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Opera Up Close And Personable

When people talk of the hidden pearls of Oyster Bay, Opera Nights at Christ Church certainly qualifies. Sunday, March 17, Opera Nights celebrated St. Patrick’s Day as soprano Danielle Davis opened the concert with “Sally Gardens” by Benjaman Britten, followed by “Danny Boy,” which, she said correctly, everyone knew. The concert was closed with a lovely rendition of “Waiting for my Dearie,” from Lerner and Lowe’s Broadway musical Brigadoon by performed by Kimberly Iannuzzi, soprano.

In between, the singers took listeners from country to country in song. The beauty of opera is you don’t have to know the language to love the song. The voices and the emotion the singers send out to the audience bridges the gap.

Opera Night Long Island is a not-for-profit community-based arts organization. It started seven years ago when Isabella Eredita Johnson took command of a honky-tonk piano at Cafe Portafino on Main Street in Northport and invited a handful of residents each month to enjoy an evening of classical music. Since then, Opera Night’s audiences have grown substantially. Their performances currently take place in Northport at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church (donation $10) and at Christ Church, 61 East Main Street in Oyster Bay (donation $15).

During intermission Miriam Yutkowitz said at Northport the concerts end with a reception downstairs at the church. She regularly attends Opera Night, as does her friend Rosalind Nyman Joel, yes, the mother of Billy Joel of Oyster Bay.

Miriam said one of the benefits of Opera Night is that you get to see the singers improve. She complemented Alex Sheerin, tenor, on his performance that evening saying it showed his improvement.

Opera Night is unique in that there is a friendly atmosphere. The singers are relaxed and interface with MC Isobella, who interfaces with the audience. She challenged listeners to guess the name of the man Maurizio Casa, tenor, represented in a duet with Cheryl Warfield, soprano, from Un Ballo in Maschera. Cheryl told concert-goers it was the story of a woman in love with her husband’s friend, and has gone to a fortune teller whose advice she ignores.

It was a trick question since different versions of the opera use different names. Miriam received a CD of arias as did another winner. Two guesses resulted in two winners, said Eritida generously.

Another benefit of Opera Night is you see the same singer in different roles, which extends ones appreciation of their talent. That was evident with the performances of Kimberly Iannuzzi, soprano, whose first presentation was a melancholy aria, “The Trees on the Mountain” from Susannah, by American composer Carlisle Floyd and her final song was from Brigadoon. Another change of style was shown by Danielle whose first pieces were Irish and restrained. Her second song, she said was a request from the Opera Night goers and she appreciated the chance to push herself to get better. That performance was filled with emotion.

Arthur Lai, tenor, was a concert favorite when he sang an aria from Rigoletto. He told concert-goers that the song was originally sung by the first Chinese opera singer at the Met.

Olga Scileppi and Herb Schierhorst were attending Opera Night for the first time. Herb said, “It’s absolutely wonderful.” He is one of the volunteers working on the Ida May 2 in J Building on the Western Waterfront. Olga said, “Arthur Lai’s diction was perfect when singing Rigoletto et Caterina. I’m Italian and I can tell.” The two intended to come to the next performance, in April.

During the intermission Isabella talked about the Opera Night Gala on May 19 from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Inisfada Mansion at 251 Searingtown Road, Manhasset. Tickets are $30 and are available onine at brownapertickets.com/event/319992.

She said for those that come early, there is a tour of the former Jesuit retreat house. The event is an art auction and several framed paintings were on the dais for people to view. Isabella said with their great connections in the world of music they expect to have great raffle items available. The evening includes a concert and desserts.

• Accessible Music

There is another side to Opera Night, said their website is that, “Nowadays, attending an opera or a classical music concert in New York City can cost a family hundreds of dollars. At Opera Night Long Island, we provide quality performances for a fraction of that amount at easily accessible local venues. Although our concerts focus primarily on opera arias, our professional artists also perform art songs, Neapolitan classics, show tunes, and piano pieces. Enthusiastic audiences enjoy listening to a variety of musical masterpieces.”

• More Music in OB

Artistic Administrator at Christ Church Elisa Dragotto said, “We have the privilege of hosting the Long Island Baroque Ensemble in March, a jazz group from LIU Post called the LI Sound Vocal Jazz Group in May, our own choir’s Spring Gala with orchestra in June, Voci da Camera on June 1, the Oyster Bay Music Festival for young artists and the intergenerational woman’s group, Belle Voci in August as well as Opera Nights concerts in Oyster Bay.” Their next two Opera Nights concerts are on April 21 and June 16, at 4 p.m.