The New Jersey Association of Verismo Opera has been part of the New Jersey music scene since 1989. It began by sponsoring a vocal competition and an opera workshop. In January 1990, the association engaged Maestro Gregory Ortega for its first Gala Operatic Orchestra Concert held at the Park Theatre in Union City. NJAVO featured the winners of its first vocal competition along with internationally renowned artists. In 1991 the NJAVO orchestra began performing in Bergen County at the Fort Lee Historic Park. In 1993, Metropolitan Opera star Lucine Amara joined the association as Artistic Director.
Since then the association has become famous in and outside the state of New Jersey for its revivals of rarely performed works such as Amica, Guglielmo Ratcliff, Il Voto, I Ranzau, Mese Mariano, Madame San Gene, Pinotta, Silvano, etc. The roster of great singers who have appeared with the association includes Licia Albanese, Lucine Amara, Barbara Conrad, Russell Christopher, Eugenio Fernandi, Franco Bonanome, Jerome Hines, Roberta Knie, Elaine Malbin, Lynn Owen, Abe Polakoff, Elinor Ross, and many others.
In the summer of 1995 international conductor Anthony Morss became NJAVO’s new Music Director and Principal Conductor leading NJAVO’s centennial celebration of Puccini’s La Boheme. November 4, 1995, Armenian composer, Vazgen Muradian’s music was featured for the first time in New Jersey. It was also NJAVO’s first time at the Orrie de Nooyer auditorium. It was to become home base.
On March 9, 1996, NJAVO presented the eastern seaboard’s premiere of Pietro Mascagni’s Isabeau featuring soprano Evelyn La Quaif. The Brescia version of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly followed October 11, 1996, and featured American soprano Ruth Williams, tenor Emmanuel Di Villarosa, and Met artist Russell Christopher.
Bellini’s Norma was presented on May 8, 1997, featuring all the original embellishments of Giuditta Pasta and Antonio Di Candia, the first Norma and Pollione, followed by a grand production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida, October 18 with a cast of over 100. On December 8, 1997, our Gala Concert featured Patrice Munsel, Lili Chookasian, Elinor Ross, Chester Ludgin, Elaine Malbin, and the Irine Fokine Ballet Company in excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.
In 1998, Donizetti’s 200th birthday was celebrated with a new production of Maria Stuarda on May 9 featuring Canadian soprano Evelyn La Quaif and mezzo Alexandra Zalska. On September 17 Giuseppe Verdi’s popular masterpiece La Traviata was spotlighted featuring soprano Heather Sarris, tenor Timothy Sarris and baritone James Dietsch. The December 5th Orchestra Concert featured the winners of the Annual Vocal Competition; soprano Angela Simpson, baritone Brian Johnson, tenor Jeffrey Mosher and contralto Sandra Van Cleve with other international artists at the Academy of the Holy Angels in Demarest, NJ.
March 27, 1999 Guest Conductor John Minkoff lead a number of international artists and a full orchestra in works by Weber, Tchaikovsky, Verdi and Mozart. The season concluded on May 8 with one of the most popular operatic works, Bizet’s Carmen. A number of new artists were introduced in NJAVO’s lavish production, Alexandra Zalska, Kenneth Morris, Jennifer Lopez, Stephen Fredericks.
NJAVO’s Annual International Vocal Competition gets stronger every year. It is through this competition NJAVO is able to offer scholarship aid and performance opportunities to the budding new stars of tomorrow. School programs help students experience the grandeur of opera without all the stuffiness. Dress rehearsals, open to students and seniors is one of the many ways NJAVO continues to play a leading role in the arts education in Bergen County.