So, in 1970 when Union City's Carmela and Leonard Altamura decided to create a performing arts company, Inter-Cities Performing Arts, Inc., their hope was that it would grow, but the rate that the company has grown was beyond anyone's ability to foresee.
Begun as what was essentially a neighborhood educational enterprise, the Altamuras soon discovered that they didn't have to look far to offer something of value to the community. The Altamuras realized that many of North Hudson's residents were recent émigrés from other countries whose rich cultures aligned with what the Altamuras wanted to accomplish with the company - bringing the joy of signing, opera specifically, to a population that might not be aware of its power.
And after 16 years of growth and feeling the need to increase its reach both musically and geographically, the company established the Altamura/Caruso International Voice Competition. The competition's name is meant to honor of famed Italian opera singer Enrico Caruso.
"Our company was founded to cultivate ethnic, social, professional and cultural relations," said Carmela Altamura. "Broadening our perimeters was the next logical step."
This year's competition was scheduled to take place on Friday, March 26 and was to draw singers from around the world. Held at the Grand Ballroom at The Lambs in Manhattan, competitors from such countries as Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, Korea, Latvia, Mexico, Poland and Russia were scheduled to compete for cash prizes totaling $22,500. Winners also get an opportunity to perform title roles in fully staged operas such as I Pagliacci, Cavalleria Rusticana and The Marriage of Figaro at the Altamura Center for Arts and Culture and also to appear as soloists at the Hudson River Regional Festival, held in August in the Catskill region of New York State.
"It's amazing how it has grown," said Altamura. "They say that 'fools rush in where angels fear to tread' and I guess that sums it up. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I've fallen down, gotten back up, fallen down, gotten back up. But I keep trying."
As a soprano trained in Milan, Italy, Altamura opened the Inter-Cities Performing Arts Company to give back to the community.
Altamura believes that the company and the competition has a much greater role in the world at large than just producing great singers.
"Besides it being a world-renowned international competition, it is shaping up to be a beacon for world peace," said Altamura. "Many of the winners express their hopes for peace in their speeches."
Also, from a professional point of view, the competition is a springboard for vocalists.
"It really is a launching pad for the competitors. Many managers come to the competitions and meet the competitors."
Several Altamura competition winners have gone on to sing title roles on the world's major opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera and Teatro a al Scala.
One winner, Kim Josephson, had all but given up his aspiration to become an opera singer. However, in 1991, Josephson took second place in the Altamura/Caruso Competition and before long, the baritone was realizing his dreams by singing title roles at the Metropolitan Opera.
Another competitor, Angela Brown from Indianapolis, Indiana, took first prize in the 2001 competition and this fall will sing the title role in Aida at the Metropolitan Opera.
In 2000, the arts company expanded its horizons yet again when it opened the Altamura Center for the Arts and Cultures, located 40 miles south of Albany, New York in the town of Round Top.
According to Altamura spokesperson Jody Wise, "the arts center is a haven for aspiring young opera singers."
Wise said that an exclusive group of singers selected by the Altamuras participate in the center's 'Encounters with the Masters' residency program.
"Many world-renowned teachers have taken part in this program," said Wise.
The Altamuras expanded the scope of the competition and made waves in the classical vocal world in the early 90's, when the age limit for competitors was moved from 31 years of age to the late 30s. This changed everything.
"Restrictive age limits prohibit young artists, particularly late bloomers and those with more dramatic voices, from developing their full potential," said Altamura.
And most people involved with the classical vocal world wholeheartedly agreed with the move. This expanded age limit has now become standard practice in major voice competitions worldwide.
Information on the Altamuras performing arts schools can be obtained by visiting www.altocanto.org.