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Salerni wins national opera competition

Paul Salerni

Paul Salerni, professor of music at Lehigh University who was recently installed as the National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Chair in the Humanities, had the honor of being selected as the winner of the National Opera Association’s one-act chamber opera competition.

Salerni’s opera bested more than 50 others from all over the United States for the competition, which was sponsored by the NOA. The National Opera Association, founded in 1955 to promote a greater appreciation of opera and music theatre, boasts membership from the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia and Australia

Salerni collaborated with poet Dana Gioia, who provided the libretto, on Tony Caruso’s Last Broadcast, a woeful tale of a failed tenor and eccentric radio personality who hosts a program for opera lovers until the station manager decides to change the format to pop. During the last broadcast of his program, Caruso is visited by the ghosts of his mother, opera diva Maria Callas, and a mystery woman who offers him redemption.

“His mother makes him feel guilty for failing at his art. Then Maria Callas explains to him why he failed. Finally, his last visitor gives him an opportunity to alter his fate. It’s dramatic, it’s entertaining, and Gioia’s words are superb,” says Salerni, who also directs LUVME (the Lehigh University Very Modern Ensemble).

The announcement was made at the annual convention of the National Opera Association members in New York City last month, following a performance of the scenes from each of three operas that were selected as finalists. As a result of winning the competition, Tony Caruso will be given a fully-staged world premiere during the NOA convention next January in Los Angeles.

“Besides finally seeing my opera fully staged, one of the most exciting things was that at least three or four directors of opera programs in colleges or independent workshops came up to me afterwards to ask how they could get the score so that they could do a production or scenes at their institution,” says Salerni. “Plus, the young singers from the Manhattan School of Music who performed my piece were magnificent, and may provide me with an ideal cast for whenever the piece is done here at Lehigh.”

Two of the directors who approached Salerni at the convention have already scheduled either excerpted or full workshop performances of the opera, one on April 14 at Lincoln University, the other on July 14 in Washington, D.C.

Enjoying lots of personal success

This latest honor follows a series of professional successes for Salerni, who is wrapping up his two-year term as chair of the Board of Directors of the Suzuki Association of the Americas, the organization of 5,200 active members and 1,700 associate members for those that teach and parent using the Suzuki Method of musical education.

Salerni will host his final board meeting as head of the organization in mid-April. During that same weekend, he’ll witness the premiere of a concerto for three bass instruments commissioned by the local high school. On the same concert, a new timpani concerto written by a 75-year old composition student of Salerni’s will be premiered. The soloist in that concerto will be Salerni’s son, Miles, a high school junior who studies percussion in the pre-college program at Juilliard.

Later this year, Salerni will return to the prestigious 2,000-student Interlochen Center for the Arts summer camp, where he will conduct the “Big Sword and the Little Broom,” a violin concerto/fable he composed, with text again written by Gioia.

“Being on the conducting staff at Interlochen is another hat I’ve been wearing over the last year,” says Salerni. “It’s been both challenging and rewarding.”

Salerni received a Ph.D. in composition from Harvard University, where he studied with Earl Kim. Salerni is an expert in the performance of Kim's music, having given performances of Kim’s music in Seoul, in New York City, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and at the Aspen Music Festival.

Salerni's own music has been played throughout the United States, in Canada, in Europe and in China. His orchestra music has been performed by, among others, the New Haven Symphony, the New York Chamber Symphony, the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra, the Schuylkill Symphony, the International Chamber Orchestra and the San Diego Chamber Orchestra.

His songs and choral pieces have most recently been presented by the Washington Square Contemporary Music Series, the New York Viola Society, the Derriere Garde Festival, the Otterbein New Music Festival and the Shenyang International Music Festival in China.

Salerni is perhaps best known for his music for and about children including the two Italian fables with texts written by poet Gioia, which was recently featured on a LUVME family concert in Baker.

For more information about Salerni, please click here.

--Linda Harbrecht


Posted on Thursday, February 22, 2007

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