Frank Pasquerilla loved opera.
So, two decades ago, the Johnstown philanthropist decided to help bring an annual celebration of the musical form to his hometown. The first event he sponsored, called the Starlight Opera Gala, took place on Sept. 25, 1993.
Pasquerilla died in 1999, but the festival he created still thrives today.
And, on Saturday evening, hundreds of music lovers gathered to remember his original vision and enjoy a night of beautiful and emotional singing during the 20th annual Johnstown Symphony Orchestra Opera Festival held inside the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown’s Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center.
“This was a dream of Frank Pasquerilla, who gave the university the money to build this building, to have opera done in Johnstown. He loved the opera,” said professor Dennis McNair, vice president of the JSO board.
“He was a big supporter of the Pittsburgh Opera. Twenty years ago, we started doing it. Unfortunately Frank’s no longer with us, but he’s honored every year. His son, Mark (Pasquerilla), has continued the tradition of supporting the wonderful artists that we get in here.”
The concert featured four visiting singers, bass Jeremy Galyon, mezzo-soprano Cherry Duke, soprano Chloé Moore and tenor Raúl Melo, along with the symphony orchestra conducted by Maestro Istvan Jaray.
“Maestro Istvan Jaray is really instrumental in securing the guest artists through the connections that he has. ... Also, through the support of Mark Pasquerilla and (leadership sponsor) Leah McCullough we have been able to bring in artists like that,” said Brooke Welsh, Johnstown Symphony Orchestra executive director.
The singers and musicians performed a wide selection of material, ranging from traditional opera to the “Alice in Wonderland” theme to songs from the musical “South Pacific.”
“I enjoy it every year,” said Dr. Carole Reifsteck Parsons, first violin and member of the JSO for 23 seasons. “It’s always exciting to see what the soloists are going to sound like and perform.”
Frank Pasquerilla loved opera.
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