. 

The program began with an operatic recital of young Opera Index 2017 awardees. During 
the cocktail hour, I was happy to chat with great mezzo Dolora Zajick, legendary Met 
soprano Lucine Amara, brilliant Met soprano Diana Soviero and the glowing awardee Mignon 
Dunn. Of course I thanked them all for their careers which made the operatic multitudes 
very happy indeed. I told Mignon Dunn how beautiful she looked and sounded as 
Magdalena, the Duke's girlfriend in Rigoletto, and as a young man, how happy I was to see 
her so vocally alluring and sexy as the trollop sister of Sparafucile! Ms. Dunn, radiant and 
youthful, now teaches and like Johnny Appleseed, is planting many new singers and sending 
them off for future generations. I told Lucine Amara how a commercial for "Pace, Pace Mio 
Dio" Olive Oil on WOV Italian Radio in my grandmother's house, made me familiar with the 
aria and helped spark an interest in opera. Ms. Amara sang the aria with such glory-even 
recently. I always tell Diana Soviero how moved I was by her unrivaled performance as Suor 
Angelica at the Metropolitan Opera. Dolora Zajick, up beat and full of fun, is one of the 
greatest Azucena's in Metopera history in Verdi's Il Trovatore and she too has a school of 
teaching and is helping to keep opera alive. Earlier we chatted with the Metopera legend, 
the indomitable Elinor Ross whose dramatic soprano still echoes in memory.  

President Jane Shaulis came to the podium and with one golden note, got the attention of 
all and the program began. In her introduction, Ms. Shaulis, who is a much heralded and 
loved mezzo at the Metropolitan Opera thanked the patrons, whose generous support 
sustains the awardees, who bring us all hope for the future and the honored guest Mignon 
Dunn who remains both in memory and current times a historic American opera presence.

The presenter of the award was Joan Dornemann, pianist and vocal coach at the 
Metropolitan Opera from 1974 and she also serves as assistant conductor. Ms. Dornemann 
gave a rousing and animated speech getting much applause and joyous laughter. She 
mentioned the wonderful Amato Opera with its Aida and the Egyptian army of 4 people. Ms. 
Dornemann spoke of her years in Spain at the Gran Teatro del Liceo and all the great 
singers she worked with. Her stories and wit were most amusing.

Mignon Dunn, looked so much like we remember her. She worked hard but had fun with her 
colleagues. Ms. Dunn was born in Memphis, Tennessee and raised in Tyronza, Arkansas and 
Memphis. Her opera debut was in New Orleans as Carmen in 1955. She sang over 600 
performances at The Metropolitan Opera in a 35 year career and taught voice at Brooklyn 
College and Manhattan School of Music among others. Her late beloved husband was 
conductor Kurt Klippstatter. Her advice was high praise for Opera Index for the award and 
profound thanks. She misses her colleagues and says it is important to "always be good to 
each other." 

The concert then began with Tamara Banjesevic who sang "Je veux vivre" from Gounod's 
Roméo e Juliette. Her soprano has power depth and flexibility. Ms. Banjesevic danced 
through the tables in the dining area and had much allure. Her voice had the necessary 
frisson to make us all feel her newfound love and joy. Her coloratura flights showed us how 
happy Juliette was and while dancing, it was a nice bit of vocal and stagecraft by a future 

Bryan Murray sang "Mein Schnen, mein Wähnen" from Die todt Stadt by Korngold. Mr. 
Murray has a caressing baritone and was able to draw the audience into his mood as if it 
was a Schubert lieder. His voice has a nice cadence to it and was always in legato balance 
and fell gently and passionately on the ear.

Courtney Johnson sang "Come scoglio" from Mozart's Così fan tutte. Her impeccable 
soprano was well balanced with a lovely piercing top and flawless legato. Her coloratura 
flights were exciting and her ascendancy and downward slides were seemingly effortless. 
Ms. Johnson captured the spirit of Mozart's character and shared that with us!  

James Ley tenor, sang "Vainement, ma bien-aimée" from Le Roi d'Ys by Lalo. This aria is like 
an illusion. Most think it to be a simple ditty when it is really a high bridge partially 
obscured by mist and fog. The outreach for the satisfying high notes are deceivingly out of 
reach for too many tenors. Tenor legend Beniamino Gigli's superb honeyed recording should 
be heard. One has to interject a vocal personality in this piece. Mr. Ley's capabilities are 
strong enough to achieve this. Let that note float - and satisfy. Don't just reach for it - let it 
float and carry us on an emotional journey with it!

William Guanbo Su, bass sang "Vi ravviso" from La Sonnambula by Bellini. I am Sicilian, I 
love Pasta à la Norma and I love Bellini. I felt that Mr. Guanbo Su was a fruit in the midst of 
ripening. A few touches here and there and then bravo - la frutta perfecto! His first part was 
lyrically sung but one did not feel the pulse of Bellinian melancholy. The cabaletta had more 
energizing spirit to it. The voice itself has all the good baritonal and darker sounds one 
desires. They have to be kneaded like pasta, and a covering of tomato sauce with graded 
cheese and a bit of mint will create a true Bellinian singer. Then we can all celebrate with 
Pasta à la Norma! In 2017, William Guanbo Su was the first prize winner of the Gerda 
Lissner Foundation. The ripened fruit is near happening. We eagerly await for it at the table 
with some fine wine!  

Brittany Nickell soprano, sang "Robert, toi que j'aime" from Robert le Diable by Meyerbeer. 
Ms. Nickell posses a fine flexible soprano of pleasing quality from top to bottom. Strong 
emotions were displayed and her ascents and descents were formidable. Her soprano had 
subtle shading and she was "in control" of her instrument and seemed to know the "feel" of 
Meyerbeer. Perhaps one day, a revival of this work-just for her!

I thought of Met Opera librarian Lionel Mapleson with his cylinders recording of Meyerbeer's 
operas at the old Met in 1901-03. The "live" sounds of the golden age and the wild applause 
of the transfixed audiences with Polish tenor Jean de Reszke, American soprano Emma 
Eames and some legendary names that never made recordings.These are the only 
recordings of the elegant Jean de Reszke. Ms. Nickell and the extraordinary Opera Index 
piano accompanist Michael Fennelly gave us the thrills that Mapleson yearned for over 100 
years ago. 

After the concert and presentations, we had a delicious Filet Mignon (Dunn) dinner and 
chatted with many of the guests. It was nice to see Metopera legend mezzo Rosalind Elias, 
Opera Orchestra of New York conductor Eve Queler, journalist and patron Meche Kroop, 
elegant Executive Director Joseph Gasperec, patron Sachi Liebergesell, author pacifist Luna 
Kaufmann, vocal teacher Joy Ferro, Opera Index Vice Presidents Philip Hagemann and Janet 
Stovin and treasurer Murray Rosenthal, horologist and board members John David Metcalfe, 
conductor Stephen Phebus and Linda Howes, Robert Steiner and Faith Pleasanton, Gloria 
Gari from the Giulio Gari Foundation, Michael Fornabaio and Karl Michaelis, distinguished 
patrons and representatives from the Gerda Lissner Foundation, suave David and glittering 
Barbara Bender from Career Bridges, opera manager Ken Benson, computer whiz George 
Voorhis, Cavaliere poet Dr. Edward Jackson, Jolana Blau from Elysium between two 
continents and the classy tenor Cesare Santeramo and Dr. Robert Campbell, sage patrons 
and benefactors, who added to the sparkle of this joyful evening at the fabulous JW Marriott 
Essex House. 

May opera thrive in the new year and beyond! Thanks Jane Shaulis and Joseph Gasperec for 
this splendid evening and for the loving assistance you render to these Opera Index artists 
of the future. 

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