Music, from Richmond County to the World. Exclusive interview with Maestro Alan Aurelia

Interview  by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

Based in New York City, one of the most diverse and culturally rich environments for the arts and the many artists it supports, Maestro Alan Aurelia has distinguished himself as a conductor, an arts advocate, educator, and administrator. He is currently the music director of the Richmond County Orchestra, New American Youth Ballet and artistic director/conductor of the Riverside Opera Company.
He received full scholarships and fellowships to study at the Hartt School in Hartford,
Connecticut and the Conductors Institute at the University of South Carolina,
Columbia. He has served on the music faculties of Wagner College, the College of
Staten Island and the Borough of Manhattan Community College.
Describing Maestro Aurelia’s virtuosity, composer and conductor Lukas Foss stated
that “He conducts very naturally, effortlessly and clearly enabling all in the
orchestra to follow every musical nuance and inflection quite easily”.
At the conclusion of a concert that Maestro Aurelia conducted in Italy, Joel Cohen of
the Staten Island Advance wrote that “he was called back five times for bows by a
standing ovation audience” and Michael Fressola, also from the Advance, noted
that “The concert strikes a multicultural chord with the audience”.
Under his baton, the Richmond County Orchestra was selected to perform at
the Guggenheim Museum’s NY.2022, a multi-media creation by Parisian visual artist
Dominique Gonzalez-Forester with music by the Berlin-based composer, Ari Benjamin
Meyers, which received a rave review from the New York Times. Maestro Aurelia has
also performed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and he has been asked to conduct
in Carnegie Hall as well as in Miami, Florida, and Mexico. He has been a guest
conductor for the Bacau Philharmonic from Romania during Tuscany’s “Festival
Sinfonico di Massa” and for the Kiev Strings in Montegnioso.
In addition to performing the standard symphonic orchestral literature, Maestro Aurelia
conducts the opera, ballet, premiers of new compositions as well as the music of
Broadway. As a consequence of his versatility, he is comfortable in an array of
different genres and creates interesting and exciting programs that appeal to a broad
audience.
Maestro Aurelia’s Side-by-Side program for students stands out as a significant
marker of his dedication to music education, which is also reflected in the
establishment of the RCO Musicians Contest and the Instrument Petting Zoo,
programs that he initiated as music director of the Richmond County Orchestra that
actively support music education for young students in the New York metropolitan
area.
He has received several awards and honors for excellence in performance, education
and community relations. He has appeared on many local radio and TV programs in
New York and serves as chairman of the Board for Tribeca Music and Art in
Manhattan.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You are the Music Director of the Richmond County Orchestra and the New American Youth Ballet Orchestra. How different is being the Music Director of an orchestra and of a Ballet group?
Alan Aurelia : It is easier to conduct the RCO when we are doing symphonic music together because there are just two variables orchestra and me. Together we try to make the composers music sound its best. When dancers are added to the mix the challenge becomes making the music “fit” the dancers’ movements, jumps, and gestures. The music has to be in the right tempo, time with the dancer(s). It’s akin to, the buzzer has to go off when your finger touches the doorbell, not before. The good thing about conducting ballet music with dancers is you don’t have to worry about playing too loud.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You are also Artistic Director/Conductor for the Riverside Opera Company. What does this entail versus the positions that I refer to in the preceding question?
Alan Aurelia: Accompanying singers, with orchestra, especially opera is the most challenging conducting. Voices are very delicate instruments and as such, singers need to take liberties with tempos because of breathing, and a good opera conductor must never allow the orchestra to drown out the singer.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: What is the operatic program of the Riverside Opera Company and where do they operate?
Alan Aurelia: The Riverside Opera Company is celebrating its 22nd season! Although based on Staten Island, it has performed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Washington Square Park for Garibaldi’s bicentennial. They have performed all the major operas with full orchestra and continues to perform the popular opera numbers many times combining popular pieces as well as Broadway numbers.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: When did you realize you wanted to be a music conductor?
Alan Aurelia: I was student director of my High School Symphonic Band and conducted many community orchestras and bands, then having a successful career as an instrumentalist, I was offered my first professional conducting position in 1993 for a local NYC ballet company orchestra and have been conducting professionally ever since.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Are you still teaching in college? Did you also teach instrumentation?
Alan Aurelia: I was on the Music Faculty of three colleges and universities in NYC, now retired, I have private students and teach at a local Music Conservatory.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Which one is the opera you feel is the most rewarding for you as a conductor and why? And the most challenging one, if any?
Alan Aurelia: All operas are equally challenging. depending on the singers, production staff, directors you are working with because it all affects the music making.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: What characteristics do you feel make a better orchestra conductor?
Alan Aurelia: Know the music well before first rehearsal and with a minimal gesture from one’s baton or hand, convey the composer’s musical ideas clearly, enabling thus the musicians to perform at their optimum ability. A good conductor is a good teacher as well as a learner and must show compassion for the orchestra and vocal musicians as well as dancers. Years and years of conducting helps to make better conductors  It took me ten years before I felt comfortable in front of an orchestra. Many orchestra boards today make the mistake of hiring the young “wunderkind” conductor and problems generally
ensue.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You directed orchestras from different nations. Have you found a different attitude among the orchestra members, as music interpretation goes? Do you feel that music is so universal as to flatten out ethnic and racial differences?
Alan Aurelia: My experience has been, whether conducting in the US or abroad, that if the conductor is sensitive to the musicians’ needs, mostly musical ones, they will perform well.

Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyrie with RCO

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Are there any new projects you are working on?
Alan Aurelia: I am always seeking to do more concerts for the public, as a guest conductor or taking the award-winning Richmond County Orchestra on tour.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: If you could meet anyone from the past or the present, who would he or she be? What would you like to ask them? What would you like to tell them?
Alan Aurelia: Wow, this is a hard one because there are so many people. But if I had to choose one it would be the conductor Arturo Toscanini and I’d ask him if he truly had a photographic memory.

 

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Let’s Meet a Rising Star: An Exclusive interview with the soprano AnnaMaddalena Capasso

Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

A young and very promising soprano is having a great success in Italy and we at OperaMyLove were fortunate to meet her for an interview. 

OperaMyLove:  You are very young, yet you have been in the opera world for a while. What prompted your interest in this field?
AnnaMaddalena Capasso:  I was five when I saw for the first time at the San Carlo of Naples “La Bohème”  by Puccini. After the show, I told to my mother:” When I grow up I’ll be an opera singer!”

OperaMyLove:  Which character did you find more challenging to prepare for, and perform?
AnnaMaddalena Capasso: Every role has its own difficulty, but one of the most complex for me it was Elvira from I Puritani by Vincenzo Bellini.

OperaMyLove:  Which soprano do you admire the most and why?
AnnaMaddalena Capasso: Maria Callas has been the greatest interpreter of the 20th century. I love her. When I was younger, someone told me that I looked like her, aesthetically. Destiny wants me to have Greek ancestors from my mother and this inspires me even more.

OperaMyLove:  What has been the most rewarding performing experience you had so far?
AnnaMaddalena Capasso: I had many rewarding experiences, but what I will remember for a lifetime was during a Christmas concert in a church in the Quartieri Spagnoli of Naples. I interpreted the Virgin Mary who was singing the Brahms’s lullaby to Jesus. The audience went into raptures; they said that I really looked like a sacred image. (Truthfully she does have a resemblance to some of the paintings of the Virgin Mary…)

OperaMyLove:  Who is the opera character that you would love to be cast in? Why?
AnnaMaddalena Capasso: I’d like to interpret “Lucia of Lammermoor” by Donizetti. She is very macabre, romantic, strong and fragile character. I like to play such complex characters.

OperaMyLove:  What were your recent performances? Did you find them challenging? Rewarding? To your satisfaction?
AnnaMaddalena Capasso: My last interpretation has yet to come, it’s always a challenge! I will never be satisfied!

OperaMyLove:  Who is the performer you were thrilled to work with and why?
AnnaMaddalena Capasso: More than with an interpreter I’d like to work with a great conductor Daniel Barenboim, I love his way of directing.

OperaMyLove:  Do you have any upcoming projects?
AnnaMaddalena Capasso: Sure! I’m making a series of videos to introduce the world of the opera to as many people as possible! Follow me on my Instagram account @the_eternal_diva or my YouTube channel! (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFJRAw0u55r9D0QtDSgUI3w) You will see some beautiful ones!!

OperaMyLove:  I read that you are a passionate fan of your hometown soccer team, A.C. Napoli. Was this passion passed on to you by your father? Do you have any other passions and/or hobbies?
AnnaMaddalena Capasso: Yes, It’s true! I often go to the stadium; it’s a passion that was born alone! Sometimes I say that I have “blue blood”… (AnnaMaddalena laughs) ! In Naples everything is blue!
I have so many passions, one of these is the Manga; I go to the comic convention in Cosplay, the last character I Played was Sailor Moon at Napoli Comicon.
I really like reading literature classics; I love Disney’s movies and doing outdoor sports: swimming, diving, archery, running, climbing and above all, traveling! On the other hand, as Shakespeare said:”The whole world is a stage!”

 

AnnaMaddalena Capasso is a lyric coloratura soprano. With a distinctive voice and a strong ability to interpret, she was born in Torre del Greco on 04/07/1992.
AnnaMaddalena grew up in a family of artists in the graphic field. From an early age she showed a strong tendency in the music. She began studying opera singing at five. At sixteen she was admitted to the Conservatory of Music San Pietro a Majella in Naples, where she graduated in opera singing. Meanwhile, she participated in numerous opera performances, including “La Traviata” by Verdi at the Museum Donnaregina of Naples, ” Dialogues of the Carmelites ” by Poulenc at the Conservatory of Naples. At nineteen, she graduated from the high school with the linguistic project Jug, where in addition to deepen the study of modern languages it expands to the study of classical languages.

She participated in numerous national and international competitions for opera singers, including the X Singing Competition organized by the International Institute for Opera and Poetry and the Fondazione Arena di Verona and the VII international opera competition “Magda Olivero,” always receiving great appreciation by the jury. AnnaMaddalena won the third prize in the XIII National Competition of music created by ” Lions Club ” in Mercato San Severino.  She interpreted in the Opera ”Mas’Aniello” by Jacopo Napoli the roles of The Queen and Marco Vitale. The same year she participated in a Master Class on the work held by the German master Adi Bar, interpreting the arias of the Queen of Night from ” The Magic Flute ” by Mozart. She also attended a lecture by M. Irene Crodelia Huberti. She performed in several concerts with the ” Cantori di Posillipo ”.

In the year 2014/2015, she attended a specialization course in opera at academy of Osimo, studying with Raina Kabaivanska, Harriet Lawson, William Matteuzzi, Anna Vandi, Alla Simoni, Carlo Morganti, Angelo Gabrielli and the artistic director of the San Carlo theater and Opera Academy Vincenzo De Vivo.

In December 2015, she took part in the Bohème by Puccini at the Teatro La Nuova Fenice in Osimo.

She took part in Bizet’s Carmen held at the same directed by Matteo Mazzoni, with the participation of Luca Violini and the conduction of Maestro Alessandro Benigni.

In May 2016 she participated in historical staging of Fedora (Giordano)  directed by Lamberto Puggelli at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, conducted by Asher Fisch and Maurizio Agostini.

In July 2016, she performed the Nabucco of G. Verdi to the Reggia of Caserta with Leo Nucci, the conduction of Daniel Oren and the direction by Stefano Trespidi.
She was awarded the ‘Naples in the World’ award.

She sings in five languages: French, English, German, Spanish and Japanese. Her repertoire ranges from the Opera to sacred music.

 Gallery

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The Music Room of Gabriele D’Annunzio in New York City

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Flanigan at 60, A Gala Celebration!

Music and Mentoring House, Inc is a mentoring and residency program that works with students in all artistic disciplines and at all levels in their development in a safe, affordable and creative living environment.

Founded on 2010 by acclaimed American soprano, Lauren Flanigan, Music and Mentoring House is a residency program that works with students in all artistic disciplines and at all levels in their development in a safe, affordable and creative living environment.

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Dr. Mary Rorro, The “Violin Doc,” An Exclusive Interview

An interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena
She was nicknamed “The Violin Doc” in a book by Lisa Wong entitled “Scales to Scalpels, Doctors Who Practice the Healing Arts of Music and Medicine;”  a talented professional viola player and a respected psychiatrist who uses her music to heal veterans, Dr. Mary Rorro is so much more and we are proud to present an exclusive interview with this bright star of the medical field who is finding many ways to help her patients.


L‘IDEA: You are a psychiatrist working with veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and blending music and poetry into your practice. It seems that music has always been a major factor in your life. Could you tell us when did you start to use music as a healing tool? {Talk about your Music major, awards but also about the middle school and following years too, please)
Dr. Mary Rorro: When I was six and a half years old, my mother showed me her little violin that she used to play as a child.  I cherished that violin and toted it around in its diminutive case.  My mother, my talented brother Michael and I used to play together to Suzuki records, and listened to Italian arias and Neapolitan songs with my grandparents. The first time I witnessed the power of music was as my grandfather was dying in his hospital bed.  I played Toselli’s Serenade for him, a favorite song he frequently requested.  His last words were “More music.” As a candy striper in high school, my mother encouraged me to entertain the ill patients under my charge.  She witnessed as I played for a depressed cancer patient who had not spoken for months, who suddenly began to sing along with my violin to Christmas carols, bringing the nurses to tears.  That inspiring moment influenced me to combine my desire to be a physician and blend music into my profession. We recognized the healing power of music to those suffering that day. My mother was so proud. I wanted to make her happy by sharing music with others, who needed it in the most essential way.
I majored in music and minored in biology at Bryn Mawr College and received the first Performing Arts Prize ever awarded at the college.  Bryn Mawr encouraged leadership opportunities for women and service to others.  I organized two benefit concerts for St. Christopher’s Hospital for children with AIDS, as President and first violist of the Bryn Mawr–Haverford College Symphony.  I developed a program in medical school and psychiatry residency called “Musical Rounds: The Next Best Thing to Grand Rounds,” and “From Soup to Notes,” to perform for people in soup kitchens.

L‘IDEA: Besides your practice, you also created a program of volunteers with a similar goal, “A Few Good Notes.” Could you tell us about it?
Dr. Mary Rorro: Given the enthusiastic response from my previous musical experiences, I wanted to introduce music into the lives of the veterans at my clinic and the New Jersey VA Healthcare System. I started a program called “A Few Good Notes,” in which I play viola for the patients in the group therapy sessions and individually in my office.  Some of my patients used to play instruments, and hearing me encouraged them to resume their musical instruments and join me in the program.  One of my patients brought his Dixieland band in to entertain nursing home patients with me in the Lyons VA.  The quiet room was instantly transformed with the sound of patients singing along to the upbeat rhythms.  Another patient, after hearing me play Amazing Grace in the office, was inspired to pick up his guitar again and also start reading the Bible, after he contemplated the words in the song.
I initiated a program at the VA that provides free guitar lessons for veterans, which enables them to experience the joy of music first hand.  We have volunteer guitar instructors who give generously of their time and it allows for engagement with other veterans in the Guitar Instruction Group (GIG.)  The clinic is now filled with the strumming sounds of vets on their instruments, and the waiting list for lessons is a long one.
Every year, we carol in Lyons and East Orange hospitals and recruit other employees to share their time and talents with veterans.  The program has been expanded nationally in the VA.  Some patients and employees who are part of our Healing Arts committee bring their guitars and other instruments, and sing along to my viola.
Music draws out stories from the patients, including one Vietnam vet who remembered his platoon sang Silent Night on a hill in Vietnam, causing a cease fire for that time on Christmas Eve.  Music evokes powerful emotions and enables the therapists and me to process them with the patients in group therapy settings.
The program has been featured on WQXR, the former classical music station of the New York Times, WNYC radio, the Dr. Oz website, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies and AOL’s Homepage for Heroes.  I was featured as “The Violin Doc,” in the book “Scales for Scalpels: Doctors Who Practice the Healing Arts of Music and Medicine,” by Lisa Wong, M.D.

Princeton Memorial ceremony at Monument Hall (Click on the picture to view a video on YouTube of Dr. Mary Rorro’s program for the veterans)

L‘IDEA: You clearly had a call for music and became a professional violist. When and how did the call for medicine, and in particular psychiatry, come about? 
Dr. Mary Rorro: When I was 4 years old, I was riding in the car with my mother, and she asked what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I quickly responded, “A doctor, because I want to help people.”  My parents always encouraged me in my dream, from which I never wavered.  I was influenced by many members of my family, who were role models. I spent time in my father’s busy primary care practice, and observed grateful patients leaving his office.  He went on house calls early in the morning for people who he knew couldn’t afford to pay, but was dedicated to helping them.  My Aunt, Mary A. Rorro, M.D. was one of the trailblazing women physicians of her area.  Her “Uncle Doc” graduated from Hahnemann Medical School and encouraged her to go there from a young age.  Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s father, Samuel Alito Sr., was her teacher in high school and he awarded her with the science medal.  He knew she wanted to be a doctor and told her, “Never be discouraged from your dream.” She still has the report card envelope where he wrote other encouraging words about her future, since she valued them so much.  She graduated from Hahnemann in 1958, and married my Uncle Al.  He and my Uncle John also served the community as physicians. My Aunt Celeste received her Doctorate in Education and was Director of Teacher Certification and Academic Credentials in New Jersey.
I became interested in psychiatry after a rotation at UMDNJ-SOM medical school at a New Jersey state hospital.  Psychiatry seemed like a perfect way to blend narratives, creativity, and the arts into the medical profession.  I entered a Harvard Medical School program for psychiatry residency and began working with veterans in the VA system as well as other mental health institutes in Boston, including McLean Hospital, Cambridge Hospital.  Following residency, I completed a psychiatry Fellowship in Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.  The years of tests and training, long nights on call, sleeping on scratchy sheets, were all worth it when someone says, “You changed my life.”  I consider that to be a complement to my parents, because without their constant love and support, I would not be able to help my patients and hear those words.

L‘IDEA: Your poetry is very poignant and inspirational, bringing images of war and tortured souls. Do you write only about veterans’ experiences?
Dr. Mary Rorro: Veterans’ stories of trauma, grief, and loss inspired me to write poetry meant to help patients, and to honor them.  Some poems reflect themes of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including intrusive memories, nightmares and flashbacks.  Others relate to more specific trauma incidents and themes of moral injury and survivor guilt.  The patients’ often poignant, sometimes frightening narratives were compelling.  Poetry became a venue in which I could attempt to first process and then articulate the overwhelming emotions they experience.  I began to share my poetry, in hopes of helping them connect and progress in treatment.  The poems opened a new dialogue on aspects of their stories which they might not have touched upon during the standard medication management visit.
I also write other poetry and haiku based on nature and spiritual themes, and compose songs and song lyrics.

Click here to read one of her poems, Tunnel Rats

L‘IDEA: You have received innumerable awards both for your charitable and your professional work. Notwithstanding that they are all relevant and well deserved, is there one in particular that has meant more to you and why?
Dr. Mary Rorro: There are a few that are especially meaningful.  An award that had special meaning was from the American Foundation of Savoy Orders, a royal order in Italy.  They bestowed the Saints Maurice and Lazarus Bronze medal for charitable works at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.  It was incredibly exciting to walk up the steps of the main altar to receive the beautiful bronze medal and proclamation of Vittorio Emanuele.  Performing at the Centennial Celebration mass of the Holy Rosary church in Washington D.C. with Supreme Court Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and Antonin Scalia, and Nancy Pelosi, in attendance, was also a peak experience. It was an honor to be inducted into the Italian American National Hall of Fame, in the same year with Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.
The Planetree organization’s Patient-Centered Excellence and Innovation Award (received by one of 10 individuals or programs internationally) for my “A Few Good Notes” program in Chicago, was significant for recognizing the importance of helping veterans through the arts.

L‘IDEA: Your father was a doctor and your mother is an icon of the Italian American community in New Jersey. How did this influence you in your personal life and your professional choices?
Dr. Mary Rorro: My late father, Dr. Louis Rorro, was a physician who was committed to helping patients in the community.  My mother, Dr. Gilda Rorro, was an educator and administrator in the Department of Education, and worked in civil rights.  She traveled to Haiti on numerous occasions to establish school exchange program with schools in Haiti and New Jersey.  In the past 20 years, she worked tirelessly to serve Italian Americans in the community as Honorary Vice Consul work and as Chair of the New Jersey Italian Heritage Commission. She was knighted by the President of Italy for development of her curriculum to put Italian heritage into all schools in New Jersey.  My parents instilled an appreciation of Italian language and culture, and we feel fortunate to have cherished family and friends in Italy. My wonderful husband Joseph also shares my love of Italian culture and music; we met at an Italian social club when I was a psychiatric resident in Boston.
My parents’ productivity and engagement in their careers motivated me toward my profession and I was proud of what they accomplished.  I was raised without limitations of what a girl or woman could achieve.  No matter how busy my patients were, they were always actively engaged in my development, taking me to music lessons, concerts, and trips to Europe, to broaden my education.  They were tremendous mentors, who influenced my life and left a legacy of serving others, which I strive to continue.  Their high school graduation gift was my viola, and one that truly keeps on giving.  I am forever indebted to my parents for guiding me in my goal to becoming a doctor and grateful they helped make my dream a reality.  They gave of themselves with genuine commitment to community, and to me.  My parents’ love and devotion enabled me to be fulfilled as a physician and musician, and aspire to help some many others, to live by their example.

Dr. Mary Rorro plays the viola for the mother Gilda in the occasion of her memoir’s presentation to the public

L‘IDEA: Are there any new projects in the near future?
Dr. Mary Rorro: I consider serving our veterans a patriotic mission. They have taught me so much about sacrifice and resilience. Blending music and poetry into my practice is a privilege and serves as a rewarding and creative means of deepening the doctor–patient bond. I have witnessed the powerful effects the arts can hold for patients and hope to distribute my collection of vignettes and poems to more veterans.  I plan to continue expanding the “A Few Good Notes” program so more patients become involved in music and the arts, as an invaluable tool to employ in their journey toward healing.

Veterans listening to Dr. Mary Rorro’s music (Click on the picture to view a video on YouTube)

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Magic can happen anywhere, even in the Amazon

DANIEL CATÁN

An opera star goes down the Amazon on a magical quest.

Inspired by the writings of the great Gabriel García Márquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude), Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas is one of the most lyrical and melodious new operas of the past 30 years, embraced by critics and audiences everywhere it has played. This story of a Brazilian soprano’s emotionally fraught journey back to her homeland offers a brilliant display of magical realism—and pushes the operatic form to new limits of imagination. To portray a great artist, FGO has engaged a great artist—Ana María Martínez, acclaimed as one of the most beloved Butterflys in recent Metropolitan Opera history.

CASTING
Florencia Ana María Martínez [Apr 28, May 1, 4, 5]
Sandra López [Apr 29]
Riolobo Steven LaBrie* [ALL]
Rosalba Cecilia Violetta López* [ALL]
Arcadio Andrew Bidlack [ALL]
Paula Mariya Kaganskaya [ALL]
Alvaro William Lee Bryan [ALL]
Capitán Rafael Porto [ALL]
Conductor Ramón Tebar
Director Jose Maria Condemi
Production Opera Colorado
Set Designer Phillip Lienau
Lighting Designer Kenneth Yunker
Costume Designer Elizabeth Poindexter*
Projection Designer Aaron Rhyne*
Chorus Master Katherine Kozak
* = FGO debut

SYNOPSIS

The El Dorado, a steamboat sailing down the Amazon from Leticia, Colombia, to Manaus in the early 1900s

Act I

On the riverbank, Riolobo, a mystical character who can assume many forms, excitedly announces that the El Dorado is bound for the opera house in Manaus. There, the legendary opera diva Florencia Grimaldi, who has not set foot in her native South America for twenty years, will give a concert to reopen the theater. From among the crowds lining the riverbank and selling their local wares, we glimpse the ship’s passengers coming aboard: a young journalist, Rosalba, who is working on a biography of Florencia Grimaldi; Paula and Alvaro, a middle-aged couple journeying to hear Grimaldi in hopes of rekindling their marriage; and the diva herself, traveling incognito.

As the ship pulls away from the busy port, Florencia reflects on the emptiness of her life and her desire to rediscover herself and her long-lost lover, Cristóbal, a butterfly hunter in search of the rare Emerald Muse. Rosalba’s notebook is rescued from the river by the ship Capitán’s nephew, Arcadio, and they exchange confidences about their longings and desires. Alvaro and Paula attempt to dine on deck, but misunderstandings about the exotic menu lead only to bitter exchanges.

Florencia, awakened by the sounds of the jungle, learns from the Capitán that the butterfly hunter has disappeared into the jungle without a trace. Later, a tempestuous game of cards contrasts the growing affection between Rosalba and Arcadio and the escalating tension between Paula and Alvaro. A violent storm quickly develops, and the ship is carried helplessly in the rushing currents in a downpour of pink rain. Alvaro saves the boat from being crushed by tree trunks but is knocked overboard. With the Capitán unconscious, Riolobo appears in the guise of a river-spirit and implores the mercy of the gods of the river. Arcadio ably takes the helm but is unable to stop the forces of nature as the ship runs aground.

Act II

In the quiet after the storm, Florencia wonders whether she is alive or dead. Arcadio and Rosalba rejoice to find they have survived the storm, but, frightened by the intensity of their feelings for each other, vow not to fall in love and risk disillusionment. Paula laments the loss of Alvaro, recognizing that the wall between them was pride—not a lack of love. Riolobo once again calls upon the mystical and transformative powers of the Amazon. Suddenly Alvaro is returned to the boat, explaining that Paula’s voice called him back from the brink of death. On behalf of all the passengers, Florencia thanks him for saving their lives, and they resume their journey to Manaus.

Rosalba finds her ruined notebook, which contained all her notes for the biography of Florencia. Rosalba is distraught by the loss of two years’ work, but Florencia tells her she has lost nothing irreplaceable. The two women begin to argue about the source of Grimaldi’s talents, and when Florencia passionately declares that the diva’s gift sprang from her love for a man, Rosalba suddenly realizes the woman standing before her is the opera singer herself.

With both pairs of lovers reconciled to their need for each other, the ship is about to reach Manaus when it is discovered that no one may disembark because of a cholera epidemic. In despair at being unable to fulfill her search Florencia’s spirit drifts toward Cristóbal in a mystical reunion.

—Courtesy of Houston Grand Opera

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“1900: Looking Back, Looking Forward” has great success

Once again, the partnership between Maestro Michael Recchiuti at the piano and the astoundingly beautiful soprano Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs brought a magnificent concert to the world. I say to the world because besides being performed at the National Opera Center of America in NYC, it was live streaming on Facebook and at the site lasirenaproductions.com.

The choice of songs and arias was well balanced among Italian composers as Donaudy (of whom Ms. Blancke-Biggs also recorded a CD), Puccini and Pizzetti, followed by an interval, and German and Austrian composers, such as Schomberg, Mark, and Strauss.

The soprano proved yet again that her preparation, experience and angelic voice can light up a room while completely capturing the attention of the audience; I would say she keeps them mesmerized, simple as that. The pianist, evidently, contributed with his flawless performance.

We simply need more of this concerts that allow, through live streaming, the opportunity of being present through the internet to people who otherwise would be denied such an occasion.

The lucky ones who were physically present at the event had also the privilege to meet the two performers after the show and that is certainly a plus, being that they are amicable and a pleasure to have a conversation with.

My compliments go to the duo for their wonderful performance.

The concert may be viewed by clicking the picture below.

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