Review Of The 2005
Mario Lanza Ball

By Sam Samuelian
A Superior Pre-Ball Event
It was a cool night in Philadelphia, but inside the Doubletree Hotel there was much warmth. From beginning to end, all who attended this pre-Ball were part of a special evening.
It started just a bit after 6 and we were greeted with Dominic's now very familiar large lighted Mario Lanza posters on each side of the room. There were flower centerpieces and each table looked delightful thanks to the work of Carrie, who had miniature musical notes, film reels, and film projectors strewn around the white tablecloths with a big gold star holding photos of Mario on each side. Each person received a nicely printed souvenir program and a souvenir Mario Lanza candy bar. Dominic had his sound man Doug Barbiero working hard and had speakers placed perfectly for crisp room filling sound. As moderator, Dominic opened the program with "Be My Love" and welcomed everyone during the interlude. There were eight tables of seven people, so we had approximately 56 people attending. Talk about International, we had folks from South Africa, Germany, Mexico, Japan, and more. Dominic sang well, but quipped "that's what I get for singing after eating sausage and peppers"!
First course was a home made chicken soup with big chunks of meat. The buffet was ready and our hungry group stepped up table by table to enjoy the following: salad with choice of three home made dressings, rolls and butter, hot veggies, rice, salmon filets, chicken filets with mushrooms, rigatoni with red sauce, sausage and peppers, and a variety of fresh fruit.
Last call for visiting the buffet table, and then the program continued at 7:30. First up was a favorite of ours, who we heard several years ago, mezzo-soprano Raffaella Lo Castro. She performed the "Habanera" from Carmen and filled the room with her rich tones and strolled around the room at times. She now lives in Philadelphia. Next up was Kaho Aso, a young lady from Japan who specializes in classical Japanese music and dance. Mr. H of Japan (don't know the spelling of his name) invited her here and introduced her dance. She performed with a drum and chanted along with her dance movements. She was quite graceful and intense and her vocal sounds were haunting.
Raffaella returned with "Seguidilla" from Carmen, one of my favorite arias from that opera. It was excellent and was welcomed with much applause. Cheryl Warfield was introuced (she comes from New York) and filled the room with her rendition of "Musetta's Waltz" by Puccini. Wonderful! Dominic then presented the first "Circle of Friends" awards, which are awards to people who have done great work. This one went to Kaho and the second went to an absentee, Claudia Pugliese, Mary Papola's cousin who is in Rome.
Aaron Caruso was introduced and you could hear ladies dropping like flies in the aura of his handsome physical presence and sharp dress. He sang a big, expressive "O Sole Mio". Bill Ronayne had walked around earlier selling raffle tickets (one dollar each or six for five dollars), so tickets for the first two Mario Lanza CD's were drawn and given to the lucky of whom was Bob Dolfi who quipped that Damon should choose his ticket and that is exactly what he did! Bob generously put the disc back into the pot for someone else to win. The program continued with Mary Papola speaking in her usual sincere style and she spoke of her long association with the Lanza Institute. Next Al Gagliardi, a cousin of Mario, presented Mary an award from the State of Massachusetts for her tireless efforts. She was quite moved by this. Raffaella returned to sing "My Heart At Thy Sweet Voice" from Samson and Delilah. Then Aaron did "With A Song In My Heart", which had a big high note ending.
The Mummers, a tradition with us, entered the room strolling and playing their instruments and were dressed in very vivid costumes. They settled in front of the stage and did several numbers including medleys of classic songs like "Baby Face" and "I'm Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover". Many got up and joined the line dance around the perimeter..including yours truly wearing his new little "toy"...a lighted pendant with scrolling letters reading "Mario Lanza Forever". The Mummers led us in a sing along of "Bye Bye Blackbird" and others. Cheryl Warfield returned with "O Mio Babbino Caro", the well known crowd pleaser. Then more CD's were raffled, leading into a Circle of Friends Award being presented to our own tireless worker Marlene (who was nursing a cold and didn't speak). Another award went to Al Gagliardi and it was pointed out how he works in the background silently, but gets much done.
An auction started to raise money for scholarships and the first item up for grabs was a lovely limited edition Mario Lanza ceramic plate from the Museum, which brought $65.00. A rare and handsome Mario Lanza program booklet (loaded with text and photos) from the Great Caruso Tour era was donated by Bill Ronayne and our own Lucky Linda won it at $65.00. Bob and Damon donated four bottles of wine vinegar made specially for their restaurant "Casa Mario Lanza", which never opened. These last remaining bottles had a photo of Mario on the label and went in pairs (one small bottle, one large bottle) at $65.00 each. The highlight was the last item, a golden plaster bust of Mario created by Bob Dolfi (and only one of two in existence) started at $50.00 and then went up as yours truly kept upping the ante against a lady in the rear. I stopped at $180.00 and she won it for $200.00. Dominic asked me if I would go higher and I replied: "My wife just said that lady is the winner"!
Kaho returned, after the stage was covered with two large white sheets, and she was dressed in a lovely Kimono holding flowers. She proceded to dance a lengthy and challenging number using varied props and with a vocal background track. She received a standing ovation and her award was translated for her. She smiled graciously.
"Core N'grato" by Aaron followed and was another crowd pleaser. Immediately after the applause died down, Bob Dolfi and Damon Lanza stood up and approached the mike. Then IT happened...our own Bob sang the first line of "Be My Love" in full voice and showed off his voice for everyone. I later told him that made my night, as I have been waiting years to hear him sing. Bob spoke of Marc Lanza and how he would sit and talk to him often two hours at a time in the afternoon. Dominic had long expressed to Bob his sincere regret at never having met Marc before his passing. Well....Bob remembered his affection for Marc and also wanted to acknowledge his (Bob's) affection for Dominic, so he totally surprised him by presenting him with a lovely leather coat originally purchased as a Xmas gift for Marc, but Marc died before receiving it. Dominic was nearly at a loss for words and was visibly moved by this gesture. It led right into the mood of his closing song "Vesti La Giubba", which he dedicated to Marc and sang with a fierce intensity. At the end, he walked toward Marc's jacket and clutched it with his head bowed down.
We were invited to stay and chat, which is exactly what many of us did and gave us the opportunity to congratulate the fine performers and confer with each other about a pre-Ball that will certainly be remembered as among the best in memory. The show ended at 10:10 and by 11:30 we were home and I started writing this piece...which I finished and am posting now, one hour later!
One thing is for sure, this was a pre-Ball dinner/show which was more structured, smooth flowing, and intense than most. After this exemplary start, we will be in great anticipation of the Ball tomorrow. Again, stay tuned for my report.....
A Ball Of Class And Poignancy
One thing I always look forward to is seeing the wonderful and varied fashions worn by people attending the ball. Many dress formal, a very few casual, but almost all dress special and this year was no exception as the women paraded by and caught my eye. From Jeanette's smart black suit with the sparkling diamond like buttons to Linda's dazzling lacey silver gown to Anna's fancy purple outfit with matching purple shoes and to countless others (including some very well dressed me!)...well, I was quite entertained before a single note of music was played! It all started in the ante room of the ballroom, where we had a private bar and three stations for appetizers as well as three people butlering food in trays right to you.
A favorite of ours were the Apple Martinis, best tasting of any we have during the year and served ice cold. A large display of various cubed cheeses with tangy mustard sauce and a large tray of sliced veggies with ranch dressing sat next to warmers that held many items including: puff pastry filled with cheese, mini quiches, pigs in a blanket, cocoanut battered chicken on a stick, bacon wrapped scallops, pastry stuffed with beef, and more. From 6 to 7, the food kept coming and the drinks were flowing.
The hotel had us at a slight disadvantage this year because they did not put out nearly enough tables for comfort and many of us "held up the walls" and juggled our drinks. Frank Briatico complained, but the manager walked away from him! This is a special time, where socializing is at its peak and where the relative quiet allows for friendly discussion. After three Apple Martinis, I was ready to discuss just about anything!!
Our bartender played the dinner chimes and we proceded into the main ballroom, well lit and large and deocorated beautifully. Each table had a striking floral centerpiece, which was given at the end of the night to whomever had the birthday closest to this day. It wasn't me this year, but I got it by default because Stephanie couldn't carry it home with her. I am taking them to my mother to cheer her up during these days when she is home bound.
First on the program was Mario and he sang the moving and traditional "I'll Walk With God". Then Dominic lead all of us in the National Anthem. You just try hitting the high notes in his key! Mary then promptly introduced the head table as follows: Mr. and Mrs. Frank Tenaglia, opera singer Eleaner Ross, our own Elaine Malbin, Licia Albanese, Damon Lanza, Marlene D'Attanasio, and Bob Dolfi. Without missing a beat, Elaine took the mike and introduced the musical program of arias by the scholarship winners. She noted the unfortunate illness of the fifth winner, tenor Michael Fabiano who has mononucleosis and could not compete. Some felt he was tops, so I was sorry about his illness. Accompanist Luke Housner took his position at the large grand piano. First at bat was soprano Rosalind Jones, an attractive young woman with a full voice, great volume, and intensity of performance. Sorry, but I did not get the name of the piece she sang so well. Up next was Mari Moralia (spelling?), an oriental coloratura with a well placed instrument that was used with a heartfelt style and employing a good dynamic range. A beautifully clear voice singing the aria Kathryn Grayson performed in "Toast of New Orleans" called something like "O luce in quest..."
Elaine paused to acknowledge Frank Guarera and Enrico DiGiuseppe, both of whom are ailing and could not attend. She wished them well and hoped they would be back with us next year. They have not missed being judges for many years straight.
Soprano Heidi Melton sang an aria from "La Forza Del Destino" (Madre, Madre?) and captivated the audience with her round, rich tones and animated performance. Finally, tenor Brian Kimmel concluded the set with the famous "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's "Turandot". His voice projected easily and had a lyric quality with a very quick vibrato. His long held end note brought cheers.
Carmen Dee and his Orchestra walked onstage and invited the 128 attendees to dance. The Orchestra was six strong including piano, guitar, drums, trumpet, trombone, and saxophone. Mary acknowledged people like Jeanette, Bill R., Frank Briatico, Al Gagliardi, Dominic, and even Kaho and Mr. Hayano who work against the odds to bring this event to us each year. We didn't need to be fed yet, having had all those appetizers, so it was the perfect time to bring on Frank Tengalia. He was accompanied by the full orchestra and joked a bit before singing his first number, "Without A Song". He knows this song very well and knows how to bring it home. Next was "For You Alone", which he told us was recorded by Caruso. He nailed that as well. His final choice was his "O Sole Mio", a favorite of mine since Frank adds two or three more high notes than most tenors. Everyone enjoyed our guy, dressed in black and in excellent voice. He confessed that it was difficult singing without a monitor and being directly in front of the loud group, but there was nothing lacking in his full bodied singing. He even invited us to join him in a singalong for "O Sole Mio", which we did gladly. Frank not only has a great tenor voice, but also is one of the nicest down to earth guys who loves people and is always ready to chat or joke with you. He quipped that my bright electric blue jacket was hurting his eyes, so I tried not to get too close!
Dinner was served by 8:10. First course was the always dependable Italian Wedding Soup, served with fresh grated Parmesan cheese. The main course followed, a wonderful platter consisting of a juicy and tender filet mignon and two slices of chicken breast stuffed with roasted peppers, shalots, and spinach...all served over buttery mashed potatoes with a vegetable medley on the side. Rolls and butter were available and each person had a choice of red or white wine.
As dinner wound down (around 8:45) Dominic made a presentation that I totally missed since I went to the men's room and I was told he read Mary's Masachussetts citation aloud. The Big Screen presentation followed with the exciting Otello duet by Mario and Licia from "Serenade" and all cheered. Then the rare performance from the London Palladium TV show of 1958 with "Because You're Mine", "E Lucevan le Stelle", and "The Loveliest Night of the Year". Looking quite handsome and singing with gusto, Mario was victorious in his appeal to the British audience. You could see he was fighting the phlebitis, as he moved his legs from time to time. Elaine pointed out that viewing this would be proof enough of his great appeal, incredible voice, and magnetism.
With hardly a dull moment to be found and the event moving forward like a well oiled clock, it was hard to enjoy the wonderful souvenir program booklet, but we can all do that in the comfort of our homes. There were many tributes, ads, and special stories included as well as many rare and attractive photos of Mario and his friends and associates.
Elaine announced that this was the 65th anniversary of Licia's Metropolitan Opera debut. She is an amazingly spry 93 year old woman! Licia rose to speak and this was among the most poignant moments of this or any Ball. She started by advising us to "never grow old" and then told us she sang with many of the greatest tenors like Tucker, Peerce, Di Stefano, etc...but insisted that the BEST was Mario Lanza. Not only the best voice but the best diction, words, heart--he had it all. Her voice broke as she looked upward and expressed regret that she was unable to do more work with him, but God took him early and tears overtook her (and me and most of the others by this time) as she said "but we have him here with us tonight". This was a moment we will always remember, coming from a passionate lady who has fiercely defended the Lanza legacy. Why she even walked around and shook hands with people table by table and thanked them for coming. Contrast this with "stars" who never leave the dais and hardly speak a word to the people paying their way.
The emotion was quickly followed by some rare clips on the big screen. First was Mario receiving the Photoplay award and second was Mario at the first Drive In theater in Italy. Thanks to Bob and Damon for bringing these gems to share with us.
The lights came back up and Carmen Dee's men (and one woman!) returned 9:15 for the final half hour of music and dancing. Bill Ronayne was spotted dancing with a very attractive lady who accompanies him each year, Dominic and Carrie held close and so did Anna and I (but at this point I think she was keeping me propped up afer too much food and drink!).
Suspense mounted as Elaine started reading the award winners and almost started with number one first! Fourth place: Rosalind Jones; Third place: Brian Kimmel; Second place: Mari Moralia, and First place: Heidi Melton. Plenty of applause for performers who were quite deserving. Heidi did an encore, a favorite piece, "O Mio Babbino Caro" and filled the room with her warm sound. The night was almost over, but not before Heidi started us on the right key for "God Bless America". Singers and non-singers chimed in for this moving moment. Then the traditional closing with our Mario doing "Non Ti Scordar Di Me". It moved people enough for them to join in. I walked closer to hear Licia, Elaine, Frank, Dominic and others singing full voiced along with our man.
The clock struck ten o'clock and this year's ball was over. Over in time, but not over in our hearts and minds. Kudos to everyone who worked to make this such a success and to those who came out in support of such a worthy cause, the 44th Anniversary Ball that keeps his dream alive.