Perfect Harmony


Somewhere, Mario Lanza is beaming with pride. That’s because seven of his vocalistic brethren are joining forces to further the career of another tenor.

Next Sunday, all eight of the singers, each with South Philly ties, will take the stage at the Philadelphia Ethical Society on Rittenhouse Square to perform in a concert promoted as "The 8 Tenors."

The proceeds from the performance will benefit Pablo Veguilla, who hopes to further his promising operatic career by singing and training in Italy and throughout Europe.

"That’s where opera was born," says Veguilla, 29. "That’s where all the customs, the traditions, the culture are. You don’t get some of that here in America because a lot of the stories are based around the different lifestyles that exist in Europe."

Veguilla’s friend and fellow tenor Dallas Bono, 32, organized the show. Bono says the show was not just a tribute to Veguilla’s talent, but also their friendship.

"We’ve always been very supportive of each other," Bono says.

Veguilla was born in Chicago but grew up in Orlando, Fla. He was introduced to opera in high school through a program run by the county. Still, it was not until he attended a concert in which he heard his high-school choir teacher perform that he considered a career as an opera singer.

After graduating from high school, Veguilla attended Florida State University, where he met Bono; both singers majored in opera. The two have been close friends ever since — Veguilla was Bono’s best man when he married opera singer Kendall Cookogey in May.

College was also where Veguilla studied with renowned tenor and South Philly native Enrico DiGiuseppe. The prot�g� went on to earn his master’s degree in opera at Yale University.

Bono recalls turning on to opera singing as an 18-year-old while watching Luciano Pavarotti perform Nessun Dorma on television.

"The power of his voice, it is really unlike anything anyone has ever heard," he says. "When you listen to Pavarotti or [Andrea] Bocelli or any of the great tenors … the power of their voice is awe-inspiring."

After he graduated from Florida State, Bono returned to his home in Colorado. Then, about four years ago, he received a call from Veguilla.

His college friend wanted to inform him that Veguilla’s former teacher, DiGiuseppe, was retiring from singing in New York and returning to Philadelphia. Veguilla convinced Bono to also move back to the city, where the two shared an apartment near 10th and Tasker streets while studying under DiGiuseppe.

Bono has sung on stages around the country, including in Philadelphia, New York, Houston and St. Louis, during the last several years. He also has participated in several apprenticeships. The singer supplements his opera income through a business he started last year called Bel Canto Catering. Bono — who worked in the kitchen of a four-star restaurant in Colorado — prepares meals for customers, then sings a concert for them after dinner.

Veguilla has performed in New York and briefly in Italy during the last five years. He also received the 2001 Alfonso Cavaliere Memorial Award, a locally sponsored honor in the name of a late, great Broadway conductor from South Philly. Veguilla hopes his move to Europe for an extended stay will provide him with the experience many opera companies in the United States look for when they hire singers.

"It is easier once you have European credentials to make a break in the United States because they feel you studied where opera is from," he says.

Veguilla will be splitting time between Italy and Germany. There are many more opportunities, he says, for a young singer to work in the opera there as his voice develops. For male opera singers, it is widely believed the voice does not fully mature until age 35-40.

The singer is eager for his European journey.

"Opera is a part of the life there. It’s part of culture," Veguilla says. "It’s been there for hundreds of years. People take you much more seriously when you say you’re an opera singer. They know the dedication it takes, they know you are serious about what you do."

The benefit concert for Veguilla’s trip was amazingly simple to organize. It took just two hours and several phone calls, Bono says.

"The reason this is happening is because Pablo is such a good guy," he says. "Any person that meets him and sings with him is pretty much immediately his friend."

Besides Veguilla and Bono, the concert will feature six other South Philly tenors. DiGiuseppe, the teacher, has sung with the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Opera, The Opera Company of Philadelphia and the New York Grand Opera, among others, during his distinguished career.

Frank Tenaglia is an award-winning vocalist and graduate of South Philadelphia High School who grew up on the 1300 block of Dudley Street. He has performed with Peter Nero and the Philly Pops and has sung internationally, including a performance before the pope in honor of Padre Pio.

Andrew Benoit is a leading Wagnerian tenor who has performed throughout Europe.

Frank Borda owns the Franco and Luigi’s pizzerias and a restaurant, where he and several of the other singers often delight customers with their operatic talents.

Frank Munafo has performed at the Academy of Vocal Arts and the Curtis Institute of Music. He has sung with opera companies in Philadelphia, Delaware and New York. Munafo also owns Munafo’s Meat Market in the Italian Market.

And Phil Mancuso also makes a living in the food industry. Mancuso has been making cheese in his shop, Mancuso and Son, on East Passyunk Avenue for more than 50 years. For that same amount of time, he has been singing opera.

The singers will perform as an ensemble and individually. Veguilla will be featured singing Una Furtiva Lacrima from Gaetano Donizetti’s Elixir of Love, among other pieces.

The honoree of the concert is flattered by the support of his colleagues and says it is rare to have so many friends within the industry.

"It is a tremendous feeling to have this many people support you and back you and feel that strongly about your art," Veguilla says. "It’s like them saying, ‘We believe in you so we want to give you this opportunity.’"

"The 8 Tenors" concert will be held Jan. 19, 2 p.m., at the Philadelphia Ethical Society, 1906 S. Rittenhouse Square. Tickets are $15 per person. For tickets and information, call 215-468-2134.