by John Rizzo
There is no question that the 2011 Li-Puma-Raimondi Awards event was the best ever. This is due in no small part to the impressive star power involved this time around. There are actually two groups of stars that should be cited. Of course there are the young singers, the scholarship winners, whose brilliant artistry provided the evening’s entertainment. But perhaps the most important stars are the people who funded the awards — those who have stepped up to the plate to champion great Italian culture in a tangible way that must be respected.
First we hail the contribution of Leonora LiPuma, originator of the contest, who is the chief administrator of the Vocal Scholarship program. She offers two cash awards — a first prize of $1,000 and a second prize of $750. Nicholas Raimondi also has been in the game for quite some time. A man extremely knowledgeable about Italian music, his family offers a single $1,000 award. Last year, Vito D’Ambrosio, whose seemingly inexhaustible and Herculean efforts have supported so many events in our community, came forward for the first time and is now happily a regular part of this great cultural initiative. As president of the Italian American Executives of Transportation, Vito has seen to it that his organization offers yet another $1,000 grant. This year, Ron Turano, head of one of the most successful and generous families in the area, also funded a cash award of $1,000 for the first time. We also want to thank Phyllis and George Muccianti and Alberto and Josette Weber for being this year’s $1,000 guarantors, Anthony Fornelli and Dominic Verlotta for their $300 sponsorship, and all the other donors, volunteers and committee members that helped make this event possible.
The combined $4,750 awarded makes the LiPuma-Raimondi Vocal Contest one of the more important ones in the area. If a number of the other Chicagoland Italian-American organizations would join this cultural crusade, it would become one of the most important vocal competitions for aspiring young singers in the world!
This year, there were 27 contestants vying for five prizes. They came from as far away as New York, Detroit and Iowa. The one thing they all had in common was their dedication to mastering Italian music, the most popular and finest brand of “classical” music in a world of great music. With so many outstanding young singers competing for so few prizes, the judging was very difficult. It was a shame that so many talented vocalists went away empty-handed. (Yet another reason why more contributors are needed.)
This was the first time that I can recall that the music of all five great masters of Italian opera — Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi and Puccini — was performed at one of these culture and cuisine extravaganzas. This is a sure indication of the extraordinary maturity in these young voices. Lainie Liebman, winner of the Turano Family Award, is only 19, yet she certainly did justice to Puccini’s familiar “Quando m’en vo.” Lila Powell, who captured the Raimondi Scholarship, has a very unique, dark instrument and exploited its full potential in the difficult “Una voce poco fa” by Rossini. The IAET champ, Kelsey Boesche, demonstrated an exciting dramatic potential with her stirring interpretation of Puccini’s “Un bel di.” Dazzling coloratura was on full display by second place LiPuma winner Harrah Friedlander, with her fine interpretation of Verdi’s “Caro nome.”
Last year’s first IAET winner, Kelsey Betzelberger, was by far the best of an excellent group of singers. It was no different this year, except she’s gotten even better! She won the first place LiPuma scholarship handily with her outstanding “Regnava nel silenzio” from Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.” Finishing off the concert, Betzelberger sent waves of excitement through the audience when she sang Arditi’s famous “Il bacio” cabaret-style, circulating alluringly through the first few rows of spectators. This lady is so good that she’s ready for big time opera right now, but if some major companies don’t grab her by next November, we can still hope to hear her again, right at the Casa!
The Honorable Mention performers, Dan Megli and Jessica Vadney, who easily could have won prizes with their Verdi arias in previous contests, should be saluted for their fine musicianship, as should Stuart Leitch for his truly great accompaniment. Finally, kudos to Nancy Cometa and Darrell Marchioretto who worked so tirelessly, organizing the contest and doing a million other things to help make the evening so enjoyable and memorable for all the lucky attendees, without whose support, a night like this would be impossible.