Opera Company Lifts Hearts At 95th Birthday Celebration In Paramus
PARAMUS – The halls were alive with the sound of music at the CareOne nursing home Sunday, as three members of a Fort Lee opera company performed favorites from the Italian romantic opera tradition as well as Broadway show tunes, in honor of a resident’s 95th birthday.Anna Kievitt, the birthday honoree, clasped her hands in rapture and lip-synced along with the words as the singers from the Verismo Opera Association of New Jersey performed such familiar staples as “O soave Fanciulla,” the romantic duet from the first act of Puccini’s “La Boheme.”
Kievitt’s blue eyes sparkled as brightly as the far-fewer-than 95 candles on her birthday cake as she sat in her wheelchair along with about 25 other residents and tapped her fingers to keep time with the music.
“And about 10 or 15 more people were standing outside in the hallway,” said Astrid Frank, an administrator at the nursing home. “There weren’t enough chairs. It was standing room only.”
Lucine Amara, artistic director of the Verismo company, a non-profit organization that performs for community groups throughout North Jersey, was one of the singers, along with the company’s stage director Evelyn LaQuais and the tenor Jose Hereida.
Kievitt and the other residents also swayed to the hauntingly wistful strains of “Un Bel Di,” the aria from Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” that expresses a 15-year-old geisha bride’s desire as she longingly awaits the return of the American naval officer who married her on a previous trip to Japan.
Frank said Kievitt, who has no family of her own, had often told her lawyer, Kimberly A. Paton, how much she loved opera. So as a surprise, Paton arranged for the Verismo troupe to sing for her client and the other residents.
And sing they did, for an hour and a half. “They loved it,” Frank said. “They were waving their arms to the music, and they were moving their lips along with the words that were so familiar to many of them. The connection with music was just so enlivening for them.”
And finally, as it came time to share the birthday cake, Kievitt donned a celebratory tiara as the opera singers joined residents in a chorus of “Happy Birthday.” A silver-lettered banner stuck into the cake with toothpicks expressed what everyone was thinking. “Go Girl,” it said.