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Panuccio Returns for Fifth "O Holy Night"

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Nov 27, 2014 - 12:46:37 PM in news_2014

As an artist, tenor Marco Panuccio views his role as, in part, to educate his audience.

Panuccio, who is producing his Emmy-nominated (20014) “O Holy Night: An Evening of Holiday Song” for the fifth straight year this season, wants not only to educate, “but to explain where my ideas for these pieces came from.

“Then it breaks down that fourth wall between the audience and the performer and makes it whole. When they leave, they don’t feel like they were a member of the audience. They feel like they were a part of the performance.”

Panuccio, who likes to talk to his audience, has a new show for 2014, with many lesser known works. There will be Polish, Italian, French, Austrian and American music – even a Gaelic encore. It spans the Baroque, from Johann Sebastian Bach (“Frohe Hirte, eilt, ach eilet” from his Christmas Oratorio) “all the way up to contemporary,” he said.

“There is a lot new this year” -- including a couple of delicious surprises, he hinted. “You need to take the audience on a journey. Otherwise, it would be boring.”

There will be three ‘Ave Marias,” for instance, “all unfamiliar,” by Saint-Saens, Leoncavallo and Polish composer Jakub Kowalewski.

“When I told the audience – I think it was in Augusta – that there were over 2,000 ‘Ave Marias,’ they gasped. It’s my job to educate them and let them know that there are more ‘Ave Marias’ out there than the Schubert and the Bach we know.”

There will be two different programs accessible to the Cincinnati audience, one Monday evening, Dec. 1, at Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Lebanon, and Friday, Dec. 12, at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral in Cincinnati. The first, which is the touring show, is an intimate recital, with Panuccio and pianist Matthew Umphreys.

The Cincinnati show will feature the 19-piece O Holy Night Orchestra led by conductor Jesse Leong. A feature of that program will be Gerald Finzi’s achingly beautiful Eclogue, Op. 10, for orchestra. “I have three beautiful sopranos again this year that will be singing from the balcony. They’re going to join me in three pieces, as well, on that concert,” said Panuccio.

Other shows will take place in Easton and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Wheaton, Illinois and Augusta and Milledgeville, Georgia.

“O Holy Night” is “a labor of love” for Panuccio and he spares no effort in preparing it.

“I do everything,” he said. “I’m not kidding you -- from designing the logo, going to the web site, setting up sales of tickets (at brownpapertickets.com), designing the program, getting all the programs to the printer and having them mailed out to all the cities.”

To obtain the orchestra parts for John Kander’s “Letter from Sullivan Ballou” (a favorite that he performs on every concert), he went all the way to the Secretary of State of Missouri, Jason Kander, Kander’s great-uncle, who put him in touch with the composer.

Panuccio does not have an administrative assistant, he said, “because it’s my business and I need to know -- if somebody calls me from Milledgeville and they are the vice president of a company, I want to know who this person is. I want to thank this person and then I want to comp this person, because they are doing a service for me. I want to have that personal connection.”

Though he has had a lot of opportunities since he started the show five years ago, Panuccio has turned them down “because this is mine and I want to keep producing it. I want to keep doing it in Cincinnati, because this is where I got my break, basically. It’s where I started my career. It’s where I was nurtured and honed my craft (he studied at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and sang in the choir at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral).

Panuccio lives in Clifton near the Cincinnati Zoo. “I can hear the elephants in the morning when they start to fanfare. I love it.”

Does he get enough rest?

“I don’t need it, five hours a night. I go to bed about 2 a.m. and get up about 7 a.m. As soon as I’m up, I’m on the computer, e-mailing and doing everything. After 5 o ‘clock, I start practicing. Then I do my memorizing, listen to YouTube, drink my glass of wine, think of what I need to do the next day and write my list of priorities.”

“I’m very fortunate how fast I can memorize,” he added. Just before going to sleep, he lies in bed with the music and goes over it line by line. “In the morning, it’s there.”

Panuccio will have only a few nights off during the holiday season. “In the beginning of January, I’ll have some time off. Then I will sit back with a nice bottle of wine from my wine cellar.”

“O Holy Night: An Evening of Holiday Song”

Dec. 1. 7:30 p.m. Lebanon Presbyterian Church. Lebanon, Ohio. Matthew Umphreys, collaborative pianist. Tickets are $25, $15 for students. Visit lebanon.brownpapertickets.com, or call 1-800-838-3006.

Dec. 3. 7:30 p.m. Saint John Lutheran Church, Easton, Pennsylvania. David McConnell, collaborative pianist. Tickets are $25, $15 for students. Visit easton.brownpapertickets.com, or call 1-800-838-3006.

Dec. 7. 3 p.m. Westminster Presbyterian Church. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Collaborative pianist to be announced. Tickets are $25, $15 for students. Visit pittsburgh.brownpapertickets.com, or call 1-800-838-3006.

Dec. 12. 8 p.m. Saint Peter in Chains Cathedral. Cincinnati, Ohio. O Holy Night Orchestra. Jesse Leong, conductor. Matthew Umphreys, collaborative pianist. Tickets are $25, $15 for students. Visit cincinnati.brownpapertickets.com, or call 1-800-838-3006.

Dec. 14. 3 p.m. Saint John Lutheran Church. Wheaton, Illinois. Collaborative pianist tba. Tickets are $25, $15 for students. Visit wheaton.brownpapertickets.com, or call 1-800-838-3006.

Dec. 19. 7:30 p.m. Covenant Presbyterian Church. Augusta, Georgia. Jason Maynard, collaborative pianist. Tickets are $25, $15 for students. Visit augusta.brownpapertickets.com, or call 1-800-838-3006.

Dec. 20. 7:30 p.m. First Presbyterian Church. Milledgeville, Georgia. Jason Maynard, collaborative pianist. Tickets are $25, $15 for students. Visit milledgeville.brownpapertickets.com, or call 1-800-838-3006.

Touring program (six cities, Dec. 1-20):

Handel, “Comfort ye” and “Ev’ry Valley” from “Messiah;" Britten, “I Wonder as I Wander”; Traditional, “Joy to the World” (sing along); Wilberg, “Still, Still, Still”; Dewagtere, “Tu scendi dalle stelle"; Saint-Saens, “Ave Maria"; Kander, “Letter from Sullivan Ballou”; Gannon, “I’ll be Home for Christmas”; Martinet, “Petit Papa Noël”; DeFord, “Silent Night/Still, Still, Still (piano solo); Traditional, “Silent Night” (sing along); Adam, “O Holy Night”; Leoncavallo, “Ave Maria”

Cincinnati program (Dec. 12, St. Peter in Chains Cathedral):

Bach, “Frohe Hirte, eilt, ach eilet” from Christmas Oratorio; Traditional, “Hodie Christus natus est”; Wilberg, “Still, Still, Still”; Kowalewski, “Ave Maria”; Finzi, Eclogue, Op. 10; Traditional, “Joy to the World (sing along); Traditional, “Tu scendi dale stelle”; Traditional, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (with chant); Spangler, “Gabriel’s Message"; Mascagni,“Sancta Maria”; Kander, “Letter from Sullivan Ballou”; Gannon, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”; Saint-Saens, “Ave Maria”; Wolf-Ferrari, Intermezzo from “I gioielli della Madonna”; Spangler, “Silent Night (sing along); Adam, “O Holy Night”; Leoncavallo, “Ave Maria”