By Marilyn Lester
For a rousing hour-plus, the midtown chic of Feinstein’s/54 Below was magically transported to Little Italy for an ebullient Festa Italiana. That’s how it seemed when diva Christina Fontanelli took the stage with the Italian hit “Al Di La.” Therein followed the best of popular Italian songs, with a generous helping of Broadway tunes in the mix. Could there be anything more Italian than the much-recorded 1940 tune “Mamma” (originally published as “Mamma son tanto felice”)? Fontanelli sang it dedicated to all mothers, but especially to recently deceased First Lady, Barbara Bush. Fontanelli’s rendition was emotional, but then, as the Brooklyn born and raised diva reminded us, that’s what Italians are all about.
Proving her point about the joy of all things Italian, friends, family and fans couldn’t have been more emphatically enthusiastic, cheering the singer on. In return, as an attentive hostess would, she interacted with her audience on the most personal and personable levels, creating and maintaining a fierce connection with those who know and appreciate the diva’s work. Her Italian in high gear, she delivered other standards, such as “Statte Vicino Amme” and “Mala Femmena” with gusto. Fontanelli’s high point came with the beautiful “Caruso,” which allowed her to use the best of her operatic range, interpretive skills and emotive abilities. Besides the strong Italian connection, there’s no mistaking Fontanelli as other than a denizen of the opera. Her personality is naturally dramatic, with a flare – the kind highly prized and exploited on the great opera stages of the world.
There is, however, a caveat for opera singers who cross over to popular music. The transition doesn’t always go so well. Since this was Fontanelli’s Feinstein’s/54 Below debut, it wasn’t surprising that she ventured into many Broadway tunes for the occasion. Hinting that popular music wasn’t her oeuvre, but that she’d like to do more of it, revealed this outing as a testing ground. The lower ranges of her mezzo voice worked well, but transitioning smoothly to higher notes was often not successful. If indeed the diva wishes to branch out, she might yet find a comfortable groove with the genre. Highlights of the Broadway segment of the show came with Nine’s“Be Italian” and a full-bore, dramatic medley of Lloyd Webber that included “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Memory,” among others. Another medley, of Italian favorites, closed out the show, and included very spirited renditions of “Ciribiribin” and “Funiculì, Funiculà,” which had Fontanelli’s dedicated audience on its feet, clapping and cheering away. Accompanying Ms. Fontanelli were Musical Director Mark Toback, on Piano, with Martin Confurius on Bass and Ray Grappone on Drums.
Christina Fontanelli – Love Italian Style, April 18, 17 PM
Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 W 54th St, New York, NY 10019, 646-476-3551