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Park Rapids alum follows in father's footsteps

Giacomo Siciliani watches father Alessandro conduct the F-M Opera. (Forum photo)

Alessandro Siciliani likes to joke that since his son Giacomo was conceived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he would follow someone else's steps and grow up to be more like the soccer great Diego Maradona.

Instead Giacomo, a 2009 Park Rapids Area High School alum, is following his father's tuxedo tails, learning the family business - opera.

The Fargo-Moorhead Opera's fall opener, "The Barber of Seville," features Alessandro conducting and Giacomo singing in the chorus and helping out as the maestro's assistant.

"I'm happy he's interested in music," Alessandro says in his thick, Italian accent.

"Interested" is a bit of an understatement. Music is the lifeblood for the Sicilianis as Alessandro is a world-renown conductor and Giacomo's mother, Fargo's own Elizabeth Holleque, was a major opera diva.

It's the first time with a father/son combo in the F-M Opera and only the second time the two worked together, the first being a children's choir in Columbus, Ohio, where Giacomo grew up and Alessandro still lives when not conducting operas or symphonies around the country.


Though he was raised in a musical house, Giacomo, a senior at Concordia College, didn't always walk to the same beat as his parents. He wanted to be chef, then a photographer then an architect. But eventually, the musical bug bit.

"It felt like the most natural thing I could be doing," he says.

His Park Rapids music instructors agree.

"When working with Giacomo it was so very apparent he was growing up in a home of remarkable talent and musical expertise," choir teacher Lou Ann Dierkhising said.

"His mother, Elizabeth, was very careful not to channel Giacomo into music unless that was his passion, which it did become," Dierkhising said. "Once he recognized that he also was gifted with musical talent, he became dedicated to developing his voice and musical skills.

"His mother's vast musical knowledge was very important to him," she said.

"It was great to have taught Giacomo as a child and to have been a part of his musical development," Roz Pederson agrees. "The most unique gift Giacomo brought to his lessons was in his ability to hear every note. Each note was appreciated, having a purpose and a voice of its own. 

"Giacomo had a unique gift to be able to bring the notes together, creating a beautiful sound," Pederson said.

"Giacomo sang in every musical group we offer, soloed for school, community and church events, took extra theory classes, and sang with the All State Choirs for two years," Dierkhising said.

"Even at the college level, only a few ever achieve his warm, vibrant voice and ease of singing so very musically," she observed.

"Giacomo's personality was equally warm, vibrant and expressive," Dierkhising said of her student. "As a senior, his most used phrase was 'Pavarotti sang it like this.' Not only his skills grew, but his enjoyment of music and performing did as well.

"In addition to his family, his peers, the teachers and administration and community were ever encouraging.

"Giacomo also had his light side," she recalled, enjoying many genres including classic jazz and Sinatra.

"With Giacomo's talent, leadership skills and enthusiasm, it is understandable he would take Concordia's offerings in voice and conducting with fervor," she said.  

In his freshman year at Concordia, his mother's alma mater, he sang in the chorus for "La Boheme."

"He certainly inherited the family voice," says David Hamilton, Giacomo's voice teacher at Concordia and the artistic director for the Fargo-Moorhead Opera.

He may have inherited the family voice, but he also was born with the family ear. The young Siciliani soon realized he really wanted to conduct. He and Hamilton developed a position of conductor's assistant, and Giacomo eventually worked as chorus master for last year's "Amahl and the Night Visitors." Now he assists orchestra conductor Foster Beyers. Giacomo would be the third generation of conductors, following his father and grandfather, Francesco, who was a well-known Italian conductor, directing at the prominent Italian opera company La Scala in Milan from 1957 to '66.

Alessandro's mother, Ambra, was a renowned pianist. Alessandro studied music in Italy and made his way to America in 1980. His star continued to rise, and in the late 1980s he was invited by the grand dame of American opera, Beverly Sills, to the New York City Opera to direct Puccini's "La Rondine."

In 1988 he met Holleque when she was in the title role of "Tosca," at the New York City Opera. The role became her signature, and it's been said Luciano Pavarotti thought she played it best.

Holleque and Alessandro settled down in Ohio where he is the music director at the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and also works as a composer.

Watching from the wings

While Giacomo plays the Officer, a small role, and appears in the chorus in "The Barber of Seville," he's not planning to take the next step toward a starring role. "Being in the chorus is great. I get a good understanding of all the music," he says. "I have a larger chunk of time to study a score."

Rather than moving toward the spotlight he's more content watching how things come together, especially with the conductor. "More than I'm probably aware of, I soak things up and I figure it out," he says.

"The biggest thing for me is how the music should sound, how it works in character and style. The elements to make a bigger picture, a different show." Having worked on another production of the opera this summer he comes with a solid understanding of the work.

"I got a head start, soaking it in without having the responsibility of waving my arms," he says with a laugh. Working with his father, Giacomo has noticed a few things about how Alessandro works, his gestures, his interpretations of the music, how he constantly monitors what's going on without always making his presence felt.

"He's commanding at the beginning and then there are times later when he's barely moving and you can tell he's just listening," Giacomo says, mimicking his father's hand motions. "He's extremely passionate," the son continues. "He believes 1,000 percent in the sound he wants to create and he believes in what he creates. It's from within him and evident his imagination is endless." While Alessandro is happy to have his son learn from him, he doesn't want Giacomo to be too much of a chip off the old block.

"I hope he can have a good teacher. Not be a copy in the mirror of him, but learn from him," the maestro says. "It's a danger. This is no good."


Alessandro has also seen his son conduct. Giacomo led a chamber group last year. Alessandro says when some friends saw the clip on YouTube they said, the son looked like the father, particularly in the face. "I've never seen that, but I can't see myself," Alessandro says.

Giacomo turns to him and asks, "Did it sound like something you'd do?"

"I can take the back door and say, 'I never conducted Tchaikovsky,' " the father responds. "But I liked it. If I close my eyes, I like it."

One thing he wants to pass down to his son is a passion for the music. This is Alessandro's fourth time conducting "The Barber of Seville," and one of the challenges is getting the right feel.

"Rossini should be Italian style," Alessandro says. Giacomo explains that there's a different sense for the word and music. "At a basic level you work with singers to make their diction sound Italian," he says. "It's going to be a very fast-paced production. The singers have their work cut out for them," Hamilton says.

If you go

"The Barber of Seville" will be performed at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28 at the Festival Concert Hall, North Dakota State University Tickets range from $40 - $70 for adults. Call 701-239-4558

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