Step Into The Gilded Age With Tenor Anthony Kearns
On March 3, 2019 at 4 pm, guests had the extraordinary opportunity to visit the Perry Belmont House at 1618 New Hampshire Ave NW. The house is on the official "Hidden History of Washington DC" list of the Architect of the Capital. Built at the end of the Gilded Age (in 1907) by Perry Belmont, who served in Congress and also as an ambassador to Spain, it reflects the immense wealth and European taste of the age. It was used primarily for entertaining during the Washington social season when the Congressman and his wife were in town, although the Perry's were also at the forefront of societal change such as the suffragette movement. The architecture and furnishings are nothing short of sensational, as shown here.
The mansion is now owned and maintained by the General Grand Chapter of the Eastern Star, a philanthropic organization that was recognized in 2015 by the DC Preservation League with an Award of Excellence in Historic Preservation for their stewardship. The entire property remains in all its original splendor.
Many famous guests were entertained by the Belmont's, including the Prince of Wales (Edward VIII) and, of special interest to us, Enrico Caruso, the most famous tenor in history. Caruso's recordings launched the RCA Victor recording company and brought classical music to the masses. This tradition was carried on and enhanced by his younger contemporary, John McCormack, who performed for hundreds of thousands of fans through his recordings and concerts. McCormack was clearly the most popular tenor of his era.
He differed from Caruso, however, in a number of ways. First, although he sang and recorded operatic arias, he did not become known as an operatic singer. Rather, he expanded the repertoire to include folk songs, especially those of his native Ireland, and his principle venue was the concert stage, where his audiences frequently ran into the thousands. Because of this popularity, he was called "The People's Tenor." Secondly, whereas Caruso's voice had a heavier timbre - in fact he sang some baritone arias in his later career-McCormack had a lyrical quality which actually became known as an "Irish Tenor" in common parlance.
After McCormack's early death in 1945, the banner in the post-WWII era was picked up by the movies of Mario Lanza, whose millions of fans included the great tenors of the later 20th Century. Classical music was popularized again by the famous "3 Tenors" (Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras) whose concerts were enjoyed by millions of fans worldwide.
Following that trend but leaning more toward the tradition of John McCormack, the three Irish Tenors (Anthony Kearns, Ronan Tynan and Finbar Wright) burst on the scene in 1998 through their PBS concerts. Though they are classical tenors, their repertoire has been very expansive, featuring many musical forms. Their spectacular success through television and records has brought their music to millions of fans, old and new.
The youngest member of the Irish Tenors is Anthony Kearns, who has added a thriving solo career to his resume as one of The Irish Tenors. His voice has similarities to that of Enrico Caruso in that he excels in the lower register as well as the lyric tenor range. With this versatility, he has extended his performances to include operatic roles in the U.S., Ireland and Europe. He has in fact been honored by being named not only "Ireland's Finest Tenor" but the Mario Lanza Society's honorary Lanza Legend.
In this historic setting at the Perry Belmont House on Sunday, March 3rd, Anthony Kearns kicked off the St. Patrick's Day season when "all hearts are Irish". He performed a wide-ranging program, from the Chopin's dramatic "Deep in the Night" to comedy with the Irish "Kitty- Say Yes or Say No" to the pathos of the American "Shenandoah. He finished with a touching rendition of "Danny Boy" and a rousing "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling". His appearance reminded us of the "Great Caruso" who performed for Perry Belmont more than a century ago. A special feature of the concert was the participation of a woman using signing for the deaf. Her graceful gestures provided not only understanding to the deaf guests but also added singular beauty to the language of the singer, a first for a Kearns concert and for a Perry Belmont House event.
Following the concert, famed interior designer Barry Dixon shared his insights about the significance of the incredible Beaux Arts mansion, its art and furnishings. Informal tours and a champagne reception with Mr. Kearns followed for a very satisfied audience.
Mr. Kearns' participation was arranged by Kirsten Fedewa and Associates, L.L.C.
Lawrence J. Fedewa was a contributing writer for this article.