A number of years ago, two dedicated opera lovers — Julie Castrop and Heather Spence — built a new company called Opera Columbus around Alessandro Siciliani, then conductor of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.
Today, Opera Project Columbus takes its place as a full-fledged professional ensemble.
A recent production of Gioachino Rossini's La Cenerentola recalled the lamented New York City Opera in its glory days. Past productions of The Barber of Seville and Amahl and the Night Visitors gave the community some much-needed sparkle and pathos.
Now, Opera Project Columbus is sponsoring a one-time-only event, a gala reception celebrating Siciliani, who came to Columbus 25 years ago. The event takes place Sunday, September 9 at Our Lady of Victory Church in Marble Cliff.
Concertgoers will remember with great love the Maestro's fervent leadership of the Columbus Symphony. The man does not know the word boring.
I recall the words of the fabled diva Licia Albanese (Arturo Toscanini's Violetta and Mimi), who, in an interview, told this writer, "If-a you make the mistake, make da big-a mistake! Be grandissimo!"
You bet. I'm not counting any mistakes on the Siciliani podium, but grandissimo could be the middle name of his music-making.
There's a lot to celebrate in 25 years. Siciliani took the Columbus Symphony to Carnegie Hall. His Brahms symphonies were world class. I was glad to be introduced to Respighi’s Concerto Gregoriano. There were roof raising concert performances of Cavalleria rusticana, Pagliacci and Turandot.
I first encountered Alessandro at the aforementioned New York City Opera. He conducted the first New York performances in a generation of Puccini’s La rondine. People loved this opera long unseen but well recorded. There were lines at the box office. Diva-Manager Beverly Sills was happy at the full houses. The big concertato in Act 2 was encored. Siciliani gave us a hummable, warm and loving performance. It was all good.
A year later, he crossed Lincoln Center Plaza to conduct at the Metropolitan Opera. (I missed his La boheme at City Opera). There’s a white-hot Met broadcast of his performances of Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci (Dec. 10, 1988, go find it) I heard the double bill the previous week, from standing room.
These New York appearances followed a number of high profile gigs in Europe. One, conducting Rossini’s Semiramide with Montserrat Caballe, must have been tremendous. His years at the Columbus Symphony kept him very busy locally.
Siciliani’s profile in the community and the audience’s love for him extended long after his departure from the CSO. The love is still there.
Again, there’s a lot to celebrate. A dynamic legacy in our concert halls, a rip snorting life off stage, and now a new opera company. Grandissimo!