Cristina Fontanelli, Preserving Values Through Opera

January 23, 2014 Updated: October 8, 2018

NEW YORK—The lights in the auditorium dimmed and the noise level dropped to zero as Cristina Fontanelli entered the stage. With just a few sentences of introduction, she started to sing, bright and powerful, casting a feeling of serenity and awe over the whole Tribeca Performing Arts Center.

“It’s very peaceful. It’s like you’re in an open vessel,” she described her state of mind while singing. “It’s almost like you’re receiving something from God.”

It was her annual recital, “Christmas in Italy,” offering a top notch selection of Italian music.

Hearing all the masterpieces of Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti in her invigorating presentation, it might come as a surprise that Fontanelli didn’t learn solid singing techniques until years after college.

She first experienced opera hearing acclaimed soprano Maria Callas on the radio. Fontanelli was awestruck. But her high school dream was to become an actress, and so she graduated from The American Academy of Dramatic Arts instead of Julliard. 

Fontanelli started to get gigs at Catskill Mountains’ hotels as an entertainer, an experience that came in handy later, as she learned to connect with an audience.

But her singing career really took off after a donor paid for lessons with Ruth Falcon, a pedagogue of many Metropolitan Opera stars. She said it “turned her voice around.” Subsequently, her talent took her around the world, this time as a full-fledged opera singer.

Christmas in Italy

The tradition of holiday concerts in New York City started 10 years ago to “preserve the great songs of Italy and to teach them to the children.”

But since then the cause deepened as Fontanelli realized that people were becoming estranged from the values the music is based upon. “I am really concerned about the direction the world is going in,” she said.

She feels like people are getting separated from each other and fed by sensational things in the media. And so she wanted to present something more uplifting. “Something that rises above what we’re experiencing,” as she put it.

“I wanted to recreate the peace, the joy, the happiness,” she said.

This year’s concert was held on Dec. 7, the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Fontanelli decided to dedicate it to the World War II veterans. And a few of them were among the audience.

She said children need to learn about veterans. “They’re people that really risked their lives and stood up for a cause,” she said. “But the right cause.”

She finished the concert with a wish, that perhaps we should “return some of those values shared by our ancestors.” And her final piece earned her a standing ovation.

When leaving the venue, the artist was stopped by a security guard. Obviously moved, he pointed at his name tag saying, “You introduced me to something I should know.” It read “Felci,” an Italian name.

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