August 15, 2016 12:10PM
By BROOKE CONSTANCE WHITE
Special to The Sun
STONINGTON — Westerly resident Jim Rattray said he felt, at the Sergio Franchi 21st Annual Memorial Concert, as though he were being welcomed into the Franchi family for an afternoon.
“This is their life. Each year at these concerts, Eva Franchi invites us to be a part of her life together with Sergio,” he said. “The setting of their home and estate is just so amazing and inspirational. Being a part of this concert each summer is one of the magical things about this area.”
Rattray was among more than 3,000 visitors gathered at the Franchi estate Saturday afternoon to celebrate the work of the Italian-American singer who passed away in 1990. For the past 20 years, his widow, Eva, has hosted the event on the expansive property where she lived with Sergio and still lives today.
This year, as in previous years, when the grounds south of Pequot Trail opened at 11 a.m. and before the concert began at 2 p.m., Sergio’s vintage car collection was brought out and tours were given of their house and chapel. Most attendees brought along finger foods and wine to enjoy under the sunshine before and during the afternoon concert.
At the concert’s start, people cheered and clapped for Eva as she walked on stage, looking elegant in a slinky black dress, to introduce the event. Later, the melodic voices of the singers echoed throughout the rolling fields of the Franchi property.
“It’s a concert but it’s also Sergio’s garden party. It’s in his grounds, his home, everything you see and touch is a part of him,” she said. “This event was born simply from the people who loved him and don’t want to forget him. Every year I say it may be the last year but they won’t let us stop, they love him so much.”
To perform her husband’s music, Eva brings singers from all over the world.
“These singers are the absolute best of the best,” she said. “Some of them come back every year like David Miller and James Valenti.”
This year’s conductor, David LaMarche, was born in Westerly, and is well known for conducting the orchestra of the American Ballet Theatre. For the past few years, he’s been looking for a reason to come back to his roots to perform, Eva said.
Silvana Dibortolo, of the Bronx, was enjoying the concert and reminiscing with those sitting nearby about her memories of Sergio and his performances. She remembers the first time she saw Sergio perform live was at the Copacabana nightclub in Manhattan in the late 1970s. She won free tickets to the show by calling in to a local radio station at 3 a.m.
“I went with a friend of mine that just loved men with black hair, like Sergio,” she laughed. “He’s from an area in the northern part of Italy very close to where I was born so he’s always been near and dear to me.”
As lifelong fans of Sergio’s, Laura Tedeschi and her mother, Tosca Filippelli, from Cumberland, have been attending the yearly concerts for years.
“My family always loved Sergio Franchi,” Tedeschi said. “He was a familiar face in our house as we watched him perform on Ed Sullivan and any other chance we could get.”
Like many other attendees, Anthony Velleca and his girlfriend, Sally-Ann DiPietro, both of Warwick, brought a picnic lunch to enjoy together.
“We just love the music and the atmosphere, they really complement each other for a great event,” he said. “We’re both Italian and being here and a part of Sergio’s memory makes us very proud of our Italian heritage. I’m proud to say I’m Italian just like Sergio.”