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The Villages
Friday, June 21, 2024

Young talent shines at Opera Club’s 30th anniversary celebration

The Opera Club of the Villages played a unique role here for three decades. “It brings the miracle of music to our lives,” said singer Sam Reynolds.
Maestro Bill Doherty is no stranger to the miraculous power of music. He celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Opera Club Thursday in Laurel Manor.
Next April, Doherty will be in Paris for another celebration – the re-opening of France’s famed Notre Dame Cathedral, which was damaged by fire in 2019.

He will compose music for a Latin hymn called “Stabat Mater.” Notre Dame is expected to officially reopen in December. “It’s very special and I’m honored to be a part of it,” Doherty said.
He could have said the same for the Opera Club anniversary dinner Thursday evening. The music matched the celebratory mood of about 140 people in attendance. Doherty, who helped form the Opera Club, played piano and directed eight singers.
It was a tribute to Doherty’s talent and the hard work of Gerri Piscitelli, president of the Opera club. She and other members have raised nearly $650,000 in scholarships.  Five recipients  were awarded those scholarships on Thursday.

The 2024 scholarship winners are Andrea Gamez Heredia Emily Veri Jason Tejada Chancey Blake Barnes Shepherd Smith
The 2024 scholarship winners are Andrea Gamez Herediam, Emily Veri, Jason Tejada Chancey, Blake Barnes and Shepherd Smith, from left.

“I’m thrilled that we’re still here and going strong after 30 years,” Piscitelli said. “This club started out to bring opera to The Villages, and we’re still doing it.”

Gerri Piscitelli left Geri Dempsey and Bill Doherty share a moment at the Opera Club of the Villages 30th anniversary dinner
Gerri Piscitelli, left, Geri Dempsey and Bill Doherty share a moment at the Opera Club of the Villages 30th anniversary dinner.

Tradition is important, added Doherty, who also heads Central Florida Lyric Opera Company, which is a big part of the club.

Gerri Piscitelli awards an Opera Club scholarship to Jason Tejada Chancey
Gerri Piscitelli awards an Opera Club scholarship to Jason Tejada Chancey.

“The Opera Club has brought quality entertainment to The Villages and helped so many young people pursue careers in music. I’m proud of them and I’m proud of the impact the Opera Club has made in our community.”

The young singers – and some not so young — who benefitted from the Opera Club were on display at the event.

“I had to be here tonight; I’ve grown up with the Opera club” said Victoria Sexton, who sang a delightfully lively “I Feel Pretty.”
“I started when I was 18 and I’m going to soon turn 30,” Sexton said. “The club has given me a chance to do what I love: singing.”
Singer Justin Scarlat, who thrilled the crowd with “The Music of the Night,”  believes the Opera Club is preserving an art form.
“We live in a digital world,” he said. “Here, we make live music for people who love  music.  We keep the real sound alive in the sound of music.”

Victoria Sexton and Sam Reynolds standing in background treat the crowd to a song
Victoria Sexton and Sam Reynolds, standing in background, treat the crowd to a song.

Other performers included: Carlo Cestari and his daughter Mariangel Cestari. Also Elise Curran and David Gehring.
Scotty Tomas weaved his way through the tables as he brought feeling and emotion to “Over the Rainbow.”
“I appreciate everything the Opera Club has done for me, and the all the people it has helped in music,” Tomas said. “It’s a great platform for us to learn and create. We can do it because the people in the club care.”

Scotty Tomas weaved his way through the audience singing Over the Rainbow
Scotty Tomas weaved his way through the audience singing “Over the Rainbow.”

People like John Rohan, Recreation Director of The Villages, who has been supporting the club since its inception. Also, people like Geri Dempsey, the club’s vice-president, and Emily and Chris Madak. Their efforts at Publix, have helped the club for many years.

Sheila Steis sang Memory from the musical Cats
Sheila Steis sang “Memory” from the musical “Cats.”

“I love music,” Emily Madak said, adding “many pubic schools have cut back on music. It’s wonderful to be a part of helping students with scholarships, to keep their interest in music growing.”

Sam Reynolds has been singing with the club for 27 years. He was in dynamic form Thursday with his bass-baritone voice. He sang a medley from “Paint Your Wagon,” and also a stirring version of “The Impossible Dream.”

“I’m thrilled to be a part of this,” Reynolds said. “The Opera Club is the vessel for opera in our community. The members have opera in their souls. They have always been there for all of us, through thick and thin.”
Over the years, Reynolds has seen such youthful talents as Fernando Varela and Devin Eatmon mature into major musical talents, with plenty of help from the Opera Club.
Bill Doherty has molded such young talent for 30 years. For him, this anniversary party was filled with music and memories.
“I was in tears for much of the show,” he said. “Thirty years goes by so quickly; I can’t believe it.”

Then the Maestro described what may be the credo for the Opera Club of the Villages.
“We have an eternity to sleep. While we’re here, let’s have fun, make great music and make a difference if we can.” 

This year’s scholarship winners: Emily Veri of the Villages Charter School; Jason Tejada-Chancey, Montverde Academy; Shepherd Smith, Hampden DuBose Academy; Blake Barnes, Forest High School and Andrea Gamez-Heredia, South Lake High School.

Tony Violanti writes about music and entertainment for Villages-News.com. He was inducted into The Buffalo Music Hall of Fame as a music journalist.

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