ASBURY PARK, NJ — As a young operatic soprano, she sang the title role of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House; performed regularly on radio, and shared the Verona stage with the legendary Maria Callas in “Turandot.”
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The Stephen Crane House salutes the artistic legacy of the late Metro Lyric Opera founder Madame Era Tognoli (pictured at left on a 2009 visit to the Crane House) with a pair of cinematic opera adaptations on Sunday, July 17. (Photo courtesy asburyradio.com)

It wasn’t until a chance 1959 visit to Asbury Park, however, that Era Tognoli would be inspired by the project that would become her calling, her passion, and her greatest legacy — the presentation of live grand opera, in the seaside city that stole her heart.

As founder and impresaria of what would come to be called Metro Lyric Opera, Madame Era Tognoli would stage an incredible 50 seasons of classics from the operatic canon — 45 of them as a year-round resident of nearby Allenhurst — under the proscenium of the Paramount Theatre. Working on a shoestring budget; persevering through some of the most uncertain times in the city’s history, “The Madame” served as producer, artistic director, respected mentor and unwavering den mother to a company of believers that ranged from young area students in their first full-length productions, to internationally renowned conductor and lifelong friend Anton Coppola.

With Madame Tognoli’s passing earlier this year at the age of 92, the soaring voices would appear to have been stilled for the nonce above the Asbury boards — but on the afternoon and evening of Sunday, July 17, the historic Stephen Crane House will pay tribute to this beloved and tireless advocate of art and culture, with an intimate screening event that spotlights cinematic adaptations of two frequently produced favorites from the Metro Lyric Opera repertory.

At 4:00 p.m., Placido Domingo and Teresa Stratas head a stellar cast in director Franco Zeffirelli’s 1982 filming of Ruggerio Leoncavallo’s iconic “Pagliacci.” Domingo and Zeffirelli also collaborated later that same year on a captured performance of Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana,” showing in the Crane House theatre and lecture room at 5:30 p.m.

As Crane House owner and curator Frank D’Alessandro explains, “Both are classic tragic operas in Italian with English subtitles. Both are considered one-act operas by young composers who created one-hit wonders. Both are about infidelity, murder, and mayhem. And both were often presented so well by Madame Tognoli’s opera company.”

Although D’Alessandro notes that “this summer will not be the same” without the “great lady” who visited the Crane House for a 2009 recital by soprano Joanne Baiano-Roy, the music will continue on the afternoon of August 14 with another Madame Tognoli favorite — Puccini’s “La Traviata,” taped live from Milan’s La Scala opera house.

As with all film events at the Stephen Crane House, admission is free (donations by check or in cash are accepted on behalf of Asbury Park Little League), with audiences invited to enjoy one or both films on the July 17 program, in addition to complimentary light refreshments served in the adjoining reception area. Seating is extremely limited, with advance reservations (strongly recommended) accepted on a first-come, first-served basis at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Originally constructed in 1878 under the name of Arbutus Cottage, The Stephen Crane House has been rechristened here in the 21st century in honor of the American novelist, journalist and short story author Stephen Crane (1871-1900), who resided in the Fourth Avenue home at the beginning of his career as a writer. Having been rescued from the brink of demolition, the historic house is in the process of being renovated as a museum dedicated to the life and times of the man who wrote “The Red Badge of Courage” and other literary classics. Frequently in use as a host venue for theater, film, music and spoken word events, as well as a meeting place for arts groups and other nonprofit organizations, The Stephen Crane House is committed to serving the greater Asbury Park community as a resource for the support and celebration of our city’s rich cultural life and heritage.