New York Opera Festival 2019 Kicks Off By Celebrating The Career of Ira Siff

By David Salazar

The New York Opera Festival 2019 officially launched with a preview concert on Monday, April 29 at The National Opera Center.

The event featured a wide range of performances and also took the time to honor a major figure in the opera world as the recipient of the 2019 NYOA Service Award.

Things kicked off with a performance of “Udiste?” from “Il Trovatore” featuring soprano Alexis Cregger and Baritone Nathan Matticks. The two will star in Regina Opera’s upcoming production of the Verdi classic on May 11, 12, 18, and 19. Dmitry Glivinskiy accompanied at the piano.

This showcase was followed by two excerpts from “Patience and Sarah,” which will be performed by the Hunter Opera Theater on May 9 and 10. The performance featured Katherine Robinson, Markos Simopoulos, and Katarina Wilson with Giordana Fiori at the piano.

Baritone Robert Maril and pianist Christopher Wilson took on the “Interlude” from “The Impossible She,” which will be presented on May 10-18 by Rhymes with Opera, which was followed by a few sections from “The Constitution, A Secular Oratorio,” as performed by Nathan Baer and Givinskiy; “The Constitution” will be presented by Vertical Player Repertory.

Tenor Matthew Pearce and soprano Lara Secord Haid took on the duet from “Carmen” as representatives of City Lyric Opera; the company will actually be presented “La Tragedie de Carmen” on May 7-10.

Later in the evening came two additional performances from “Owen Wingrave” and “After Stonewall.” The former, which included a towering performance by baritone Robert Balonek and pianist James Landau, will appear with the little OPERA theatre of ny on May 9-12, while the latter, as performed by soprano Devony Smith and pianist Michael Barret, is set to appear with the New York Festival of Song on June 11, 2019.

Honoring Siff

In between “Carmen” and “Owen Wingrave” came the big moment of the night. Peter Szep, one of the creators of the New York Opera Alliance took the stage, to present the big award to none other than Ira Siff, the famed commentator on the Met Opera’s Saturday afternoon broadcasts and also the artistic director of La Gran Scena.

“It’s especially appropriate this year when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Stonewall,” Szep began his presentation. “It’s impossible to imagine today how courageous you had to be to be a man in a dress in 1981.”

Szep went on to explain how Siff created La Gran Scena and his famed artistic doppleganger Madame Vera Galupe Borszh, the traumatic soprano.

(For those who have never seen Madame Vera in her prime, here you go.)

“She has been described as Maria Callas but with Renata Tebaldi’s hair,” Szep continued, eliciting great laughter.

La Gran Scena was “the operatic highlight of the year for many New Yorkers and for the gay community which was fighting for its very existence.”

After a brief video showcasing some of Madame Vera’s major highlights (including a hysterical “Vissi d’arte”), Siff took the stage, providing a similarly comic take on his development in the world of arts.

Siff repeatedly mentioned his parents’ incredulity toward his artistic desires (my mother would respond, “You can always teach.”) and eventual support when La Gran Scena toured in Florida.

He also noted that during one of his tours, he was invited to direct at Tanglewood and eventually, he managed to land his current job as the radio commentator for the Met Opera’s broadcasts.

“If there is a message to these ramblings, it is to follow your gut. Don’t listen to the outside negative voices. Don’t listen to the inner ones that we all have. Just go forward and don’t wait. We are not given that much time and time flies when you’re having this,” Siff concluded.