On any given day there is a palpable sense of magic when one enters Gallery of Amazing Things, but on Friday, March 23, 2016 that sensation seemed to rise in dramatic steps throughout the evening to an, almost, overwhelming level. Beginning in the Eostone Gallery of 50 million year old fossils, our 150 or guests moved on through galleries of the world’s largest porcelain and ceramic collection. This cavernous 50,000 square foot space coupled with the glorious sounds of Andre Kostelanetz and the New York Philharmonic playing Opera without Words created an awe-inspiring setting for our Grand Salon honoring the illustrious career of  Renata Scotto, one of the 20th century’s greatest operatic singing actresses.

12376849_10154109672802952_2790284387760343888_n

Renata Scotto and Magda Nieves

It was simply a dream-like feeling as we encountered one great work of art after another, sipping a glass of wine and greeting old and new friends along the way. We paused in the stunning exhibition of master glass artisans of the world (Lalique to Chihuly) as Madama Scotto graciously greeted our guests as if we were long lost friends.

Now comes the time to move back to the main arena gallery for the Salon Concert. The curtains open and we walk into the fantasy world of brilliant Lladro chandeliers, giant porcelain urns, and large screen projections of La Scotto, with the grand piano standing majestically at center stage.

As a prelude to the Salon Concert, we presented video clip from a 1967 L’Elisir d’amor (Donizetti) in Florence, Italy with Scotto and the great tenor, Carlo Bergonzi, and a 1984 concert performance of Lady MacBeth’s sleepwalking scene from a Met Gala performance with the great opera conductor, James Levine. L’Elisir shows the vocal beauty and command of technique and style that made Scotto an international star at such an early age and an extremely rare and thunderous ovation from the Italian audience that, putting it mildly, is known as being impossibly hard to please. MacBeth shows the fully mature dramatic singing actress 32 years after her debut, the voice fuller, richer, darker, and yet with all the notes perfectly executed.

This evening’s Salon Concert features the celebrated Puerto Rican soprano, Magda Nieves, in a program of Italian verismo arias, as well as Spanish zarzuela arias and songs. The opening aria was the famous O mi babbino caro from Gianni Schicchi by Puccini, one of the most well known and loved Italian verismo arias and one so closely associated with La Scotto. After the last note, Scotto immediately came to the stage to kiss and congratulate Ms. Nieves, and we were all completely enchanted and speechless.

The evening, also, included thrilling renditions Ch’il bel sogno from Puccini’s La Rondine, In questa reggia form Puccini’s Turandot and Pace, pace mio Dio from Verdi’s La Forza del Destino. After each of these, Madama Scotto came back to the stage to embrace our guest artist.

Our dream came to a sweet close with a single encore of another aria famously associated with Madama Scotto, Adriana Lecouvreur’s Io son l’umille ancella by Cilea. In her autobiography, More than a Diva, Scotto says this aria is the one that best sums up the essence of her artistic and professional life… I am but the humble servant of the brilliant creator… My voice is but a whisper which, with the new day, will die.

No, my dear Renata, we will never allow your creations or the memory of your great artistry to die…

Viva la Diva!

by William Riddle, VAS Executive Director

Willie Riddle