Aug. 21--When Eva Franchi was organizing the first concert in honor of her late husband -- the renowned romantic tenor Sergio Franchi, who succumbed to brain cancer in 1990 -- she was, naturally, nervous.
"I thought if we had 400 people or 300, I would kiss the ground," she says of the 1994 show at the Franchi estate in Stonington.
As Eva was getting ready right before the show, though, a friend brought her this news: "They say the traffic is backed up to Mystic."
Indeed, the president of the Conair Corporation (where Eva is director of the sales hospitality division) drove from the west end of the state and thought the traffic jam consisted of people heading to the relatively-new Foxwoods.
"Then, he realized everyone was getting off Exit 91," she recalls.
The Day reported the turn-out at 2,000, and Eva Franchi says, "When that orchestra hit his overture -- his overture -- it was so strong on that property." She remembers the wind blowing, the leaves "going crazy on the trees."
"There was magic in the air," she says.
The magic has continued, and, on Saturday, the Sergio Franchi Memorial Concert celebrates its 20th year in style. Some of the vocalists who have performed at past concerts will return, as will some of the singers who benefited from the scholarships that these shows fund. (The Sergio Franchi Music Scholarship Foundation has given more than 540 scholarships over the years.)
Performers will be coming from around the world -- one from St. Petersburg, Russia, and another from Johannesburg, South Africa.
Also scheduled to be on hand: Regis Philbin.
Franchi says Sergio's last performance was on the Regis Philbin show. It was a Fourth of July celebration on a boat in front of the Statue of Liberty, and Sergio sang "America the Beautiful."
"He always said he considered that a love song, and he sings it like a love song. So beautiful," she says.
Philbin is expected to introduce that clip, so Sergio will, in a way, open Saturday's concert. The video will be projected on a big screen that Eva Franchi calls "rock-star-like."
Following that, a clip from the Ed Sullivan show will be screened, with Sullivan introducing Franchi to America, with Franchi singing "Core 'Ngrato."
Then comes the concert. Saturday's line-up will feature, among others, singers who have starred at the famed Metropolitan Opera. James Valenti, for instance, just finished the Met's "Madama Butterfly."
Eva Franchi says that Valenti "came to us when he was 20 years old. Now he's 35 ... It's such an honor that his stepping stone was our place 15 years ago and that he's turned into one of today's top tenors."
Latonia Moore, who debuted at the Met in "Aida" and has since played the role around the world, will sing a duet from "La Boheme" and from "Madama Butterfly" with Jesus Garcia. Garcia was in "La Boheme" on Broadway.
The show will spotlight one of the members of Il Divo, too. David Miller will perform with his wife, soprano Sarah Joy Miller. They are both new to the Franchi concert; Eva Franchi met Sarah Joy Miller when serving as a judge at the Vero Beach Opera competition.
As always, the Franchi home will be open for viewing, as will the chapel. Sergio's antique cars will be on display, augmented by 18 others from various collectors.
Last year's theme was "The Great Gatsby." This year's is the 1960s, since that's when Franchi rose to stardom in America.
While the concert celebrates Sergio's legacy, this year's honors someone else as well. Eva Franchi says she is holding the event on Aug. 23 to honor her mother, who died on Aug. 23, 2013.
"She died just before last year's concert, and when people found out, her chair was covered with flowers. She loved this concert. Her last words to me: 'Don't ever stop it,'" she says.
Eva Franchi says, "On the cold winter nights when you don't have much to do, nothing on TV, I used to put on for her (a recording of) the concert .... I always remember her face then -- it was beaming from beauty. She used to say (of) the music, 'You can eat it with a spoon.'"
Sergio Franchi Memorial Concert, Saturday, Franchi estate, 91 Sergio Franchi Drive, Stonington; 20th annual; concert at 2 p.m. Saturday; grounds open at 11 a.m.; $45 ($50 at the door); (860) 535-9429.
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