Monday, November 30, 2009

Cristina Fontanelli Shines in Christmas In Italy Concert

Cristina Fontanelli poses with actor Tony Lo Bianco after the concert.

Cristina Fontanelli brought her sixth annual celebration to NYC’s Merkin Concert Hall on Sunday, November 29, 2009. And what a celebration it was! Fontanelli’s operatic soprano soared through a thoughtful selection of Italian-composed arias, Neapolitan folk songs and Christmas classics.

Her opera selections included Musetta’s Waltz from La Boheme and Un Bel Di from Madame Butterfly (both Puccini masterpieces). She was beautifully accompanied on piano by Maestro David Maiullo. He is the Music Director/Accompanist of the Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation and has performed in Carnegie, Avery Fisher and Alice Tully Halls.

She also presented more popular songs, such as Chitarra Romana, Torn’a Surriento and Time To Say Goodbye (Con Te Partiro’). Joining her onstage was acclaimed composer and guitar and mandolin virtuoso John T. LaBarbera. His fluid style and deep understanding of Italian rhythms brought an essential dimension to these arrangements.

To close the show, she brought out the Montfort Academy Choir for Gesu Bambino. Montfort Academy is a small private school in Katonah NY that is close to Fontanelli’s heart for its emphasis on classical studies and moral development.

Fontanelli had a warm, down-to-earth stage persona that kept the audience on her side throughout. Between each selection, she told the story behind the song; why it was special to her and reciting the English lyrics so the non-Italian speakers could appreciate them more fully. She also shared her dream of someday singing with Andrea Bocelli and asked us all to say a Novena for her that it comes true! It was this warm, open style that drew the audience closer to her and to each other.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Christmas in Italy Concert in NYC November 29!

Enjoy the sixth annual "Christmas in Italy" concert of Italy's best-loved folk songs, Neapolitan songs and Christmas classics, featuring award winning recording artist Cristina Fontanelli, Maestro David Maiullo & internationally acclaimed musician and composer John T. LaBarbera. Sunday, Nov. 29 at 3 pm at Merkin Concert Hall, Kaufman Center, 129 W.67th St, NYC. A Holiday event for the whole family!

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Peppe Voltarelli - Calabrian Troubadour

On November 11, 2009, a French restaurant played host to Calabrian musicians in NYC.
Le Poisson Rouge was the venue for the concert debut of Calabrian composer, singer, musician, actor and peace activist Peppe Voltarelli. Alone on stage with just his guitar, he kept the audience riveted. His music mixed sounds from the Old World and the New: Calabria’s earthy, peasant heart with modern melodic lines and lyrics.

The bulk of his material that night featured his CD, Distratto Ma Pero' (Distracted But However), and he will continue to tour Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Toronto and Montreal. He sang Italiani Superstar, Ciao Come Stai and Turismo in Quantita’. Voltarelli’s lyrics often comment on modern life through the eyes of Calabrian immigrant communities throughout Europe and the Americas. With his raspy voice and raconteur storytelling, we couldn’t get enough.

Cutting short his solo material, he introduced his special guest for the evening: Tony Vilar. Vilar was born in Calabria and moved with his family to Buenos Aires. He became a singing sensation in Latin America in the 1960’s and had the number one hit worldwide (except America) with Cuando Caliente el Sol. In America, this song appeared as Love Me With All of Your Heart, sung by everyone from The Lettermen to Vic Damone.

Vilar took the stage dressed in white; his gentle, emotional tenor voice only made more evocative with the years. Along with his signature song, he created an intimate atmosphere with Caruso, favoring a half-whispered chorus rather than the expected crescendo version done by, for example, Andrea Boccelli. Vilar later took up his guitar and teamed with Voltarelli and Marco Calliari (see below) for livelier tunes. The camaraderie and fun these three performers shared was obvious and appreciated by the audience.

The opening act for the evening was Marco Calliari, a Canadian-born Calabrese who blends melodic lines and rhythms from many cultures with modern interpretations. On Wednesday night he drew from tarantella, flamenco, klezmer and rock to create vibrant songs that virtually jumped from the stage. Many of the tunes we heard are from his CD, Mia Dolce Vita. Calliari shared the stage with two exceptional musicians playing accordion and trumpet who, along with Calliari’s guitar, vividly brought that distinctive Southern Italian sound to life.

Peppe Voltarelli’s most recent acting success is the leading role in La Vera Leggenda di Tony Villar (The Real Legend of Tony Villar), which was an official selection at the 2007 TriBeCa Film Festival. Voltarelli is also a founding member of the iconic Italian ‘90s band, Il Parto delle Nuvole Pesanti (The Birth of the Heavy Clouds), which blended rock and Calabrian folk. In addition, he contributed his talents to the theatrical work on the life of Domenico Modugno, the multi-Grammy winner who wrote Volare. Also a published author, his collection of poetry and songs in Calabrian dialect is available in English.

Votarelli’s peace activism is evident in his musical compositions for Roccu u Stortu (Rocco the Crooked), an anti-war story of a Calabrian soldier’s WWI desertion. In 2003, he was part of a concert for peace in the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, which can be seen in the documentary Sotto il Cielo di Baghdad (Under the Baghdad Sky).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

KITCAFFE’, Italian Literary Salon, Debuts in Montclair, NJ

On Sunday, November 8, 2009, Kairos Italy Theater (KIT) in Manhattan collaborated with Trumpets Jazz Club in Montclair, New Jersey to debut a literary series in Italian and English: KITCAFFE’. In centuries past, beginning in Paris and then all over Europe, Cafés and Salotti Letterari were meeting points for artists and intellectuals to discuss ideas as well as everyday facts. While the Cafés were open to the public and attended mostly by men, the Salotti Letterari were private events, organized by culturally refined women, often aristocrats. The Salotti brought people of different backgrounds together to exchange opinions and knowledge.

Kairos Italy Theater is now recreating its own Salotto-Caffe’ Letterario series, hosted by Laura Caparrotti and Marta Mondelli. Sunday afternoon was a two-hour event, where we were introduced to two wonderful Italian writers, Leonardo Sciascia and Gesualdo Bufalino, both from Sicily. Excerpts from Sciascia’s Il Giorno Della Civetta (The Day of the Owl) and Bufalino’s Le Menzogne Della Notte (The Lies of the Night) were read to us by our hosts, first in English and then in Italian. Copies of the reading material were provided to us so we could better follow the Italian reading. Since Caparrotti and Mondelli are both professional actors with KIT, the readings were beautifully done and communicated the emotion of the pieces, regardless of the language in which they were read.

Leonardo Sciascia, born in Racalmuto, Sicily and died in 1989, is considered one of Italy’s most important modern writers. His writings include The Dark Wine Sea, Salt on the Wound and Todo Modo. He was also a controversial political commentator within Sicily. The Day of the Owl is a short novel denouncing the Mafia’s powerful hold on a Sicilian town. A man is shot running for a bus in the piazza and the investigating officer finds himself up against a wall of silence.

Gesualdo Bufalino was a modern novelist (1920-1996) who found literary fame after his retirement from teaching in 1976. A recipient of the Campiello Prize for his first novel, Diceria dell’untore (The Plague Sower), he also won the Strega Prize in 1988 for Le Menzogne Della Notte (The Lies of the Night). Lies of the Night is a story of four men accused of sedition and sentenced to die in the pre-Risorgimento Bourbon kindom of Southern Italy. Their only chance to survive is to reveal the identity of the mastermind behind their crime. What ensues is a night of stories both revealing and obscuring the identity and existence of the mastermind.

The evening’s readings were followed by a Q&A and accompanied by wonderful Italian pastries, coffee and wine, compliments of Trumpets Jazz Club.

I have wanted to explore contemporary Italian literature, but didn’t know where to begin. KITCAFFE’ provided the perfect opportunity to sample important works from famous writers. Another KITCAFFE’ is scheduled at Trumpets Jazz Club in Montclair, NJ for Monday evening, December 7, 2009.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I Giulliari Di Piazza Celebrates of 30 Years Together

Pictured: John T. La Barbera, Alessandra Belloni, Antonio Fini, Joe Denizon.

On Friday, October 30, 2009, Symphony Space in New York City rang with selections from 30 years of shows performed all over the world by I Giulliari Di Piazza. The show was sponsored by the World Music Institute and was nearly sold out. Founded by Alessandra Belloni and John T. La Barbera, I Giulliari performs the ancient musical folklore of Southern Italy. Dedicated to preserving and performing authentic Southern Italian music, dance and theater dating from the 13th century, the troupe also creates contemporary works based on these rich traditions.

Friday night’s performance was a whirl of drumming, color, stilt dancing, guitars, mandolins, flutes and voices. The troupe performed selections from their many shows throughout the years, including Dance of the Ancient Spider, Voyage of the Black Madonna and Techno Tarantella.

Alessandra Belloni proved once again why she is considered by many to be one of the world’s premier percussionists. Her hand was often just a blur as she played her tambourines and frame drums, usually while simultaneously singing, dancing and directing the action on stage.

John La Barbera, the group’s musical director, played several instruments throughout the performance, including guitar and mandolin. A veteran arranger and composer, one of the evening’s highlights was his own MamboTangoTella, played with a decidedly gypsy edge.

One of the evening’s special guests was percussionist and tenor, Nando Citarella. Citarella is a virtuoso of the tammorriata dance and drumming style. Citarella became one of Belloni’s percussion teachers after meeting on the beach in Calabria many years ago. Citarella had been taught by his aunt when he was 6 years old and has been perfecting the technique ever since. His clear, haunting tenor voice mesmerized the audience.

Gordon Gottlieb was the other special guest, a percussionist with a varied career. He has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, and recorded with Michael Jackson, Sting and Steely Dan.

Joe Denizon, a Russian with and Italian soul, played his famous electric violin. Known as the Jimmy Hendrix of the electric violin, Denizon managed to play complex pieces while rolling around on his back during the performance of the Pizzica.

Vincent Scialla drummed the foundation for the complicated rhythms going in all directions, while Steve Gorn and Susan Eberenz added flute, piccolo and recorder to round out the arrangements.

One of the elements that set this night apart was the easy banter among the musicians, usually Belloni, La Barbera and Citarella. Their reminiscing drew the audience into a very personal space, and we forgot for a moment that we were sitting in a theater. It felt more like sitting around a table with our friends telling us their favorite stories about how they met and started out.

Dancing and theater has always been an essential part of the troupe’s identity, and Friday night was no exception. The athleticism and acrobatics of this demanding style were on full display. Antonio Fini dances with the Martha Graham Ensemble and the Whitney Hunter Dance Company. As a featured player with I Giulliari, Fini celebrates his Calabrian origins as Dionysus, the Devil and a Tarantato. Fran Sperling brought the Spider Woman to life with a fierce compassion. Mark Mindek defied gravity dancing on stilts, personifying in turn the Plague of the Dark Ages and the unfettered reveling of present-day Brazilian celebration.