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The Season in Song by Tenor Marco Panuccio

St. Peter in Chains Cathedral
12/16/2011 -  
George Frederic Handel: Comfort Ye – Every Valley (Messiah) – Hodie Christus natus est (chant)
Paul Manz: E’en So, Lord Jesus Quickly Come
Ma’oz Tzur (traditional)
Hugh Martin: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Pietro Mascagni: Sancta Maria
Jules Massenet: Ave Maria
Arvo Pärt: Für Alina
Franz Schubert: Ave Maria – Mille cherubini in coro
Mel Torme: The Christmas Song
Pietro A. Yon: Gesù bambino
Traditional: Adeste Fideles – Ave Maria (chant) – O Emmanuel (chant) – Puer natus est nobis (chant)

Marco Panuccio (tenor)
The Saint Peter in Chains Cathedral Choir, Anthony DiCello (Music Director)
Carol Walker (piano), Blake Callahan (organ), Elizabeth Motter (harp), Nick Naegele (violin), Miranda Martin (violin), Joyce Chan (viola), Carmine Miranda (cello)

M. Panuccio (Courtesy of the Artist)

Italian-American lyric tenor Marco Panuccio, 37, now singing leading roles on opera stages in Europe and the United States, calls Cincinnati home. It was for Cincinnati that he created O Holy Night, a Christmas show that played in five cities this year: Shillington, Pennsylvania; Portland, Oregon; Winter Park, Florida; Augusta, Georgia; and Cincinnati. The December 16 show in Cincinnati’s magnificent St. Peter in Chains Cathedral downtown elaborated on the others by including, in addition to piano and organ, members of the St. Peter in Chains Cathedral Choir led by Anthony DiCello, harpist Elizabeth Motter and a string quartet (violinists Nick Naegele and Miranda Martin, violist Joyce Chan and cellist Carmine Miranda). The Cathedral’s gold Corinthian columns, huge mosaic of Christ and Classic Greek murals gave the event a timeless aspect.

Panuccio’s program was diverse, with Comfort Ye and Every Valley from Handel’s Messiah as well as Mel Torme’s The Christmas Song and Gregorian Chant. A theme of the concert was Ave Maria, with settings by Franz Schubert, Jules Massenet, Pietro Mascagni and as an encore, Ave Mariaby Russian composer Vladimir Vavilov (wrongly attributed to Giulio Caccini). With tender lullabies by Schubert (Mille cherubini in coro) and Pietro A. Yon (Gesù Bambino, the concert was fully attuned to the Nativity story.

Comfort Ye, which opened the concert, demonstrated Panuccio’s artistry. Taken at a brisk pace, it was a mix of Baroque and Romantic style, beginning without vibrato and freely ornamented, then taking on color for emphasis. In Every Valley, he let his voice soar on “plain.” In Schubert’s Ave Maria, with harpist Motter and the Cathedral Choir, he produced a warm, encompassing sound that could take the chill off the winter night. The same held true for Mille cherubini in coro, where he and the Choir blended their voices to lovely effect. The two “borrowed” Ave Marias, from Massenet’s Thaïs (Intermezzo) and Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana (Meditation), fared beautifully in Panuccio’s warm, sympathetic delivery, accompanied by the string quartet, Motter, (Massenet) and Callahan (Mascagni).

There was a wholly different sound in Adeste fidelis, where Panuccio sang in a big, triumphal voice with the Choir and pianist Carol Walker, creating a glorious mix in the Cathedral’s reverberant acoustic. By contrast, his styling of The Christmas Song and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas with pianist Walker was soft, heartfelt and simple. In honor of Hanukkah and the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor, Czech pianist Alice Herz-Sommer (108 this year), he sang the stately Ma’oz Tzur (O Mighty Stronghold), and in a nod to Thanksgiving and the spirit of thanksgiving, David Foster’s lovely 2007 Thankful.

Callahan was heard solo on the Cathedral’s 1927 Austin organ in an energetic Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabellawhile Walker performed Arvo Pärt’s aphoristic Für Alina , one of the seminal works in his tintinnabuli style. The 15-voice choir showed themselves perfectly adapted to the Cathedral environment with Paul Manz’ E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come, as they did with the several chant selections heard on the program. Everyone participated in the carol sing alongs which filled out the concert, not least Panuccio himself.

Panuccio, who made his debut singing O Holy Nighton Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Christmas concerts while a student at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, made Adolphe Adam’s carol one of three encores, the others being A Prayer to St. Catherine by Virgil Thomson and Vavilov’s stirring Ave Maria in which he was “echoed” from the balcony at the rear of the church by soprano Amanda Heisler of the Cathedral Choir.

Mary Ellyn Hutton



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