The Leonardo da Vinci Society of the Bay Area is celebrating its 70th Anniversary. Founded by Italiophiles who were captivated by the genius of...
Although the House of Italy is awaiting word as to when they can resume business at their original cottage in Balboa Park, it was business as usual in their temporary location in Our Lady of the Rosary where they held their monthly dinner and presentation meeting.
After the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the Italian National Anthem, Jim Cardinale, President of the Sons of Italy gave a brief narrative of the church’s history and explained that HOI could use the premises until they can return to Balboa Park.
Members provided antipasto, the traditional first course of a formal Italian meal. Italian bread, assorted cheeses, cured meats, and olives were served followed by catered pizzas of peperoncini, mushrooms and mozzarella. Gracing their monthly dinner was Grazietta Di Costanzo providing memorable Italian songs on her fisarmonica, while a slide show of Italian cities was projected on a wide screen for the members.
“We will be taking a passeggiata from the south of Italy, Sicily, to the north of Italy, Milano,” announced Italian Cultural Center President, Roberto Ruocco, who provided the slide show. “Anyone who would like to sing or dance, please be free to do so.”
The slides began with scenes from Sicily, while Di Constanzo played Volare to the welcoming applause of the Sicilians in the room. She then played the Neapolitan favorite O’ Sole Mio, to the pleasure and rousing singing of the organization’s members from Naples. The memorable Arrivederci drew applause as did Milano’s O Mia Bela Madunina from almost everyone in the room.
The music played, food was consumed, and members of HOI were inspired after Elaine Hinden showed her skilled ballerina moves. The young lady did several graceful pirouettes to the beat of the accordion, inspiring Cardinale and others to join in on the dance floor.
“I started studying the accordion at the age of eight,” recalled Di Costanzo, “my father also played the accordion and that’s where I got my inspiration, because he was very good at it.” At the age of nine, she was part of the Venezuelan Philharmonic Orchestra, being the youngest accordion player in the group of seven performers. “At age 13, I formed a jazz band with friends that were all sons and daughters of Italian Immigrants living in Venezuela.”
Di Costanzo‘s parents were Italians from the region of Abruzzo Italy, living in Venezuela where she picked up her second language, Spanish. Having performed earlier in her career in English and now having come to live here, she is a tri-linguist. At the age of 16 her music and vocal professor, Irene Eberstein, introduced her and integrated her talents into Coral Capella de Caracas, where she became a Soprano and the Cultural Ambassador of Venezuela.
“We travelled the world as I carried my 50 pound accordion, and performed in Europe, Asia, Africa and America,” recalled the accordionist. “In all those years, I never abandoned the accordion, continuing my studies in Venezuela, and presenting my exams in Italy, under strict rules of the music conservatory of Saint Cecilia at Rome.”
Di Costanzo has a son who started playing the piano at age four, and although very good at it, gave it up when he went to Italy because “no one was playing it.” She said, “He now laments ‘Mom, why did I stop?’ ” She has two sisters who are not in the least bit interested in music. Di Constanzo jokes, “they don’t like to sing, not even in the shower.”
“I feel really blessed by God, having had the opportunity to travel all around the world, and being blessed with my musical abilities,” said Di Constanzo. “Although I have travelled so much, it was hectic but now I can start again because I don’t have to travel, study, and work.
Having come to America approximately three years ago, Di Constanzo said she has aspirations to sing again and to get involved in the classical concert circuit, but for now is the Director of Property Services for Pacifica Real Estate Services. She praised Italy for “producing really good singers, not techno-music.”
The singer-accordionist has worked in New York for almost a year and felt at home there. “While I played, everyone was dancing and not looking at me,” said a shy Di Constanzo