Highland Park Sister Cities Foundation Blends Mariachi, Opera & Baseball
Julie Kemp Pick - Daily North Shore
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December 19, 2016

Cultures United by Music mural donated to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

HIGHLAND PARK – The Highland Park Sister Cities Foundation recently traveled south of the border to host an opera exchange between two of the city’s three Sister Cities, Modena, Italy, and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Highland Park’s third Sister City is in Yerucham, Israel.

“The mission of the Sister Cities Foundation is to bridge cultures and promote goodwill and global peace by providing cultural and educational exchanges, as well as governmental, professional, economic partnerships and humanitarian assistance,” said Mayor Nancy Rotering at the November 28 City Council meeting, when the foundation gave a presentation.

Foundation President Carol Wolfe explained why the Italian opera from Modena traveled to Puerto Vallarta: “Modena is the home of Pavarotti and opera, so we brought opera from one city to another, which was an exceptionally unique experience,” she said. Members of the foundation were fortunate to arrive at the opera shortly before the travelers from Modena, who were overwhelmed by the number of people from Puerto Vallarta who came to greet them.

Wolfe said the foundation took a photo with the opera stars in front of the Sister City’s mural, which was painted at a Sister City event at Ravinia Festival by a Chicago muralist. The mural is a gift from the people of Highland Park to the people of Puerto Vallarta. “Cultures United by Music is the name of the mural and if you’ll note in the left hand corner is Jorge Federico Osorio, because he was the guest artist at Ravinia Festival that night,” she added.

Guests of the Highland Park Sister Cities Foundation met Puerto Vallarta Mayor Arturo Pena Davalos at the International Gourmet Festival, which had over 600 attendees. When the opera stars took the stage at the festival “it was like bel canto meets gourmet food,” said Wolfe.

The first concert was at the Teatro Vallarta, which seats 1,000 people, and the first act was the youth orchestra, which played instruments that Highland Park Sister Cities Foundation donated to them, said Wolfe. “Then the opera singers took the stage and the audience kept cheering, and was rewarded with many encores. We were called up on stage and I presented the certificates in honor of our Mayor Nancy Rotering to the Italian opera stars as people were cheering ‘brava Highland Park,’ ” she added.

Wolfe explained that the next concert took place in the working class neighborhood of Pitillal Square, a suburban area east of downtown Vallarta where most of the street vendors and people who work in the community live. The concert was in an open square across from their church. “Hundreds and hundreds of people were sitting around listening to Italian ballads and opera,” she said. “In every building people were leaning out of windows to enjoy the music. After the concert we went to an authentic Mexican fiesta and it was opera meets mariachi.”

The last concert was at Café des Artistes. The owner/chef Thierry Blouet runs the Gourmet Festival and he also helped run the event at Ravinia Festival. Wolfe said he’s been very supportive of the foundation. “At one point soprano Rossana Piccaluga who’s a bit of a drama star saw a nice looking man who was walking to the restroom and she grabbed him and started singing a love song with him. It was really funny and each concert had its own personality,” she added.

Then Wolfe described a heartwarming moment that occurred at Cafe des Artistes.when a woman approached pianist Claudia Rondelli after she had missed that evening’s performance. “Claudia told us that the woman, a beach vendor had been to the concert at Pitillal Square, and wanted to hear the performers again, so she invited her to the café,” said Wolfe. “When the Italian performers found out that she missed the concert they grabbed their music, and gathered around the piano to give her a private serenade. Everyone in the restaurant was moved to tears.”

At an event at City Hall the performers received engraved sculptures with a crown on top of the Church of Guadalupe. The Director of Culture Armando Soltaro said, “The lives of residents of Puerto Vallarta have been enriched forever.”

The foundation distributed Cubs World Series T-shirts, which was “truly a blending of cultures as we had Italy, Puerto Vallarta and the Chicago Cubs,” said Wolfe while reflecting on her experience. “I thought about how Highland Park’s Sister Cities program touches people in ways that we don’t even realize. Opera has the ability to move souls, as it’s just magical,” she added.

Read the original at Daily North Shore.

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