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The Delightful Audacity of the Verdi Square Festival in New York City

The Verdi Square Festival concluded on September 29th in New York City with a stellar operatic performance.

Why do I say Verdi Square Festival is audacious? Well just imagine that its three performances this year were held open air not in some bucolic rural setting but smack dab in the bustling upper west side of New York City in Verdi Square. It is a bit strange to hear some classic opera with the subway rumbling below your feet and the occasional police or fire siren wailing away. This is performance in the raw. The ability to sing or play and focus on that despite the hustle and bustle of New York City whirling around you requires special talent.

The Verdi Square Festival was created in 2006 by a group of Upper West Side music lovers who saw in Verdi Square (at Broadway and 72nd Street), dominated by the statute of Italy’s great composer Giuseppe Verdi, an ideal venue in which to present free concerts by aspiring young musicians and new musical groups. The New York City’s Parks Department is a Festival partner, providing set-up, manpower, concert seating and stage platforms for the Festival’s three September Sunday afternoon concerts.

The Festival always concludes with an opera concert usually lasting an hour. Nothing complicated but permeated with crowd favourites. But aside from opera there has been jazz, bluegrass, Klezmer and jug band music. The Festival has an especially close relationship with the Manhattan School of Music whose artists have performed in every Festival since inception. The Manhattan School of Music is one of the world’s pre-eminent conservatories serving over 1,250 students in its college and precollege divisions.

The Verdi Square Festival was created and is managed by a group of Upper West Side volunteer music lovers. Overall responsibility for the Verdi Square Festival rests with the Verdi Square Festival Corp. run by its board of directors, its president being George Litton. The Corporation is a non profit corporation and tax deductible contributions can be made online at http://www.verdisquarefestival.com.

I must mention of course the final concert which took place on September 29th a beautiful fall day. Who even noticed the noise of Manhattan? The voices of Baritone Seungchan Hong, Soprano Nicole Rowe, Mezzo—soprano Gabriella Chea and Tenor Samuel White delivered such a knockout performance their intensity simply transformed the Square into a perfect operatic venue. I think the last number “Rigoletto” by the man himself Giuseppe Verdi highlighted the distinct talent of all the performers and as they say “brought the house down”.

Gabriella Chea and Samuel White performing “Rigoletto”: Photo Robert K. Stephen
Seungchan Hong and Nicole Rowe performing “Rigoletto”: Photo Robert K. Stephen

Gabriela Chea delivered a wickedly sublime version “When You’re Good to Mama” from “Chicago”. She more than deserved the applause and cheers received.

Samuel White totally delivered on Puccini’s “Tosca”, with a tremendous voice showing great range.

Delibes’s “Lakmé” was sung in an angelic and moving fashion by by Chea and Rowe.

From Verdi’s “Falstaff” Hong delivered an emotional and very artistic rendition.

I usually get fidgety at a full operatic performance but in this case an hour was a teaser. Yes I’ll be returning next year.

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