When Frank Maselli was in Rome on a Saturday night three years ago, he happened upon an outdoor concert in the piazza. A handful of singers were belting out opera arias to a piano accompaniment.
“I listened to them and said to myself, ‘This would be perfect for our Piazza d’Italia,’ ” Maselli said, referring to the outdoor plaza in New Orleans between Poydras and Lafayette streets. Designed as a replica of a Roman fountain and public square, the Piazza d’Italia is directly behind the American-Italian Cultural Center, of which Maselli is the chairman.
Three years later, Maselli’s vision is about to become a reality. On Friday evening, the AICC, in cooperation with the New Orleans Opera Association and the Loyola University College of Music and Arts, is presenting “Opera in the Piazza” from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Featured during the evening will be four singers from the New Orleans Opera Chorus and two Loyola voice students. New Orleans Opera Executive Director Timothy Todd Simmons will accompany the Opera Chorus singers on piano, and Diana Aidos will accompany the Loyola singers.
Also during the evening, there will be a display of about 10 Ferraris, courtesy of the Ferrari Club of Louisiana, of which one or two will be race cars, according to Maselli. In addition, there will be Italian food (especially pizza), along with Italian wines, beer and various other delicacies.
Admission is $10.
“When I saw that group of singers in Rome, I thought it would be a neat thing to do in New Orleans where we have a large population of Italian-Americans,” Maselli said. “We’re always trying to do cultural things that are Italian-American-related and make people aware of the contributions we’ve made here in New Orleans over the years.”
Noting that there are roughly 100,000 people with Italian heritage in the greater New Orleans area, Maselli added, “People don’t want to forget their heritage. I find that people are still very interested in retaining their Italian identity to an extent. We’re trying to celebrate one of the great world cultures, one which helped develop our city.”
As the son of the late Joe Maselli, founder of the American-Italian Renaissance Foundation (forerunner of the AICC) who also was a driving force behind the Piazza d’Italia, Frank Maselli is devoted to perpetuating his father’s legacy, particularly by promoting public events that heighten awareness of the Italian footprint in New Orleans.
In June 2013, the AICC sponsored a concert at the Civic Theater featuring one of the world’s leading authorities on Stradivarius violins, vintage string instruments worth, in some cases, millions of dollars.
Along with current AICC Director Pepper Caruso, Maselli envisions “Opera in the Piazza” as a regularly scheduled event if this first outing proves successful.
Designed by renowned post-modernist architect Charles Moore and opened in 1978, Piazza d’Italia had fallen into neglect and decay within a few years. Restored in 2004, its promoters have been seeking to make more frequent use of the space, and this event is a step in that direction, Maselli said.
Simmons said the singers from the Opera Chorus and Loyola will be singing arias from well-known operas in the Italian repertoire by such composers as Puccini, Verdi and others, as well as some “fun songs that reflect the Italian spirit.”
The singers from the Opera Chorus are Kathleen Halm (soprano), Lindsey Piattoly (mezzo-soprano), Tyler Smith (tenor) and Jake Penick (baritone).
From Loyola are Kameron Lopreore (tenor), a May graduate who received the first Italian-American scholarship, and Jade Coates (soprano), who will be a senior in 2014-15.
“I think this is an exciting opportunity to bring opera into the open air,” Simmons said. “It’s a different level of entertainment, and so I think it’s going to be a really fun event, something we haven’t done here before.”
He added: “Audiences love the Italian repertoire because they’re used to hearing it more often. And we have such a strong, thriving Italian community here. A lot of them really support the arts and the opera specifically, and so it’s great to do something like this for them.”