Raffaele Cardone, Miami Lyric Opera

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

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 protÈgÈ 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

Image_description=Miami Lyric Opera’s Raffaele Cardone [Photo by R. Carreras]
product_title=Raffaele Cardone, Miami Lyric Opera
product_by=By Robert Carreras
product_id=Above: Miami Lyric Opera’s Raffaele Cardone [Photo by R. Carreras]