Published August 23. 2014 2:06PM Updated August 24. 2014 12:35AM
Stonington — Looking back on the early years of the Sergio Franchi Memorial Concert, the famed tenor’s widow, Eva Franchi, told the audience at Saturday’s 20th annual event, “You guys came. You showed up. And we blossomed like a flower.”
Indeed, the show has become a huge draw for audiences and a popular destination for performers. The lineup Saturday featured, among other luminaries, a member of Il Divo and vocalists who have performed at the Metropolitan Opera.
Franchi died in 1990 after battling brain cancer. Four years later, Eva organized a concert in his memory — a concert to raise money for a scholarship fund for young vocalists.
Saturday’s show at the Franchi estate in Stonington didn’t dwell too much on the anniversary element of the day but rather focused on the music, with a dynamic mix of opera and standards.
Latonia Moore, who has sung the title role of “Aida” at the Metropolitan Opera, performed “Summertime” and “Un bel di” from “Madama Butterfly.”
David Miller — a member of the operatic pop musical quartet Il Divo — dueted with his wife, soprano Sarah Joy Miller, on “O soave fanciulla” from “La Boheme,” and both did solos as well.
James Valenti — who portrayed Pinkerton in “Madama Butterfly” at the Met recently and who had his Franchi concert debut 15 years ago, when he was just 20 — sang “E lucevan le stelle” from “Tosca,” among other numbers.
Franchi, who served as the concert’s emcee, aptly noted, “Here in Stonington, we have a little touch of Metropolitan Opera House.” Valenti said this is always one of his favorite places to come.
Franchi said of the singers, many of whom, like Valenti, return to the concerts in subsequent years, “I feel like they are my kids. I really mean it.”
Some performers even flew into the country for the event. Dongwon Shin arrived from South Korea, and Selim Kagee landed from South Africa, where his song “Cry for Love” was a No. 1 single.
Looking out from the stage, Franchi told the crowd, “I see so many new faces. ... You look happy, and that makes me happy.”
For three hours before the 2 p.m. concert, visitors could stroll the bucolic property. Some ducked into the house, which was open for viewing; they perused the hallway wall of photos of Sergio Franchi with everyone from President Ronald Reagan to Julie Andrews, and they saw, for instance, the dining room table, set as if a formal dinner might be in the offing.
Outside, they admired the display of antique cars, with a few folks standing in front of Sergio Franchi’s Mercedes to snap photos.
On the expansive lawn, they picnicked. They pulled cheese and grapes and wine and sandwiches and more from their coolers and picnic baskets.
Some visitors were Franchi-concert regulars, while others counted as first-timers. Even within one group of eight friends, there was a mix of the two. One of them mentioned how this type of music brings her back to childhood, and another touted the pleasure of spending an afternoon with pals at a concert. Susan DePino of Guilford, who figures this was probably her fifth or sixth Franchi show, said, “I love it — I love the whole thing.”
Among the Franchi novices were Dolores Gallagher, who made the two-hour trek from Woodbury with daughters Diana and Roberta. They brought her as a sort of belated 80th birthday celebration.
Gallagher has always loved Sergio Franchi, with the 78-RPM records to show for it. She was moved by his voice and said, “Some of the songs he sang — I just get chills.”
She added with a laugh, “He’s good to look at.”
She and her daughters were thoroughly enjoying the Franchi-concert experience.
“I think we’ll do this on a regular basis now,” Gallagher said. “It’s worth it.”