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International opera competition coming to Vero

STORY BY MICHELLE GENZ, (Week of March 22, 2012)
Photo: Giordani in Pagliacci.

Just before one of the world’s leading tenors, Marcello Giordani, prepared to take the stage Sunday in Vero Beach Opera’s “Pagliacci,” it was announced that the U.S. portion of the competition for his international scholarship foundation will be held here next year.

That news no doubt sent opera organizers into a swoon: The 2012 competition held earlier this month in New York drew 140 singers from around the world and was followed by a large public concert by the winners.

Providing for housing and transportation for anywhere near that number of competitors will likely prove a Wagnerian feat in Vero.

The news was only the latest improbable twist in the jaunty tale of Vero Opera’s success, a libretto written largely by the organization’s leaders, Joan and Roman Ortega-Cowan, who have persuaded massive stars like Giordani and soprano Deborah Voigt to seek sanctuary here. Roman Ortega-Cowan served as a judge in the foundation’s competition in New York, and sits on the board of the foundation as well.

“Having the International Voice Competition is obviously an artistic event of major national and international importance,” said Ortega-Cowan. He pointed to the likely impact of the evening on hotel occupancy as well as restaurant business and other services needed by the group.

He said  the event is turning Vero into an “operatic destination,” adding it also adds to the enrichment of the community itself. “The public at large will have an opportunity to experience an operatic artistic level usually reserved for big cities.” 

Giordani, who headed for Paris early Monday morning for a performance at the Paris Opera House next week, says he is shopping for a second home here. He lives in Sicily with his wife Wilma and two teenage sons, who in the past have visited Vero with him.

Voigt, a world-renowned soprano who also has performed in Vero, has had a condo on the beach for several years. She too has a foundation through the Vero Beach Opera, a competition whose prize is the opportunity for a young singer to follow Voigt for several weeks as she prepares for an opera.

News of the Giordani competition’s change of venue to Vero was announced by a breathless Tania Ortega-Cowan, Joan and Roman’s daughter, moments before the first singers stepped on stage at the Vero Beach High School’s Performing Arts Center. The audience broke into vigorous applause.

Giordani handpicked the performers for the leading roles in “Pagliacci” as well as the three performers who sang arias prior to the opera. Most were winners of the European leg of his foundation’s competition. Among the prizes are master classes and the chance to perform with Giordani.

At 49, Giordani’s performances at the Metropolitan Opera alone number more than 170. He grew up the son of a gas station owner in a small Sicilian town. His only experience singing was in the church choir until at 19, he quit his job at a bank and moved to Milan to study voice. Within five years, he had debuted at Spoleto at La Scala. By 30, he was singing at the Met.

His larger-than-life presence on stage continued to dazzle a room of admirers at the Moorings Club following the performance. There, Vero Beach Opera members could pay an extra $150 for the chance to socialize and sip cocktails with the opera’s lead performers, including the affable Giordani. There were intermittent performances from only a few feet away by Giordani and his protégés, who sang to the accompaniment of a grand piano.