Enrico Caruso Room at Grotta Azzura in Little Italy to Open April 17

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Grotta Azzurra Ristorante, located on the corner of Broome and Mulberry Streets in one of lower Manhattan’s historic neighborhoods – Little Italy – has redecorated its famous downstairs Grotta into a music-friendly venue and will unveil it as the Enrico Caruso Room on Tuesday. April 17, 2012. The room has been “redecorated” to honor Enrico Caruso, the Italian-born tenor who ruled the international opera world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The walls will feature framed authentic collectibles, including vintage photos, old acetate music discs and records, caricatures drawn by Caruso himself and other memorabilia, donated by Cav. Uff. Aldo Mancusi, founder and curator of the Enrico Caruso Museum in Brooklyn.

The new Enrico Caruso Room will feature a weekly Tuesday Night Opera Series starting April 17, showcasing a pair of talented professional opera performers each week, and a weekly Thursday Night Open Mic Series starting April 26, where singers will perform two musical pieces each. The singers on both nights will be supported by David Schaeffer on keyboard.

The performances each night will begin at 8 PM, with dinner available from 7 PM. There will be a special food menu and an open bar. There is a $20 music charge. The room capacity is 60 people. Reservations are suggested by calling Grotta Azzurra Ristorante at 212-925-8775.

The music performances at the Enrico Caruso Room are being presented by Mort and Ray Productions and LS Communications.

The April and May schedule of the Tuesday Night Opera Series is as follows: Tuesday, April 17 – Vincent Ricciardi and Michelle Trovato Tuesday, April 24 – Randy Predera and Cheryl Warfield Tuesday, May 1 -- Caranza and Sungji Kim Tuesday, May 8 – John Carelli and Shana Farr Tuesday, May 15 – Dan Singer and Jacqueline Thompson Tuesday, May 22 – Joshua Benevento and Jacqueline Thompson Tuesday, May 29 – Vincent Ricciardi and Cristina Marie Necula
The Thursday Open Mic Opera Nights at The Enrico Caruso Room at Grotta Azzurra will take place every Thursday night at 8 PM starting April 26, 2012. Each night is open to 10 applicants and singers who must be signed up in advance to guarantee a slot. There will be a waiting list at the door in the event some singers fail to show up. At the end of each month, one male and one female singer will be selected from that month’s roster of singers to perform at a future Tuesday Night Opera performance which pays each singer a fee of $200/night.

Producers Mort Berkowitz and Les Schecter, who have presented various opera competitions and concerts at various Little Italy venues over the past decade, believe the intimacy and ‘grotto’ atmosphere of the room, and its close association with one of the greatest Italian operatic tenors of all time – Enrico Caruso -- make this a perfect venue to present multi-talented classical singers who can perform a repertoire of songs ranging classic opera to Italian folk music. “We want the music to reflect New York 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. We hope the Enrico Caruso Room will rapidly become a place where professional opera singers will want to perform at our Tuesday Opera Nights and where up and coming classical singers will want to take part in our Thursday Night Opera Open Mics.”

In the early 1900’s, Enrico Caruso would spend many of his leisure hours in Little Italy and would often dine – and sing – at Grotta Azzurra. He is known to have entertained many of his friends and associates in Little Italy, an area where he felt most welcome since many of the residents at the time were Italian-speaking immigrants from his native Naples and where he could enjoy his favorite Neapolitan cuisine. He also befriended the owners of the Italian language newspaper La Foglia, which was published near the corner of Grand and Mulberry Streets and which regularly published well conceived and drawn caricatures created by Caruso, who was also an expert sketch artist.

The Performers (In Alphabetical Order)

Joshua Benevento (May 22) 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 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. He had a singing role in the HBO Series, The Sopranos and will make his Metropolitan Opera debut this spring in the men’s chorus of the new production of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung.

Caranza (May 1) is an American tenor and “Meistersinger” – a performer who must sing at least four genres 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, lived on the European continent for 27 years, studying and performing throughout Europe and other parts of the world at concerts, music festivals 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 Little Italy Mario Lanza Competition and has been the featured singer at the Mario Lanza Society of New York’s annual event ever since.
Enrico Caruso Room To Open in April/Page 3

John Carelli (May 8) 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.

Shana Farr (May 8) 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 positive 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, Feinstein's 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.

Sungji Kim (May 1), a soprano described by Opera Magazine as a “silvery voiced” singer and praised in the New York Times for her bright and incisive voice, has gained world-wide recognition as a singer adept in opera, recital, concert and contemporary music. With numerous performances in Japan. Korea, Germany, Canada and throughout the United States, Ms. Kim s a much sought after artist with a repertoire ranging from Renaissance and Early Music, to contemporary pieces written specifically for her unique musical gifts. She made her operatic stage debut as Pamina in Die Zauberflote at the Seoul Art Center while pursuing her bachelor degree at Seoul National University. She has since sung diverse repertoire including roles in Rigoletto, Hansel und Gretel, The Rape of Lucretia, Falstaff, The Medium, La Nozze di Figaro and Lakme, among others. On the concert stage, she has an impressive array of credits performing works by Bach, Haydn, Handel, Mozart and Mendelssohn. She also performs extensively as a contemporary singer. She has also won a number of important vocal competitions around the globe.

Maria-Cristina Necula (May 29) 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.

Randy Pradera (April 24) 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.

Vincent Ricciardi (April 17 and May 29) possesses a rich, warm Lyric Tenor voice reminiscent of the great Italian tenors of the past. As a concert artist, he has performed throughout the tri-state area, specializing in Italian Opera, Neapolitan song and Operetta. His highlights include Bella Napoli: A Celebration of Neapolitan Song and Dance in New Jersey and Vincent Ricciardi Sings Mario Lanza ….. and Caruso Too! at The Triad in New York. He is also a featured soloist at St. Monica’s Church in Manhattan. Recently, he has been seen in various productions around New York with Regina Opera, Opera of the Hamptons and Bleecker Street Opera. His study of classical voice began at Adelphi University. After years of study, Vincent has embarked on a journey of artistic self-discovery to find his own place in the wonderful world of Grand Opera.

Dan Singer (May 15), Bass-Baritone, is an award-winning internationally recognized vocal artist with a broad range of rare vocal talent. His operatic repertoire includes Bartolo and Figaro in Nozze di Figaro, Basilio in Barbiere di Siviglia, Sarastro in Di Zauberflote, the title role in Don Pasquale, Banco in Macbeth, Don Ruy Gomez de Silva in Ernani, Sir John Falstaff in Die Lustigen Weiber von Windsor, Mephistopheles in Faust, Marullo and Sparafucile in Rigoletto, Jacopo Fiesco in Simon Boccanegra, Prince Gremin in Eugene Onegin, Colline in La Boheme, King Balthazar in Amahl and the Night Visitors, and others. He also sings musical theater, light opera, and oratorio. His musical theater repertoire includes Emile de Becque in South Pacific, The Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance, and other bass-baritone classic repertoire. With an affinity for singing the bass classics in spirituals, Showboat, and Porgy and Bess, he was a national finalist in the Paul Robeson Vocal Competition and the MTNA-Wurlitzer Vocal Competition among other recognized singing competitions. In addition, Dan is also a working voice actor and has vocal credits (singing and speaking) for commercials, documentaries and corporate videos, consumer electronics, video games, and animated films. Dan lives in New York City with his wife Lauren Singer and his newborn baby boy, Aiden Singer. He serves as the senior cantor at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Jacqueline Thompson (May 15 and May 22) is following in the footsteps of the American singers of the Golden Age. A versatile performer, she has succeeded in a broad range of styles including opera, operetta, concert, and musical theater. After her successful portrayal of Musetta in La Bohème under the baton of Maestro Anton Coppola with Metro Lyric Opera of New Jersey, Jacqueline made her Treasure Coast Opera debut in the same role and returned the following season for Adina in L'Elisir d'Amore. She was a winner of the Emerging Artists Business Committee for the Arts in New York City and has performed at gala concerts for Bohème Opera of New Jersey and at a concert at the Lincoln Center Library. She is a member of Encores in NYC performing in Hammerstein and Kerns Music in the Air. She performed Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with Hunter Symphony in New York and returned to the Encores Series for performances of Irving Berlin’s Face the Music, and is featured on the cast album for DRG. She was won second place in the Little Italy Vocal Competition in New York City and has returned there frequently to perform at the Christmas Tree Lighting event and as a featured soloist for the San Gennaro Festival.

Michelle Travato (April 17) 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.

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.