Tenorissimo! From the Italian word ‘tenor’ meaning between baritone and alto or the highest range of the ordinary adult male voice. Issimo, a suffix meaning ‘extremely’ or ‘remarkably.’ Saturday night's performance of Tenorissimo! by the Fort Smith Symphony and guest artist Pasquale Espositio was, in a word, Fantastico!
Marilyn Patterson, a Top Brass and Chair Sponsor of the Fort Smith Symphony sponsored Esposito for his trip to Fort Smith.
Esposito won the audience's approval immediately after his performance of “Torna a Sorrento,” the first vocal selection of the program and the second piece to be performed by the symphony. Esposito's pitch-perfect performance continued with 13 other selections of operatic arias and Neapolitan songs. The symphony performed four solo selections for a total of 17 pieces in an evening that lasted just under two hours.
The selections for the performance were: Overture to the opera "La Forza del Destino," Toma a Sorrento, E Lucevan le Stelle from the opera "Tosca," ‘O Sole Mio, Intermezzo from the opera "Cavalleria Rusticana," Aria e Cielo, Questo e Quella from the opera "Rigoletto," La Donne e Mobile from "Rigoletto," Overture to the opera "Tancredi," La Danza, A Marechiare, Granada, Barcarolle from the opera "Tales of Hoffman," ‘O Surdato ‘Nnammurato, Mattinata, Nessun Dorma from the opera "Turandot" and and encore performance of Funiculî, Funiculå.
The symphony performed the first, fifth, ninth, and 13th selections sans vocal accompaniment.
One didn't have to be an opera lover or even understand Italian to appreciate the performance. Esposito's emotional connection to the music, his physical performance and sheer vocal talent conveyed meaning to the foreign tongue.
Not everything was in Italian or even of such serious nature. “Aria e Cielo” was performed with a mix of English and Italian and is a more pop music sounding song from Esposito's 2009 album “A Brand New Me.” When he returned to the stage to sing this selection, he was sporting a different colored jacket, gray instead of the black he wore previously, and joked that it was "…still me." as he used the attire as a visual pun in reference to the title of the album.
Fort Smith Symphony Music Director and Conductor John Jeter interspersed a bit of humor throughout the evening as well. Esposito held a note for an impressively long time during his performance of ‘O Sole Mio and he and Jeter exchanged deliberate furtive glances to signal when the orchestra should resume playing.
"Now I'm going to sing … and I promise it will be just as good," Jeter said when Esposito left the stage between songs and Jeter had a chance to introduce the symphony and promote its latest CD.
After his first piece, Esposito introduced himself with a short story about his arrival at the Fort Smith Airport on Thursday. He said he felt like he landed in someone's living room as he referenced the decor of couches and the lavish bathrooms — a theme that came up a few times throughout the evening when he spoke.
Thirteen years ago, Esposito said he was watching television in Italy and saw Baywatch.
"So I say, O mama mia! I was 13 or 14 and dreaming of California; California dreaming, you know?," Esposito said of how his journey to America began. He then applied for a lottery to “win” a green card. Two years later he received a phone call stating he had won the lottery.
"I said, ‘Wow, how much?’"
In fact, he had won the ability to immigrate to the U.S.
"Actually, I landed in San Francisco on a very bad foggy day. I said: ‘Wow, there is no Pamela Anderson here for sure! This is not the right place.’ But you know, since then, I fell in love with this country; I fell in love with all of you Americans and it has been a few years that I am an American — I am incredibly proud," Esposito said as he concluded his emigration story to an enthusiastic round of applause.
Audience members were equally appreciative of Esposito as he was of them and of America.
"It was really good," said Craig Pair during a wine and cheese event held for significant contributors to the Fort Smith Symphony during the intermission. "I'm amazed that we get talent like that in Fort Smith," he added regarding his first opera style performance to attend.
Pair has attended symphony performances for years.
"I'm very impressed, very impressed. I don't see where he gets the wind," Pair added.
"It was amazing, just absolutely amazing," said first-time symphony-goer Brian Sather who attended with his wife Lori. "We had no idea what we were in for and we've been just amazed.”
The concert concluded with multiple standing ovations and an encore performance of Funiculî, Funiculå.