The legendary Grotta Azzurra Ristorante, located on the corner of Broome and Mulberry Streets in one of lower Manhattan's historic neighborhoods – Little Italy -- is transforming its famous lower-level 'grotto' into an intimate live music room on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 PM starting in mid-December. The policy will be a $20 cover charge plus a two drink minimum. Dinner at this fabled Italian restaurant will be available upstairs in the main dining room at 6 PM. A limited snacks menu will be available in the 'grotto" during the performances. The capacity of the 'grotto" is 50 people.

Each performance night will feature two singers – a soprano and a tenor or baritone – who will perform individual sets followed by a set of duets, supported by a talented keyboard player. The music will include a combination of Opera, Neapolitan folk songs and Broadway show tunes. All of the performers in this series have performed in front of live audiences in the tri-state New York area, either at popular uptown cabaret venues like Feinstein's and the Metropolitan Room, or in operatic venues and concert halls in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut.

Reservations are suggested by calling Grotta Azzurra Ristorante at 212-925-8775.

The Opening Week will feature Shana Farr and Randy Pradera on Wednesday, December 14, followed by Joshua Benevento and Emily Ross-Johnson on Thursday, December 15. The other performers in the "Downstairs at the Grotta" series are: Michelle Trovato and David Katz on Wednesday, December 21; John Carelli and Cristina Marie on Thursday, December 22; Caranza and Cheryl Warfield on Wednesday, December 28, and Jimmy Alleva and Christiana on Thursday, December 29. David Maiullo will be the accompanist on Thursday, December 22. David Schaeffer will be the accompanist all other nights.

Producers Mort Berkowitz and Les Schecter, who have presented concert performers at various Little Italy venues over the past decade, believe the intimacy and 'grotto' atmosphere make this a perfect place to present multi-talented singers who can perform a repertoire of songs ranging from Broadway show tunes to classic opera to Italian folk music. "We want the music to reflect New York (Broadway) and the historic Italian neighborhood," they said. "For decades people have been coming to Little Italy for the food and the atmosphere and Grotta Azzurra has as much atmosphere as anywhere else in the neighborhood."

The presenters noted that the initial lineup of performers includes singers who have performed before at Little Italy's Feast of San Gennaro Opera Nights as well as at Little Italy's popular summer festivals which are held weekends on the Mulberry Street Mall from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Week 1 (December 14 and 15)

Shana Farr (December 14) is a singer/actress who has performed leading roles in operetta and musical theater on New York stages and has also brought her talents to the intimate world of cabaret. Everything she sings from operetta and great American standards to contemporary musical theater and jazz is sung with a lush voice that shows off her different colors of musical sounds. She has received rave reviews in The New York Post, Wall Street Journal, New Jersey Star Ledger, Cabaret Scenes, Back Stage, and numerous other publications for her performances at New York City Center, Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, Feinsteins at the Regency, and elsewhere. She has also been recognized for her work with symphony orchestras, including the Missouri Symphony Orchestra and South Shore Symphony. Randy Pradera (December 14) was born in Cuba and came to the United States during the Mariel Boat Lift at the age of three. He graduated from New Jersey City University and presently teaches English/ESL at the Jose Marti Freshman Academy in Union City, NJ where he also leads the school Drama Club. After taking a long break from operatic singing to concentrate on securing a stable teaching position, Randy is very excited to be back on stage. Prior engagements and roles include Tamino in THE MAGIC FLUTE, Beppe in PAGLIACCI, Rudolfo in LA BOHEME and multiple seasons as soloist with the Orchestra of St. Peter's by the Sea. When not singing opera, Randy enjoys performing traditional boleros with his guitar and conga group LOS NOSTALGICOS at various venues and for charity groups catering to the elderly and persons with disabilities.

Joshua Benevento (December 15) recently won First Place in the Lieder Division of the prestigious Liederkranz Foundation Competition, as well as First Place in the highly respected Mario Lanza competition. He has performed leading roles in numerous operas, including IL BarbierE DI SIVILIA, RICHARD COEUR DE LION, AIDA, GIANNI SCHICCHI, DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE, TURANDOT, CARMEN, and HÄNSEL UND GRETEL. He has performed as Caliban in the NY premiere of Lee Hoiby's opera, THE TEMPEST, and created the role of the Uncle in the recent world premiere of Raphaël Lucas's CONFESSION, both roles he later interpreted on recordings released by Albany Records. He has been a soloist in orchestra performances of Beethoven's MISSA SOLEMNIS, Handel's THE MESSIAH, Bach's MAGNIFICAT, Orff's CARMINA BURANA, Carissimi's JEPHTE and Mozart's REQUIEM. Mr. Benevento, whose professional career began with a singing role in the HBO Series, The Sopranos, will be making his Metropolitan Opera debut this spring in the men's chorus of the new production of Wagner's GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG.

Emily Ross-Johnson (December 15) is a dramatic coloratura soprano from the state of Washington who is gaining recognition for her dramatic and agile high soprano after making her recent debut as Die Königen der Nacht in Mozart's DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE. Ms. Ross-Johnson has been a regular performer in Little Italy since winning the Little Italy Soprano Competition in 2008, where she was awarded First Place. Additional performances have included Suor Genovieffa in SUOR ANGELICA, and Die Erste Dame in DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE, The Heroine in Offenbach's LES CONTES D'HOFFMAN, Cunegonde in CANDIDE, Servilia in LA CLEMANZA DI TITO, Fiordiligi in COSI FAN TUTTE, and the Sandman in HÄNSEL UND GRETEL. As a versatile concert artist, Ms. Ross-Johnson has performed Handel's MESSIAH and LET THE BRIGHT SERAPHIM, Mozart's EXULTATE JUBILATE, Bernstein's CHICHESTER PSALMS, Bach's CANTATA #51 and CANTATA #211, Rachmaninov's Op. 38 and Villa-Lobos' BACHIANAS BRASILEIRAS #5. Week 2 (December 21 and 22)

Michelle Travato (December 21) has been praised for her "well-rounded, creamy soprano" by Musical America, Michelle Trovato is quickly becoming recognized internationally for her warm and agile Lyric Coloratura Soprano voice and dynamic stage presence. Ms. Trovato's most recent triumphs were to win the Liederkranz Foundation's Bertha Koempel Award and 3rd Prize at the Marie Kraja International Opera Competition in Albania. This year, the Italian-American soprano made her Carnegie Hall Debut at Weill Recital Hall in the Liederkranz Foundation Winners' Concert and her European Debut with the Crimea Philharmonic in Yalta, Ukraine. Other credits include: Seattle Opera, Opera Colorado, Utah Festival Opera, Piedmont Opera, Bel Canto at the Caramoor Festival, Les Azuriales Opera (France), Empire State Sinfonia, Jackson Symphony, Symphonic Orchestra of Tirana (Albania), and the Kennedy Center. Notable opera roles include: the title roles in ANNA BOLENA and Lucia di Lammermoor, Violetta (LA TRAVIATA), Donna Anna (DON GIOVANNI), Norina (DON PASQUALE), and Micaela (CARMEN). Coming up, she will make her debut with the New Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra in scenes from LA BOHEME and be presented in recital at the Kimball Theatre in Virginia and at Park Avenue Christian Church in NYC. David Katz (December 21) studied music and voice at Arizona State University and in 1994 went to Israel to continue his sacred studies in Cantorial music. It was while he was engaged as the leading tenor in the Jerusalem Great Synagogue Choir in Jerusalem that he first came in touch with the world of opera. An impresario from Budapest heard him sing and invited him to join the 'Bulgarian Touring Company' with which he sang the leading tenor roles of Rodolfo in LA BOHEME, Alfredo in TRAVIATA, the Duke in RIGOLETTO and Nemorino in ELISIR D'AMORE in major opera houses in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. After returning to the United States, he began performing In Musical Theatre where he has sang the roles of Ralph in PIRATES OF PENZANCE, NankiPoo in THE MIKADO, Huckleberry Finn in BIG RIVER, Woof in HAIR and Riff Raff in the original stage version of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. Mr. Katz is a member of the 'Three Jewish Tenors' along with Cantors Alberto Mizrachi and David Propis and they perform throughout the United States with prominent orchestras such as the Atlanta Symphony with Paul Nadler conducting and the Houston Grand Opera Symphony with Marvin Hamlisch.

John Carelli (December 22) was born in Brooklyn, NY and presently resides in Allentown, PA. He is an Italian-American tenor who enjoys singing traditional Italian songs and arias as well as American standards. He has performed in a variety of venues, including several in Little Italy where he has sung at restaurants, parades, and for "Opera Night" during New York's annual Feast of San Gennaro. He has appeared on The 10 Show, which airs on NBC TV in Philadelphia, and sings at Italian themed events regularly. Other credits include performances in musical theatre, and a stint as a vocalist for a swing-style big band. Mr. Carelli is also a winner of the Philadelphia Eagles National Anthem Competition and can often be found singing the Anthem at sporting events.

Maria-Cristina Necula (December 22) is a singer-songwriter-author whose passion for opera and experience as a performer and student of classical singing has helped make her a beloved concert performer on stages all over the world. A regular contributor to Classical Singer Magazine for seven years, Ms. Necula has performed frequently in the New York City area, including at Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, Florence Gould Hall, and the Westchester Broadway Theatre, among others. She is fluent in six languages: English, French, German, Italian, Romanian and Spanish. Maria-Cristina's love of words and rhythm has also been the catalyst behind her transformation from classical singer to songwriter, and in 2006 she released a first CD of her own music, lyrics and arrangements: "One Millennium Before Sunrise." She recently penned a new book, entitled Life in Opera: Truth, Tempo and Soul, a unique array of experiences with many of the great stars and personalities that shape the opera universe. Her interview subjects read like a who's who in opera, including Placido Domingo, Renée Fleming, Peter Gelb, Anna Netrebko, Ramon Vargas and many others. Included in the book are many accounts of the author's own surprising and unconventional journey, in which she tells how she came to meet and know the stars of the opera world.

Week 3 (December 28 and 29)

Cheryl Warfield (December 28) has performed over 15 lead roles in the standard operatic repertoire. This season, Cheryl sings the Countess with Amore Opera and Leonora in Verdi's IL TROVATORE with the Manhattan Opera Repertory Ensemble. Career highlights include debuts on Broadway and at the Chicago Lyric, and a guest soloist appearance for the 2010 NFL Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies in Canton, Ohio. Cheryl is also a recognized opera and concert producer and teaching artist.

Caranza (December 28) is an American tenor and "Meistersinger" – a performer who must sing at least four genre of music equally well in at least three languages. Caranza sings 10 genres in five languages and, indeed, his repertoire goes from the rock 'n roll songs of Elvis and others, all the way through to pop, Broadway, Neapolitan and German songs, and Italian and German opera. The Connecticut native, born Patric Hale, continued living on the continent for 27 years, performing throughout Europe and other parts of the world at concerts, music festivals, corporate parties and other musical events. When he returned to the States, he reunited with the man who took him to his first opera in Berlin, Richard Hogrefe of Boston, a Wagnerian tenor, with whom he continued his studies. It was Hogrefe who described his voice as a wonderful cross between the operatic voice of Caruso and the popular voice of Mario Lanza, and that's how "Caranza" was born. In recent years, Caranza has sung at many concerts, charity events, and private and corporate events throughout the USA, as well as returning to Europe on numerous occasions. In July 2006 he was a winner at the NY Mario Lanza Competition and has been the featured singer at the Mario Lanza Society of New York's annual event ever since. In 2007, he sang the National Anthem at an event in Connecticut in honor and presence of former President Clinton, whose comment afterwards was simply "Wow!"

Christiana (December 29) has a sound that is uniquely her own, with vocal styles ranging from Rock to Broadway, the Granddaughter of world renowned opera singer Angela Figliolia, Christiana has had the love of music instilled in her from a very young age. Currently perusing a recording career, she has recorded with many accomplished producers in various studios, including the famed Avatar Studios. Performances ranging from the American Heart Association's Heart Walk to New York's famed Duplex, Christiana was most recently a winner of the Alexander Wang Fashion Night Talent Show, with Glee's Ryan Murphy and Vogue's Anna Wintour on the judge's panel. Christiana is currently working on writing and recording her debut EP, some of which can be found on her web site at

Jimmy Alleva (December 29) is a gifted tenor with a style similar to the distinguished voices of Andrea Bocelli, Jimmy Roselli and Mario Lanza. After every performance, he leaves audiences standing on their feet and wanting more. His singing career took a giant step forward in 2008 with the release of Love & Romance, his debut album. Jimmy released his second album entitled Songs From The Old Neighborhood, in the fall of 2011. Jimmy grew up in Queens, New York, listening to Italian music legends such as Jimmy Roselli, Sergio Franchi and Mario Lanza. Raised in a musical household, he and his brothers were taught Neapolitan songs by his grandfather, who owned a butcher shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and paid Jimmy and his brothers $5 for every Neapolitan song they learned. Jimmy is currently the featured singer for the Saint Anthony's Feast and the Sons Of San Paolino Feast. In addition to his numerous appearances through-out the tri-state area and Massachusetts, he is a regular guest on the radio station WTCC 90.7FM Springfield MA, on the popular radio show "LA Dolce Vita" which broadcasts throughout the New England area every Sunday morning. He is also featured on the Uncle Floyd Show on WRTN 93.5FM which broadcasts out of New Rochelle NY and John Labarca's Italian House Party 1400 WSTC AM / 1350 AM WNLK in Norwalk, CT.