by Michael Caruso
My 2015-2016 classical music concert season got off to an intriguing start Saturday evening, Sept. 5. Chestnut Hill College alumna, Mary Ann Tancredi, soprano, joined forces with soprano/mezzo Maria Teresa Rossetti and pianist Joseph Rossetti (Maria’s son) for a recital at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, located just off the southeast corner of Rittenhouse Square.
Tancredi told me that her love for opera began when she was 12 years old and she sang in the children’s chorus in a local production of Puccini’s masterpiece, “Turandot.” Heading the cast in the title role of the icy Chinese princess was the great Swedish soprano, Birgit Nilsson. “How lucky was that?” Tancredi asked. “I was smitten, and so began my life-long love of opera.”
The local soprano recalled that when she arrived at Chestnut Hill College, she encountered an old friend, the late Carl Suppa, who had been the chorus master in that production of “Turandot.”
“He had such enthusiasm and passion for music,” she remarked. “I studied voice with Carl, and during those years I attended many rehearsals at the Lyric Opera Company of Philadelphia.” The Lyric and the Grand Opera Company merged in 1976 to form the Opera Company of Philadelphia, now simply called Opera Philadelphia.
“At the same time,” she remembered, “I spent every summer studying voice with Emma Raggi-Valentini at the Rossini Conservatory in Pesaro, Italy. It was quite a circle. I met and heard many of the greatest singers of the day, such as Renata Tebaldi, Mario del Monaco and Franco Corelli. All of them had connections with the Conservatory and my teacher.” She also mentioned another singer she met in Italy, an up-and-coming tenor named Luciano Pavarotti.
Saturday evening’s collaboration took place in the Art Alliance’s third floor recital space. From the initial look of it, I wouldn’t have guessed that its acoustics would have been anything less than dreadful, either dead or weirdly reverberant. Neither turned out to be the case. The room at the top of the stairs offered resonance and clarity for both the singing accompanied by the piano and the solo piano works that concluded both halves of the program.
For a long-time local concertgoer like myself, there are few more welcome pleasures than coming upon an unfamiliar venue that is perfectly placed to play a far more active part in Philadelphia’s classical music community than it currently does. I also found myself wondering if it might not make a perfect partner with Chestnut Hill’s Woodmere Art Museum to present in tandem worthy but overlooked local talents.
Tancredi was heard to particularly excellent advantage in Gluck’s “Che faro senza Eurydice” from the opera “Orfeo.” The work is a sterling example of Gluck’s mid-18th century attempt to bring opera back to its early Baroque origins, based on ancient Greek drama, by stripping it bare of all the encrusted embellishments that had come to characterize the form in Handel’s operas. Gluck’s premises were tremendously influential on Mozart in his late-18th century operatic masterpieces.
Tancredi’s voice is blessed with a darkly hued timbre and an expressive vibrato that enabled her to shape the poignant phrases of Orfeo’s lament on the tragic loss of Eurydice. High and low notes, loud and soft notes were all projected in a seamless line of narration and revelation. One felt, on hearing her rendition, the centuries separating us, Gluck’s music and the Greek legend that inspired it to melt away as a result of Tancredi’s intensity and sensitivity.
Joseph Rossetti accompanied Tancredi expertly on the Art Alliance’s splendid vintage Steinway grand piano, as he did with Maria Teresa Rossetti in her finest work of the evening, “Tacea la notte placida,” from Verdi’s opera, “Il Trovatore.” He also gave fine readings of Mozart’s “Sonata in C major” and Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata in C sharp minor.”