By Michael Recchiuti
When my dear friend Julia Burke, mistress of the magnificent Ogilvie Farm in North Salem asked me to help her plan a soiree that would be part of the benefit series “Tables of Content” for the North Salem Free Library, I could not resist. Immediately, an evening based on my favorite novel “Il Gattopardo” — “The Leopard” by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa — and the subsequent film, Lucchino Visconti’s masterpiece, began to take shape in my mind. We titled the evening “Dinner with the Prince”; I envisioned an evening of discussion, musical performance, and a Sicilian dinner fit for that Prince in his villa in 1860 Palermo. The evening almost immediately sold out the 12 available seats. This was amazing to me, as we had also requested evening wear and ball gowns for the ladies. Clearly, there is still a public with an appetite for an event of this kind.
I began to plan the menu, which I would cook myself. I consulted with my friend Orazio Carciotto, born in Catania, master cheesemaker and proprietor of the Casa della Mozzarella in the Bronx, for a selection of prime Sicilian cheeses, and other typical Sicilian dishes. Another friend, John Bueti of Mt. Kisco Wine and Spirits helped me plan appropriate Sicilian wines. Another new friend, Mary Taylor Simeti, author, and expert on all things Sicilian was an immense and generous contributor to my planning with her vast knowledge and generous spirit.
The evening began with a reception with hors d’oeuvres: Castelvetrano olives, and salumeria accompanied by a prime Spanish Cava. Remember — Sicily in 1860 was a Bourbon kingdom that would have imported Spanish wines before northern Italian ones! We then had a discussion about the book, Sicilian history, the Risorgimento, the Lampedusa family, and Visconti and his film version. A great surprise was the presence (at the last minute, from the waiting list due to two COVID defections) of Prince Dominic Hapsburg, and his lovely wife, residents of North Salem. He brought along a portrait of his fourth great-grandfather, King Ferdinand II of Sicily, who reigned from 1830 to 1859. His presence and personal discussion added tremendous depth to the evening.
Internationally known soprano Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs (my wife), then performed a selection of Arie di Stile Antico of the belle époque Palermitan composer Stefano Donaudy, the “Addio del passato” from Verdi’s “La Traviata”, and the Sicilian composer Bellini’s “Casta Diva” from his Norma.
Dinner followed in the magnificently appointed dining room. Caponata, Pasta all Norma, a selection of Sicilian cheeses, and tricolor salad. The guests then retired to the library for Sicilian desserts, coffee, and, of course, Florio Marsala Superiore. A great and far-ranging conversation ensued, inspired by the enjoyment and appreciation of the immersive evening. We look forward to many more special evenings like this one.
For our Hudson Valley readers, there will be an immersive, expanded version of the discussion and musical recital at the Atelier Musical in New Baltimore, NY on Saturday, December 3rd, followed by a screening of the film “Il Gattopardo” on Sunday, December 4th.