POINT Chapter 15 Meeting - February 2013

POINTers In Person
Lou Costello Chapter 15

Northern New Jersey

Pursuing Our Italian Names Together

February 2, 2013


            The Northern New Jersey chapter of POINTers In Person met on February 2, 2013 at the Elmwood Park Municipal Building.  Twenty-five people attended.  

            Sue Berman (#4405), who substituted for ill Maria Carparelli (#2100), opened the meeting by informing the chapter that on August 14, 2012 about forty attendees of POINT Conference met to discuss the future of POINT.  It was decided that the 26-year old POINT will continue its mission and network.  Decisions were also made about PDF POINTers and the Italian Surname Database.  Sue also told the members that Dr. Sandra Lee continues to look for suggestions, old photos, oral histories, etc. for her new book about Italian families who emigrated to northern New Jersey towns.  Dr. Lee is a professor at Seton Hall University and is the author of Italian Americans of Newark, Belleville and Nutley (NJ) (2008), and co-author of Italian Americans of Greater Erie  (2010). Her Italian Heritage Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/italianheritage and she can be reached at Sandra.lee@shu.edu . Another potential research trip to the New Jersey State Archives was discussed.             

Maryanne Graham (#3654) presented the treasurer’s report. The chapter has 30 active members.   Annual membership dues were collected.  

            Al Marotta (#1018) mentioned an October 2012 New York Times article about the recent decision by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to limit access to its death records, due to possible identity theft.    It was revealed that this decision not only interfered with genealogists’ research, but also research by the government to monitor hospital safety and by the financial industry to uncover consumer fraud.  Medical researchers have also been stymied.  The Social Security Death Master File indexes 90 million deaths which were reported to the agency for over 75 years by survivors, hospitals, funeral homes and state offices.  This index did not become public until 1980.  However, for a decade it also included records provided by the states.  It was decided in 2011, that the interpretation of the 1983 law could exempt state records from public disclosure by the SSA.  Therefore, four million deaths were removed from the publicly available master file November 2011 and it is expected that the number of deaths disclosed each year will decrease by one million (which is over half of the formerly disclosed deaths). 

            Loretta Tito (#4717) spoke about a fascinating book entitled “Sweet Hope” by Mary Bucci Bush.  The book describes the “Italian Colony Experiment” at “Sunnyside Plantation” in Arkansas, near the Mississippi River. The author stumbled upon this site in search of her grandmother’s ancestry and this  inspired her to write her 2011 novel.  Many Sicilians came to this area as indentured servants in the early 1900s.  The story is about Italians and Negroes working together on a Mississippi Delta cotton plantation from 1901 to 1906. 

Daniel Quinn presented, “The Legacy of Italian Music from Italy to the United States, Yesterday and Today”.  He focused on Italian opera. 

Mr. Quinn is a poet, playwright and theater director and producer.  He is the recipient of the Irish Institute Award, Short Play Festival Award, OBIE (Off-Broadway Theater) Award and he was the 2010 Next Generation INDIE Finalist Winner.  Among his accomplishments were his production and direction of the off-Broadway show, “Sacco & Vanzetti” and “Before the Crash: America in the 1920s”, as part of the 2011 Stages Festival in NJ.  Also, he was the producing director of the U.S. stage premier of Hector Berlioz’s “Childhood of Christ” and founded “The Great George Festival”, a cutting edge arts festival in NY.   He is affiliated with the Bickford Theatre and others.  Mr. Quinn is the author of “Organized Labor: Collected Poems” (2004).  It contains 28 poems, mostly poems about blue-collar America and includes poems about the 1913 Paterson (NJ) Strike and honors his ancestors with a poem featuring three generations of his Irish family in NY as he traces the history of his family in free verse. 

            He also wrote “Exits and Entrances: Producing Off-Broadway, Opera & Beyond, Collected articles, letters and documents 1981-2006”.  It is a memoir which chronicles theater life and those who dedicate their lives to bring the arts to the public.  His work is featured in Francine Trevens’ book, “Short Plays to Long Remember” (2010). 

            Mr. Quinn’s maternal grandmother came from the Province of Avellino and the family settled in Newark, NJ.  He remembers hearing that his grandfather loved the opera and told the chapter that the Irish also loved opera.

As early as 1805, Italian musicians were officially appreciated in the U.S. when Thomas Jefferson invited 14 musicians from Italy to form the nucleus of the U.S. Marine Band.  However, it was the Italian musical form, opera, which became the international language and crossed barriers both in Europe and the U.S.  Mr. Quinn reminded members that even today Italy is somewhat fragmented, yet music and especially opera united many Italians and later Italian Americans.  

Most Italian immigrants were unable to speak the English language and some of their customs seemed strange to Americans, who looked down on them.  Yet Italians brought with them, as a badge of honor, their music.  Elite Americans had high regard for Italian opera and art, but not for the Italian people.  However, there were exceptions to this general rule of prejudice against Italians, such as the universal admiration for Enrico Caruso from Naples.  Later, middle class Americans were introduced to the opera and began to appreciate Italian music through film.  The settings of operas provided an indicator of cross cultural exchange at that time. 

Although John Gay’s, “Beggar’s Opera (1728), a ballad opera, was produced in New York in 1750 as probably the first opera in this country, it was not an Italian opera.  Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s “La serva padrona” (1733) is considered to be the first Italian opera performed in the U.S., appearing in Baltimore in 1790.  This opera buffa piece was originally an opera within his serious opera, “Il prigionier superbo”.  The next Italian opera performed in the U.S. was Gioachino Rossini’s  “Barber of Seville” in Philadelphia, performed in English in 1822 and in Italian in 1824.  This opera was often showcased and seems to have been a favorite among the early Americans.  Rossini’s opera buffa,  “Il turco in Italia”, (1814) was first staged in New York in 1826. 

Lorenzo Da Ponte, a linguist, musician and librettist for Mozart and ten other composers, arrived in Philadelphia in 1805, but soon returned to NY.  He became the first professor of the Italian language at Columbia College in 1825 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1828.  At the age of 80 years, in 1832, he realized his dream by bringing an opera company over from Bologna to NY.  Fifty-five musicians arrived and in 1833 The Italian Opera House, the first opera house in the U.S., was built in lower Manhattan.  It became the home of the new NY Opera Company.  Many of the early Italian operas were translated into English to benefit the audience.  The first opera performed in this house was Rossini’s   “La Gazza Ladra”.  Da Ponte died in 1838 and is buried at old St. Patrick’s Cathedral Cemetery in an unmarked grave.  By 1847 the Astor Place Opera House opened for Italian opera in New York City and replaced the first opera house.  The NY Academy of Music Opera House appeared in 1854 and was replaced by the Metropolitan Opera House in 1883.  Giuseppi Verdi’s “La Traviata” opened in New York in 1856.  Americans of all classes had great respect for Verdi and this made Italians proud to be Italians.  Giacomo Puccini operas were also very well known in America. 

There were two other opera houses of note in Manhattan.  Ferdinand Palmo opened his opera house in 1844 and had a great desire that this would be the place where the music of Italy might find a home.  This was his fourth attempt to introduce Italian opera to New York City, but the venture failed and it closed a year later as a theater.  Castle Garden, located at the southern tip of Manhattan served as an opera house and theater from 1845 until 1854.  A century later, Mayor LaGuardia dedicated City Center in 1943 as Manhattan’s first major performing arts center to be an affordable alternative for the public.  This was the original theater for The New York City Opera.

Although Paterson (NJ) had Walden’s Opera House since 1866, it was really a theater and, after a fire, it was replaced by a movie house in 1916.  The New Jersey State Opera was established late, in 1964, as the Opera Theater of  Westfield and was renamed in 1974.  It is located in Newark, NJ. 

The iconic American poet, Walt Whitman, discovered classical music and the opera as a reviewer of musical performances for The Brooklyn Eagle and other city newspapers.  He frequented the opera houses in Manhattan in order to review the operas.  Perhaps he came to love the opera when he heard an Italian opera company perform at Castle Garden in 1847.  Music was the central metaphor in Whitman’s life and work.  He had an ear for inner rhythms and this influenced his poetry.  Many American readers became interested in the opera, after reading Whitman’s review columns.

 This was the legacy of Italian music in America.



            Future meetings will be held on: 

                                                            May 4, 2013

                                                            August 3, 2013

                                                            November 2, 2013

                                                            February 1, 2014,





Next Meeting

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