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Music, storytelling come together without animation, dancing mops

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Sitting down at Papazzio’s for lunch a few weeks ago, David Close had a gleam in his eye — not so much from the delectable Italian mushroom soup as from the topic of conversation at the table. Music.

“‘Fantasia’ is the perfect example,” he said when trying to find a pop culture image to explain Musica Reginae Productions’ style for its concert series.

At the Musica Reginae concerts, the style is generally the same. As a prelude to the music, Close, maestro for the group, turns to face the audience and explains the piece the ensemble is preparing to perform. He explains what the piece is about, who wrote it, why it was written and why it is important. He turns back to face the audience, and lets the drama unfold.

“The audience gets an understanding of what they are listening to rather than just an appreciation for the beauty of the piece,” Close said, sipping a glass of Pinot Grigio.

This blending of information about the piece and its composer with the music itself is reminiscent of Leonard Bernstein’s “Young People’s Concerts” that aired in the ‘50s and ‘60s, which is now in reruns on cable television’s Trio channel.

In Walt Disney’s “Fantasia,” a series of short animated films is set to classical pieces, bringing context to the music while providing entertainment for the eyes. Close, lacking a talent for animation, plants an image in his audience’s heads rather than one in front of its eyes.

Musica Reginae was founded three years ago and has already found a ground swell of support for its performances.

After last year’s “Viva Verdi!” concert sponsored by the Italian Heritage Society, Close and Musica Reginae drew rave reviews from concertgoers.

“I think David Close is a wonderful musician,” wrote Joseph Jung in an e-mail to Musica Reginae, speaking of Close’s piano artistry. “He is a great teacher as well. His insights into the world of music increase my enjoyment.”

He added, “I’m glad that Musica Reginae came along to give us greater access to music and to him, and I eagerly await your spring season.”

The Italian Heritage Society, along with Queensborough Community College, will sponsor this year’s kick-off of Musica Reginae’s season with “Brava Italia!,” a free Italian opera showcase to be held in the college’s Oakland Building Nov. 7.

This year’s premiere performance will feature well-known soprano Julie Miller, who has been singing in Queens for several years; Mark Duffin, a tenor and soloist who often performs in Europe; and baritone Vaughn Fritts, an accomplished opera and oratorio singer.

Pieces to be performed include Cilea’s “Lamento di Frederico” from “L’Arlesiana,” Puccini’s “Duet” from “Madama Butterfly” and Verdi’s “Trio” from “Il Trovatore.”

As usual, Close will provide his commentary as host and his piano skills as an accompanist.

Close, who has been a fixture in Queens music productions for decades, will take Musica Reginae to its unofficial home at Flushing Town Hall, which it rents for its concerts, on Nov. 10 when the first of four Accolade series concerts is performed.

“A Chamber Music Afternoon” will feature the debut of Musica Reginae players Barbara Podgurski, Robert Burkhart and Lisa Lee along with musical pieces by Beethoven, Chopin and Dvorák.

The series will continue with a concert Jan. 26 that will explore opera, song and musical theater; a virtuoso piano performance with Daniel Berman on March 9; and climax with a “Woodwinds Spectacular” April 6.

Close explained the motivation behind Musica Reginae, noting that he sees a higher purpose to the group beyond simply spreading an appreciation of classical music to the masses.

“We believe that Queens needs more performances of classical music, that music can serve as an important bridge in an ethnically diverse community by acknowledging various heritages, and that a lack of abundant, locally available, classical music deprives our school children of important educational advantages,” he said of the group’s commitment.

“Musica Reginae exists to produce quality performances that engage, educate and entertain the citizens of Queens and draw them into an appreciation of the other cultural organizations in our borough,” he added.

At Papazzio’s, Close and his wife, Lee Ann, were gushing as they described the upcoming season, unable at times to control their fervor for Musica Reginae. “This is such a good time for everybody who comes,” Close said.

For more information on Musica Reginae, go to www.musicareginae.org. To learn more about the concerts, call Musica Reginae at 279-4842 or write to 33-19 210th St., Bayside, NY 11361.

The “Brava Italia!” concert will be held at the Queensborough Community College 222-05 56 Ave. at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, in the Oakland Building. Admission is free.

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