Opera on the River enthralls with musicality and beauty

VERO BEACH — The magnificent Saint Andrews Island home of Kurt and Marilyn Wallach was the ideal setting for an exceptional Opera on the River fundraiser to benefit the Cultural Council of Indian River County.  Aptly titled Palacio del Rio, the exquisite riverfront home added an extra dimension to an evening of glorious music.

The lovely breezes blowing in from the river tossed a few hairdos, but it was far better then the rain which had been forecasted.  Taking credit for the ideal conditions, Kurt Wallach smiled and said, “I had to get up early this morning to order this perfect weather.” When asked why he and his wife chose to open up their home for the event Wallach replied, “Well, we get the pleasure of enjoying beautiful operatic music with all our friends, and at the same time we’re doing something to benefit the Cultural Council.”

Mary Jayne Kelly, Executive Director of the Cultural Council said that the Cultural Council was grateful for their support and added, “It’s such a wonderful setting for an event like this.”

Gretchen Rose chaired Opera on the River with help from Cultural Council Board Chair Susan Grandpierre, Vice Chair Barbara Hoffman and board member Karl Steene, and Kelly credited them for the event’s success.  “They all worked very hard to put it together and to make it happen.”

The evening was filled with beautiful music from the moment guests arrived.  As they mingled outside at the riverfront pavilion sipping on wine and champagne, guests were treated to the virtuoso sounds of the Sarasate Strings, a new string quartet formed this year featuring Matt Stott, Violin I; Tom Fritz, Violin II; Wendy Karabensh, Viola; and Joseph Loehnis, Cello.

When they later paused for a break, I spoke with Tom Fritz, founder of the Indian River County Public Strings program and a member of the Vero Beach Chamber Orchestra and the Vero Beach Concertante.  He put in a little plug for the Chamber Orchestra, which he co-founded with Linda and Paul Spiwak, and told me that their next concert is at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 18 at the Vero Beach High School’s Performing Arts Center.

Fritz said with pride when introducing Matt Stott, Vero Beach High School Orchestra Director, “His Orchestra has been chosen by the Florida Orchestra Association as the number one orchestra in the State of Florida.  Because of that designation, the FOA will be holding its convention in Vero Beach and Matt has been asked to give a clinic at the convention on developing successful orchestras.”

Fritz also introduced Joseph Loehnis, a fellow Vero Beach Chamber Orchestra member, who formerly played with the Green Bay Symphony in Wisconsin, and by day is a professional golfer in West Palm Beach.  Wendy Karabensh, currently gives private violin and viola lessons, but previously developed a program at an elementary school in Royal Palm Beach that mandated every child, from kindergarten to fifth-grade, be taught how to play the violin.

As guests moved into the living room to listen to performances by soprano Angela Mortellaro and baritone Sean Christopher Stork, I caught up with Susan Grandpierre who said she was thrilled with the turnout, the music and the delightful surroundings.

“We’ve been thinking about this for months.  It’s so great to see it all just as wonderful as I’d imagined,” she said with great enthusiasm.  “It’s been a labor of love.”

Grandpierre said the guests were a terrific mix of opera lovers and Cultural Council supporters, but added, “We had some great publicity and people seemed to come from everywhere.”

“There’s just something about opera; the voices, the beautiful music, the emotion – I always get choked up,” said Grandpierre as we listed to the first pieces.

The classically trained tenor Joshua Zarandona acted as the emcee for the evening and his equally talented wife Karen, the Director of Music at St. Sebastian Catholic Church accompanied the soloists.

Mortellaro is versed in operatic and concert repertoire and has appeared with the Chautauqua Opera, Orlando Opera, Aspen Opera Theater, The Chautauqua Symphony, The Orlando Philharmonic, City Music Cleveland, and Rice University Opera.

Stork gained recognition in Florida in both operatic and barbershop singing and was featured by Florida State Opera and First Coast Opera in The Magic Flute, Madama Butterfly, Falstaff, and most recently La Boheme.

Mortellaro and Stork initiated their performance with the lively duet, Cinque, dieci, venti, trenta from The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart.  Mortellaro enthralled guests as the coquettish Musetta singing Quando m’en vo from Puccini’s La Boheme.  Stork finished out the first half with the arias Questo Amor from Puccini’s Edgar and the lively Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo from Cosi fan tutte by Mozart.

During the intermission, I spoke with Gretchen Rose who discovered and arranged for the talented young artists to perform.  “I’ve always had a great interest in music; I’ve been singing since I was a little girl,” said Rose, adding that she had been a voice major at Michigan State and had sung professionally.

She had high praise for accompanist Karen Zarandona saying, “Karen is amazing; she’s phenomenal.  She can play anything.  She didn’t even have the music until tonight but I knew she would be wonderful.”

The second half of the evening featured more outstanding performances, including Mortellaro singing Il Bacio by Arditi, and Chi il bel sogno di Doretta from Puccini’s La Rondine.  Stork also sang Lonely House from Street Scene by Weill, and the pair finished with a rousing La ci darem la mano from Don Giovanni by Mozart.

Adrienne Drew catered the event with a delicious assortment of hors d’oeuvres, passed by a number of volunteers who had been recruited by Barbara Hoffman.

“My friends from Friends [The Vero Beach Museum of Art Friends Committee] stepped forward and asked what they could do to help,” explained Hoffman of the efforts to raise funds for the Cultural Council.

“It was a beautiful evening,” she continued.  “I liked the casualness of it; being close to the music and the musicians in such an intimate setting.  It’s a really special opportunity for people to embrace the music and the stories that opera provides.  The cultural opportunities in this community are treasured by so many and it’s wonderful to see people who are willing to do whatever needs to be done to see that continue.” {igallery 177}

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