The Capital District is a cultural melting pot of beliefs, religions and histories. Through a joined love of Italian culture, one local organization is hoping to share its heritage the best way possible – through Italian food and entertainment.
Presented by the American Italian Heritage Association and Museum, “Viva Italia” will showcase a night of Italian opera, professional dancing and Italian cuisine by local Chef Michael Cocca at the Franklin Terrace Ballroom, 126 Campbell Ave. in Troy, on Friday, Sept. 6, from 6:30 to 11 p.m.
The event, which the organizers said will help spread the love of Italian culture, will also benefit the American Italian Heritage Association and Museum. The nearly 35-year-old organization opened its first museum in Utica in 1985 before moving to its new home at 1227 Central Ave. in Albany. Now, the international organization has 1,200 members from 38 states and several different nations.
Philip J. DiNovo, president of the museum and association, said the museum is the largest Italian American museum in the east.
“The purpose of the museum is to honor the Italian immigrants, tell their story and the contributions of Italian Americans,” DiNovo said.
However, to keep up with the nonprofit’s roughly $120,000-a-year expenses, DiNovo said they put on about six fundraisers annually. This September, they wanted to try out something new by establishing “Viva Italia.”
“It’s going to be a wonderful opportunity to get exposure, to raise money, but also those that are coming are going to see a wonderful program,” DiNovo said. “It’s going to be a top-notch event.”
For $65 a person, attendees get a cocktail hour with a large selection of appetizers, cash bar and a traditional Italian dinner with two full meals.
Soprano Rosanne Graziano Hargrave and accompanist Michael Clement will perform Italian opera and songs, including pieces by Verdi, Puccini and Catalani, and lead sing-a-longs.
Graziano Hargrave, who is also the president of the Monday Musical Club in Albany, said as a grandchild of four Sicilian immigrants, singing Italian arias is a great way to get back in touch with her culture.
“I think there are people out there that are somewhat removed from their Italian heritage and would come to an event like to touch base again with a lot of who they are as people,” Graziano Hargrave said.
Yet DiNovo insisted people don’t have to be Italian to attend the event. Dancer Louise Giuliano, who will be dancing with her husband Paul, is originally from Japan.
“I’m not Italian, but you don’t have to be to appreciate Italian culture,” said Giuliano, whose husband was born in Sicily.
Giuliano joins dancers of the West Side Story Formation Team.
“They’re very famous for the passion they bring to this dance. It’s going to be a passionate Italian tango,” Giuliano said.
As for the food, Cocca, the chief executive officer and corporate executive chef at Franklin Plaza, said he’s keeping the focus of the night on traditional Italian event-styled dinners.
“Anytime I grew up with either a Sunday dinner or event, this was how the meal went. That’s the format we’re following, a typical special event in an Italian home,” Cocca said.
The ballroom dinner will feature two full meals. The first course will be a baked white fish and the second will feature veal with potatoes, salad and more.
“Usually our biggest complaint is that it’s too much food, but that’s Italian food!” Cocca said.
Dessert will include an array of Italian pastries, including cannoli.
With the entertainment and food, DiNovo said he knows it will be a great night for adults in the Capital District.
“We hope they’ll get dressed up in their nicest clothes, sit around with a drink in hand, appetizer. They’re going to have a great time,” he said.
For more information or reservations, call 393-3138.