An operatic tribute to Virginia Zeani on her 90th birthday was a vocal spectacular despite the absence of Ms. Zeani who was not feeling well enough to attend.
The Salon Concert was offered by the Venetian Arts Society at the Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Art, under the sponsorship of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate. In addition to the pianistic talents of Sergio Puig, it featured the commanding vocal presence of two South Florida opera singers.
Elizabeth Caballero who, like Puig, was born in Cuba, began with a spine-tingling rendition of Ernani involami from Verdi’s Ernani. Caballero said the aria is about a baritone “who gets the short end of the stick” as the lady of the opera loves the tenor. The exquisite lyrical tension in her voice rivalled that of Maria Callas, who is closely identified with this aria. “That’s the way to begin a concert, no?” Caballero said teasingly after a thunderous applause. She followed with a spirited rendition of Ballatella from Pagliacci.
The young soprano Betsy Diaz next transfixed the audience by the pathos in her dramatic rendering of L'altra notte in fondo al mare from Mefistofele. Margareta in the opera is lamenting here from a prison cell where she stands accused of poisoning her mother and drowning her daughter. Diaz captured the torment with a level of empathy usually associated with more seasoned sopranos.
Caballero returned to the stage to perform with delicate claity the aria Signore ascolta from Turandot by Puccini. She was particularly pleased to note that Virginia Zeani witnessed her performance of this with the Florida Grand Opera, “and she came to my dressing room to congratulate me.”
She and Diaz next offered the brilliant highpoint of the night with the duet Mira o Norma from Bellini’s Norma. The complementary nature of their voices was reminiscent of the performance decades earlier by Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne. Diaz and Caballero have great chemistry–it was Caballero who introduced Diaz to her voice teacher, and she regards Caballero as her angel.
Pace, pace mio Dio from Act 4 of La Forza del Destino by Verdi was the solo pinnacle for Diaz. She turned Leonora’s prayer to God to let her suffering end into a lustrous paean of heartfelt loss. Spectacular.
The bel canto technique was evident in the delicacy and suppleness with which Caballero handled the high notes of E strano...ah, fors'e lui...Sempre libera, the aria that ends the first act of Verdi’s La Traviata. This performance was made all the more special as it is the opera most closely associated with Virginia Zeani.
The concert concluded with lighter fare: La Romanza de Maria la O by Lecuona and the only English language selections of the evening, a duet medley of If I loved you/You'll never walk alone" from Carousel by Rodgers & Hammerstein
The encore Quando m'en vo from La Boheme by Puccini presaged the delightful champagne fizz that audience members used to celebrate the 90th birthday of opera great Virginia Zeani.
for upcoming events see www.venetianartssociety.com
photo copyright by C. Cunningham