By BETH ANN MILLER
After 23 years the curtain will close for the final time Sept. 19 on the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra’s annual Opera Festival, established in 1992 by the late Frank and Sylvia Pasquerilla to bring world-class opera singers to Johnstown in an annual fundraising concert for the symphony orchestra.
This program will also be one of the last Johnstown Symphony Orchestra concerts conducted this year by Maestro Istvan Jaray, now the symphony’s conductor laureate and principal guest conductor for the 2015-16 season. A new conductor for the symphony orchestra will be chosen after each of six finalist candidates perform with the symphony during this season’s subscription series of concerts.
“Celebrate Opera, It’s Life in Music” will be held at 7 p.m. at the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center on the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown campus. An 80-minute uninterrupted concert of arias mixed with a few musical theater selections is planned, featuring performances by four renowned opera soloists: mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimore, soprano Katherine Whyte, tenor Adam Luther and bass Nikita Storojev.
These vocal artists will perform along with the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra and the Johnstown Symphony Chorus.
“All of these artists are truly, truly magnificent and delightful; (they are) internationally known and their quality is the highest,” Jaray said.
“(Opera) is just the same as musicals . . . there’s dialogue in between. It’s just a matter of genre; it’s a matter of opera is a more serious subject, musicals are much lighter and romantic. That’s the difference; the music is exactly the same. So we really try to see that these mixtures are really pleasing to everybody in our audience, and everybody will have a chance to enjoy something (from) the evening.”
The final performance of the Opera Festival should be especially moving for the audience, as Jaray says farewell to the festival and the symphony podium with the Italian composition “Con Te Partiro,” which translates in English as “Time to Say Goodbye.”
The Johnstown Symphony Orchestra will also honor the Pasquerilla family for their years of support to the Opera Festival and the symphony in general. Mark Pasquerilla and Leah McCullough, the children of Frank and Sylvia Pasquerilla, have continued to financially support the Opera Festival since 1999 in their parents’ memory.
Mark Pasquerilla said Joyce Murtha and the late U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha have also been vocal supporters of the Opera Festival, “adopting” the event after the deaths of his parents.
A post-performance reception will be held immediately after the concert at the Pasquerilla Conference Center in downtown Johnstown. A lavish buffet dinner, guest artists, and a live and silent auction is planned. Auction items include Notre Dame, Penn State and Steelers football tickets, a private dinner with wine pairings at Sunnehanna Country Club and an opportunity to be a guest conductor of the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra at its opening concert of the 2016-17 season. Gift certificates for restaurants, spa and golf packages and shopping opportunities will also be auctioned, according to auction co-chairs Joan Moss and Sharyn Spinelli.
Those seeking more information can contact the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra office at 814-535-6738. The 2015 Opera Festival is sponsored by Mark Pasquerilla and Leah McCullough, Concurrent Technologies Corp., Somerset Trust Co., AmeriServ Financial and AmeriServ Trust and Financial Services, 1st Summit Bank, “A Friend of the Symphony,” Jennmar Corp., UPMC and UPMC Health Plan.
In the Opera Festival’s 23-year existence, it has raised more than $2 million in support for the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra and chorus, youth choruses, the youth symphony orchestra and Community Strings, festival chair John Coyle said.
“The Opera Festival in its current format has been an exceptional event for the (symphony orchestra), and it’s created financial support and wonderful memories,” Coyle said. “As the curtain falls on the event in its current format, we’re presented with the possibility of something new . . . the possibility of what comes next is limitless.”
Joyce Murtha, honorary chairwoman of the Opera Festival, said that the “metropolitan quality” of the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra and the cultural value of events like the Opera Festival are important to support in the Johnstown area.
“It is essential that the success of our symphony orchestra and the Opera Festival continue. It not only improves the culture of this area, but it makes our lives more enjoyable for those of us living here. And it entices people and businesses to locate here. Those are three compelling reasons for us to continue what the Pasquerillas have started,” Joyce Murtha said.
“Please come out and support this event . . . I can promise you beautiful music from our maestro and the symphony orchestra, and a very elegant evening. Let’s make Frank and Sylvia proud, and show them how much we appreciate their efforts.”
Monica Kozak and her husband certainly appreciate those efforts.
The Kozaks returned to Johnstown three years ago, after 40 years of living and working in Dallas, Texas. They were season ticket holders of the Dallas Grand Opera and symphony for more than 20 years. Once they returned to Johnstown to retire, they decided to attend a performance by the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra.
The Kozaks were pleased in what they saw, and have attended many concerts since.
“We were so impressed with the quality of the performances. It’s every bit as good as the Dallas symphony,” Monica Kozak said.