Honoring Italy at the Intrepid Museum


By Masha Leon — With Reporting by Karen Leon.

Published March 31, 2006, issue of May 19, 2006.
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“My name is Guillermo Bianco. [Tonight] we are all Italians and welcome you,” Intrepid Foundation President Bill White proclaimed at the March l Intrepid Freedom Award dinner honoring Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Among the 1,000 black-tie and uniformed guests aboard the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum were Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman; Georgette Mosbacher, chairman and CEO of the beauty company Borghese; Cantor Fitzgerald CEO Howard Lutnick; Bruce Mosler, president and CEO of Cushman & Wakefield; Sirio Maccione of Le Cirque; race car driver Mario Andretti; Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations, and Sarah Ferguson, duchess of York.

“My father’s name, Larry Fisher, was actually Lorenzo Fishendo,” foundation chairman Arnold Fisher joshed, touting the museum’s mission “to serve the great city of New York in order to honor those who served our country and presently do, and encourage young Americans to appreciate the country in which they are blessed to live.” Fisher alluded to an article titled, “To Kill an American,” written by “someone in Pakistan offering a reward to anyone who killed an American, any American. An Australian dentist wrote an editorial the next day to let everyone know what an American is.” Fisher read: “‘An American is English, or French, or Italian, Irish, German, Spanish, Polish, Russian or Greek. An American may also be Canadian, Mexican, African, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Iranian, Asian, Arab, Pakistani or Afghan. An American may also be a Comanche, Osage, Cherokee, Blackfoot, Navaho, Apache, Seminole. An American is Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or Muslim. So you can try to kill an American if you must, but in doing so you would just be killing yourself. Americans are [the] embodiment of the human spirit of freedom. Everyone who holds that spirit everywhere is an American.’ It says it all for all of us.”

“I’ve known [Berlusconi] for a long time,” said event chairman Joseph Perella, vice chairman of Morgan Stanley. “He said to me: ‘Joe, I will always be a supporter of America, because I know whose soldiers are buried in my country.’” After accepting the Freedom Award medal from foundation vice chairman Michael Stern, Berlusconi (with the help of a simultaneous translator) declared con brio: “We are all Americans! Freedom is like a string held tight. It is a conditional freedom. It is important to defend freedom in countries where there is less and less freedom, [which] comes only if you have democracy. We have to address people who hate our civilization, our values, our lifestyle. These people exploit those who are hungry, poor, desperate. We cannot always leave it up to America. It is a huge battle that will take years and years. My country is always together with your country.” Holding up the medal, he said: “I dedicate this to the American and Italian soldiers.”

* * *

The recent anniversary gala for Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education, an institute that brings dance, film, music, theater and visual arts into classrooms in New York’s metropolitan area and across the nation, honored composer/arranger Stanley Silverman. Recipient of Obie and Drama Desk awards, and a Grammy nomination for Joseph Papp’s production of “The Threepenny Opera,” Silverman has had his music performed by conductors Pierre Boulez and Michael Tilson Thomas. In an evening short on speeches and long on music, Silverman said it all: “We need to keep alive live music. We must save our artistic heritage.” Capping this unique evening was James Taylor, who sang both his own hits and those of others (e.g.,“Carolina on My Mind” “Up on the Roof,” “Getting To Know You” [from the musical “The King and I”]) and, backed by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, performed works arranged by Silverman.

Contributing to the evening’s success were LCI Chairman Susan Rudin and her husband, philantropist Jack Rudin; Lincoln Center President Reynold Levy; New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn; New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein; Beverly Sills; Brooke Shields, and corporate co-chair Ben Silverman, the honoree’s son. With more than 25 television series to his name, Silverman the younger has worked as a producer on “The Office,” “30 Days” and “The Biggest Loser.”

* * *

Among the venues at which I regularly met opera singer Anna Moffo Sarnoff, an American soprano who died March 9, was the annual Spirit of Achievement luncheon of the Women’s Division of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, at which the Lizette H. Sarnoff Award for Volunteer Service (named for Anna’s mother-in-law) was presented to a worthy recipient. The award was established following Lizette Sarnoff’s death in 1972. At Anna’s March 15 funeral at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, mourners included conductor Gilbert Levine, Donald and Barbara Tober, respectively co-CEO of Sugar Foods (distributor of Sweet ’N Low) and the leading force behind the American Museum of Arts and Design (she is the former editor in chief of Bride’s magazine); New Jersey State Opera president Luna Kaufman, a survivor of the Krakow ghetto, and Tony Manning, Sarnoff’s longtime friend and neighbor. Anna Sarnoff is remembered as more than an opera star with a spectacular voice; her stepdaughter, Rosita, described her as “a fiercely independent woman. When [Moffo] married my father [RCA chairman, Robert Sarnoff], she discovered that Thanksgiving at the Sarnoff home was different: They served brisket.” Manning later told me: “Her dining room table was always set for 16. She would ponder the settings, then decide whom to invite.” Levine, who had worked with Sarnoff, told me: “She was a remarkably intelligent woman, an artist with a broad intellect, a Yankees fan and a phenomenal cook who mixed her [dinner] guests like she mixed the ingredients of her osso buco. At the funeral, her recording of Rachmaninoff’s ‘Vocalise,’ an aria without words, brought me and many to tears at the purity of her voice.” She will be missed.

* * *

Last Sunday, the usually pulsating Korean, Latin and American pop music piped in at HanAhReum, a Korean supermarket in Queens, was interrupted by Joan Baez’s recording of “Dona Dona.” Could composer Sholom Secunda and lyricist Aaron Zeitlin ever have imagined that their song, “Oyf a furl/Ligt a kelbl” — “On a wagon bound for market/There’s a calf with a mournful eye”— with its upbeat refrain, “Dona, Dona, Dona,” would be entertaining Korean shoppers along produce aisles?

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