Commemorative concert for Maestro José Alejando “Alex” Guzmán of the Regina Opera, by Nino Pantano
On the afternoon of Sunday, November 21 at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Academy in Brooklyn, in Sunset Park Brooklyn, a special commemorative tribute to the famous conductor José Alejando “Alex” Guzmán (1946-2021) been presented to his longtime fans at the Regina Opera. Selections from Mozart’s Nozze Di Figaro and Don Giovanni; Fidelio by Beethoven, Otello by Verdi, Manon Lescaut by Puccini and Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni were conducted by maestros Gregory Ortega and Scott Jackson Wiley.
The illustrious career of Maestro José Alejando “Alex” Guzmán spans more than 50 years in the lyrical and symphonic repertoires with numerous orchestras and opera companies. In the program notes, he mentions the highlights of Maestro “Alex’s” career. He directed the Regina Opera for 35 years and served on its board of directors. He has served as Music Director of the Center Symphony Orchestra, the Staten Island Philharmonic, the New York Symphonic Arts Ensemble, the Bronx Symphony Orchestra, the Rockaway Five Towns Symphony Orchestra, and the Brooklyn Chamber Orchestra. He was also in great demand as a guest conductor of many groups in the Tri-State region.
At the memorial concert, Maestro Gregory Ortega conducted the Regina Orchestra and the singers in a masterful sampling of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. The bustling opening was lively and full of hi-jinx. Maestro Ortega was an excellent conductor of Mozart and it was so nice to finally break the long fast of the festival of live music. Baritone Robert Garner was superlative as an earl. Christina Rohm was a bubbly countess. The pure and powerful voice of Sarah Moulton Faux, like Susanna, caressed her ear. Baritone Scott Lefurgy was a funny and comical Figaro with a rich voice. Brian Ballard portrayed Antonio the Gardner, who was puzzled as to who jumped into the Earl’s flowerbed. Marcellina was sung by the wonderful mezzo-soprano Galina Ivannikova, Basilio was sung by Adam Inyong Goldstein. Gennadiy Vysotskiy, in the role of Bartolo, completed the spicy ensemble.
Then comes Beethoven’s only opera Fidelio. The opening was conducted by Maestro Scott Jackson Wiley with the verve and wit of the great composer. The overture set the mood with its high spirits and the Act One quartet was bright. Leonore, whose husband, Florestan, has been wrongfully imprisoned, poses as a boy to cheat the powers that be and save her husband. Marzelline was in the hands of the soprano Hayley Kobilinsky. I first heard Ms. Kobelinsky years ago when she was a child and was overwhelmed by the beauty and quantity of her voice. She still sings in a fullness of tone with an angelic hue and haunting quality, and I can still hear her uniquely beautiful sound. The Act One quartet “Mir ist so wonderbar? With Hayley Kobilinsky, Lenore Megan Nielson, Joshua LeRose and Steven Fredericks as Rocco was a beautiful mix of melodic passion.
The duet from act 2 of Beethoven’s Fidelio, “O namenlose Freude! Was sung by Megan Nielson as fiery Lenore and Peter Hakjoon Kim as Florestan, a growing tenor who is quite Stentorian. Mr. Kim was a very strong and impressive Scarpia in the past. Peter Hakjoon Kim and Dilara Unsal as Desdemona performed Verdi’s Otello love duet. Their voices blended with love and their end notes were pure heaven. The great Wagnerian tenor Lauritz Melchior sang as a baritone for six years before becoming the greatest Wagnerian tenor in the world and later in Hollywood films.
The program continued with Manon Lescaut from Puccini. The duet from act 2 “Tu, tu amore?” Tu ”was sung like magic by soprano Dilara Unsal and Sicilian tenor Christopher Trapani, whom I remember singing a splendid Manrico in Il Trovatore at the Regina Opera in 2019.
The program ended with “Intermezzo” by Pietro Mascagni from Cavalleria Rusticana. We were all delighted by this touching and sincere tribute to Maestro Alex Guzmán. Wayne Olsen drew the beautiful drawing of Maestro Guzmán on the cover of the program.
When Judy and I entered the room of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH), a masked woman said, “Hello, Nino”. It was Maestra Eve Queler of the Opera Orchestra of New York, a world-renowned conductor and her assistant and friend from Bensonhurst, Deborah Surdi. There were a lot of people but we reunited with Francine Garber-Cohen, the president and beloved wife of Maestro Guzman, Linda Cantoni. Maestro “Alex” was loved by his colleagues and the audience and will be sadly missed. We will never forget Maestro José Alejandro “Alex” Guzmán whose staff sent us all skyward.
Galina Ivannikova, Dilara Unsal, Maestro Gregory Ortega, Sarah Moulton Faux, Steven Fredericks, Hayley Kobilinsky, Hyong Sik Jo, Peter Hakjoon Kim, Photo by Steven Pisano