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Commentary

Miami Lyric Opera’s Raffaele Cardone [Photo by R. Carreras]
12 Jul 2011

Raffaele Cardone, Miami Lyric Opera

Remember when opera was all the rage? Remember when you could walk across to any town and experience a whole different opera scene, a different opera house, different orchestras and singers?

Raffaele Cardone, Miami Lyric Opera

By Robert Carreras

Above: Miami Lyric Opera’s Raffaele Cardone [Photo by R. Carreras]

 

Town after town of opera talk on the streets, remember? Neither do I, but Raffaele Cardone does. The pioneer and director of Miami Lyric Opera (MLO) hails from an operatic place and time that once was, and he wants to give you a taste.

Life and music were interwoven for the child growing up in the picturesque seaside village of Bari in southern Italy (on the Achilles of the boot) in the 1940’s. For Cardone, as it was for many children throughout Italy, the church formed yet another plait in the fabric of a life. Cardone was, “six, seven year old, already learning the sacred music and all this way of singing.” “Then, as a teenager, I entered into conservatory to study music and violin and theory”… “and, of course I was singing always. I was singing in the churches and I was singing in small festivals.” For Raffaele Cardone, an operatic fortune was born at the age of 13 when he began voice lessons.

At the “school of the opera Alla Scala” (now most analogous to the Accademia Teatro Alla Scala) students received rigorous training and immersion into the world of opera. Cardone benefitted from, “repertoire teachers and constant repeititoro, repassatorio or coaches as you call here, no? The concept of coaching [is] completely different what is here and what is there.” “Even now, to be a coach you have to know opera very well, or you have to be a singer.”

Cardone’s star met with opportunity when he sang for Bruno Landi, a tenor that enjoyed an international career. Just like that, Cardone was off to Argentina with a touring group. From then on, Cardone’s life through music sent him trip-hopping through South America and much of Eastern Europe, back to Italy for more study, then to Mexico, Central America and the southern United States.

In Argentina at the Teatro El Circulo in Rosario, Cardone‘s first stint in a principal role came as the Duke in Rigoletto. In Geneva, he replaced the Rodolfo — the tenor contracted for that series of Bohemes was a performer whose name you might have heard, Giuseppe Di Stefano. In Chicago, with the Lyric Opera, he prepared to come in as the Duke for another tenor whose name is known to operaphiles, Alfredo Kraus. In Mexico, Cardone remembers that the capital city’s adopted first musical family took interest in him even while their Placido was cutting his teeth in secondary roles. “They [the Domingos] came to all my [operas].”

Other names that come up in opera conversation with Cardone, persons directly in his orbit as he embarked on a singing career, include Carlo Tagliabue (Cardone’s voice teacher and promoter) and Gianni Raimondi (Cardone covered for the tenor extensively; later the two became personal friends). Other theaters that figured in the making of Cardone’s career include El Palacio De Bellas Artes in Mexico City (where he performed for three seasons in the 1970’s and from whence an extensive concert career was propelled) and the Brooklyn Academy of Music (in the 60’s, BAM was a springboard to the Metropolitan and the company of Cardone’s American debut).

TagliabueCardone1961.gifCarlo Tagliabue and Cardone in recital [Photo from Raffaele Cardone’s personal collection]

In short order, after some health issues in the early 80’s, Cardone turned to consulting and training aspiring singers in master classes and private lessons. His final performance in opera was a heady one: in 1982 as Arturo in Puritani at Bellas Artes in Mexico with Antonio Almeida — a protégé of Leonard Bernstein’s — leading.

It was matters concerning Cardone’s health that first landed him in Miami — the city grew on him and his wife; they decided to make the Magic City home in 2002. With Miami as a base, Cardone reconnected with former students, and he steadily picked up local students and a reputation. He caught on early that south Florida could seem like a black hole for classically trained singers. Noticing that promising singers were falling through the cracks, the idea driving Miami Lyric Opera hatched with Cardone’s question: after developing a technique, “what are they [the singers] going to do now?”

Miami Lyric Opera was the answer to that question. What started with a few singers and a piano blossomed into fully staged operas, with a standing chorus and orchestra of over twenty and, “hundreds of young, of new singers coming through the mills,” Cardone beams. Cardone adds that MLO now serves as a repository of talent for the area and for the regional company, Florida Grand Opera. In the face of financial straits encountered in the arts today, the advantages of this are palpable — FGO has begun to engage performers that have appeared with MLO, significantly reducing costs and nurturing local talent.

Cardone counts 70 performances put on by MLO to date. The most recent of these was a Rigoletto in late June that confirms the company has reached important developmental milestones: better designed sets germane to the specific opera staged, invested stage direction, and greatly improved playing in the pit. The pacing of that Rigoletto goes along especially well with the sentiment of “times that once were.”

In 2007, the cranking, clanking and organ-grinding effort and motion of a MLO Boheme brought to mind the band behind Caruso, the first international recording artist singing into a cone in those turn-of-the-century recordings. Enter a few instrumentalists from established south Florida groups (including FGO), increased rehearsal time, and stable leadership and in 2011 it is in the music where MLO’s progress is most evident. While Maestro Doris Lang Kosloff managed to hold together a Rigoletto of improbably leisurely tempi, few were the moments when the playing sounded shrill, exceedingly uneven, or “historic.”

Leisurely is the apt term for the cadence of passers-by on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, the site of MLO’s performance home Colony Theater — as iconic a Miami spot as any other. If not slumber, surely strolling is celebrated here and you would be hard-pressed to find a more intimate setting to celebrate opera. Lincoln Road is modeled after the European walkway mall — coffee rooms, shops, and ethnic eateries offering outdoor dining under umbrellas dot its block-after-block expanse. On the east side is the much ballyhooed new home of the New World School of the Arts. On the west side, some six blocks down, is Colony Theater.

Its marquee is old-time movie house, everywhere else the space is pure Art Deco — the Colony channels the 1930’s, when it was erected by Paramount Pictures as part of a nationwide campaign to promote its films. The Colony was recently retrofitted for stage performances. MLO’s orchestra pitches its music stands on the landing between the first row of seats and the stage in the 440 seat space. The sound is variable and the visuals are consistent, both decent for a venue made for film viewing. The breeze, the beach, the beat, opera at the Colony all channel a period all but lost now.

One gets the sense that something important is at work in spending time with Raffaele Cardone. Time stands still — opera history is preserved, its traditions transmitted. Time stands still — we participate in telling a story in opera, giving it new life, extending its life. Is this “time that once was” lost for good? Not if Cardone has any say, not if you’ll come get a taste. If you do, come to it remembering that in order to truly taste something, to savor its goodness, it must be relished with ease so that its layers and dimensions get their due. Come slow things down, but do come. Come get a taste of a time that once was with Miami Lyric Opera.

Robert Carreras

For more information, go to www.miamilyricopera.org

Check the Colony Theater out at www.colonyandbyrontheaters.com

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