In Loving Memory

Thoughts about Louisa from past Operafestival di Roma participants.

Her dream was to have her own opera program in Rome. Mine was to become a singer. But I felt my voice was not good enough, I had too many technical problems. She used to say “I wish I could stay here longer to teach you how simple singing is.” I've always kept in mind her words. In the following years, we both worked very hard to make our dreams come true (even if I became an actor). We have always kept in touch, even if we didn't meet often. But I always remember, especially in hard times, her words: that there is always a way to make things simpler. Not superficial or careless, but simple.

Last night Nora pulled a photo of her from our album.  It was a picture taken in Rome the summer we were there, and Louisa is seated on stage in the middle of the photo with the opera cast behind and on either side of her.  We can't tell if she looks more like a queen or an angel, but she's glorious and obviously jubilant.  Although we saw her too seldom after she left Kent, we were grateful to hear from her periodically since then, and when we did, her letters immediately brought her image back to mind. It was always a glorious image, too, because Louisa  seemed to take so much care over everything she said and did, but maybe that was all natural with her.  She was a warm and literally wonder-full person, one of a kind, and she was so happy with all she'd accomplished after arriving in Virginia.

 

I remember most fondly how she often would take a little bit of holy water or oil, and anoint, in blessing, the forehead of someone who might need it.  As marvelous an action that is, I felt blessed, simply by her very presence–she just radiated this glow wherever she went.

I never met Louisa, or even spoke to her. I auditioned for Operafest last year by video, and spoke to you throughout the process of preparations for the summer. But I can certainly say that I felt her presence throughout the program. So many people in Rome spoke so highly of Louisa and her love for Operafest, music, and the students. I think very often about my experience in Rome and remember what a blessing it was to be part of that program. There were so many wonderful people there on staff and in the casts, and there was such a love and sense of support for all involved. I know that this is because of the love Louisa inspired everyone with. I know that a lot of the ways things are done in the program are thanks to her. I loved every aspect of my month in Rome - the rehearsals, coachings, masterclasses, meals, performances, and the friends I made there. It was the best summer program I have ever done, and I have recommended it to everyone here at FSU.  I learned and grew so much while I was there. It think it is so wonderful what Louisa did to give so many young singers a chance to live in Italy and perform opera. Her legacy will remain strong for many years to come.

On the morning of the day your email about Louisa arrived, before I received it, my mother and I were talking on the phone about vegetables and how much better all around food grown in a garden was compared to what you can get in a store.  I ended up telling her a story about Louisa and my trip to see her once when I was returning a somewhat crushed box of hats from Operafestival that Louisa had ever so sweetly coerced me into taking with me to Rome…and bringing them back.  When I arrived, Louisa was out in her garden on her knees in a blue dress, wearing a big hat.  Caesare was running around chasing who knows what (but that could have been indoors).  It was one of the last times I saw Louisa before I graduated from UVA and left Charlottesville. I followed her into the house with the box and we chatted for a few minutes and on my way out the door, Louisa presented me with a huge bag of tomatoes from her garden.  Despite protests that I would never be able to eat all of those tomatoes before they went bad, I ended up leaving with them.  Ah, Louisa’s powers of persuasion.  Well, as it turned out, Louisa could grow a mean tomato and that huge paper bag was emptied pretty darn fast.  It seems that everyone has that one mythological ‘thing’ that they compare all other ‘things’ to, like my dad and the magic steak he had over twenty years ago in a restaurant that no longer exists.  As for me, I have a mythological tomato.  Every tomato I’ve had since has been compared to the ones that I had from Louisa’s garden and I haven’t had one that good since.

 

Tomatoes aside, I am honored to have had the opportunity to know Louisa.  It was a privilege to spend the two best summers of my life with you and Louisa and helping to make her dream as beautiful a reality as possible.   People like Louisa don’t grow on trees.  I have never known any one person that was as unique, passionate, determined, talented, and funny as Louisa was.  She is my ultimate example of what can happen when people really truly follow their dreams.

 

On a personal note, she also believed in me.  I have had numerous people comment on how much she thought of me and my abilities, and that is an honor all on its own.  It is very difficult to believe that she is gone, but I’m sure wherever she is now there is music and gardens and flowers and kittens everywhere.

Louisa was the most kind, wonderful, and beautiful woman I have ever known. She was so enthusiastic and so happy the summer I attended the Operafestival di Roma in 2004. You could just see it in her eyes how much she loved the program and how proud of it she was. I am very sorry I will never get another opportunity to see her on stage; she looked great on it.

I am so sorry to hear the news of Louisa's passing.  However, we know she is in a Grand place in Heaven!  I remember how you loved her and I thought, that is what long lasting eternal love is.  I am still singing and always will think highly of My Dear Louisa for believing in me, an African American female singer, a little overweight, but with the spirit and deep love for the art of opera.  I thank her for feeling that in me.  I will continue this journey in her honor, because she has given strength and joy to so many lives.  I will also remember Louisa when the business gets tough, and I feel I can't make it. 

I do not have enough English vocabulary to let you know how special Mrs. Louisa Panou was for me.  We met at Florida State University in Tallahassee in 1988.  We were enrolled at the program of Opera Directing, she was doing her doctoral degree and I was doing my Master degree.  After one year she helped me to get to the Performance Program and she was my voice teacher one semester and prepared me to the audition to that program. With her special humanity she taught me a lot of things about vocal technique and repertoire, and how a human being should be.  We spoke in Italian all the time during the voice lessons. 

 

I had to interrupt my studies there in 1990 because the doctors fund a tumor in my brain.  I had to move back to Puerto Rico and I had three operations in my head in one week, since then my life changed completely in every sense...I am in wheelchair right now but thanks to the good GOD I am working as a voice teacher at the Music Conservatory of Puerto Rico....I remember when I told Louisa about my case years ago ....she were so kind and told me many beautiful things to cheer me up.  In exchange and almost fifteen years later....I did the same thing to her when she told me about her cancer months ago, after weeping like a baby, of course,  when I received her letter where she told me about it.     

 

Mrs. Louisa Panou is one of the good things I still and I will remember of my years at FSU in Tallahassee.   I was aware about the wonderful Opera program in Rome, she used to send me flyers every year for my students.... I am really going to miss her a lot for now on.  We kept in touch three or four times a year through e-mails.  Is a great loss for the opera world and mainly for those of us who know her dedication in her life and art.

What a vibrant, eternally-young woman she was!  I deeply  sympathize with you for your great loss.  I had not known she was ill and was shocked to learn that she is gone-- but people as vivacious and lively as Louisa are never gone.  They live on in the memories, the music, the habits and the lives of the thousands of people they have touched.

When I arrived in Rome, and after I had saluted the Kangaroo “pouch”, I learned that drivers were needed to drive singers and sets around Rome and Italy.  I immediately volunteered.  Bill and Louisa discussed it and decided I was a safe enough risk.

 

Before my first driving assignment Louisa took me over to the van I was to drive.  She pulled a little vial of oil out of her bag and proceeded to anoint me and the van.  Of course I thought it a little strange at the time, but, when in Rome...

 

Over the course of  summer I would be worrying about this or that and Louisa would always say “Don’'t worry, you are blessed, nothing will happen.”

 

I am a great skeptic; I have been baptized in the Jordan River, been inside the great Pyramid of Giza, been to the Acropolis in Athens, and the Vatican.  I have enjoyed these places, but beyond tourist value, never really got anything out of the experiences. 

 

When Louisa blessed me, I believed it. And she was right, we made it all over Italy without a single incident or accident.

 

I have pondered Louisa's blessing and the effect it had on me, and I have come to a conclusion.  Louisa's blessing was not a religious rite, it was a gesture of true love and protection.  A selfless gift that sustains me to this day.

 

I still hear her saying, “God loves you so much Chuck.”  When she said it, I believed it.  I am so grateful to have known her and I feel she is with me still.

 

Grazie Mille Louisa!!!!

I participated in Operafestival in 2004, and I shall never forget the experience. It is an amazing program, which embodies Louisa's love for music, and her generosity in giving back to the world. Her spirit will live on in her work, and in the hearts of all the people she touched, myself included. In fact, it is mostly thanks to her and Operafestival that I am still singing. The opportunities she gave me, and so many others, encouraged me to continue on the path of opera.

When I opened my mailbox and saw the subject line of  your email, I knew that a woman who'd changed my life forever was gone. Even  though I was only in Louisa's presence for about fifteen minutes, the  impact she had upon me is one I cherish. I'm so  sorry.

 

When I came into the audition in NYC last December, I  thought I was out of my mind. Opera? Sure I loved singing classical music, but  could never really make a career of it, could I? I was 16 and scared out of my  mind, and I'll never ever forget the end of my “Deh Vieni, Non Tardar,”  when she just smiled and said, “Beautiful.” My talk with you both after I'd sung made me feel warm and safe, and I knew that opera would be my life.

 

When we were told at breakfast one morning at the  Torre Rossa that Louisa had cancer, I cried. Literally. Imagine a  personality so powerful that a mere acquaintance would cry at this news. But  Louisa deserved nothing less. A woman who could make so many dreams come  true for so many deserves nothing less.

I am very sad to know of Louisa's passing.  She was a part of my life for the last 8 years; even if she became ill last year I always thought of her and prayed that she would recover from this illness.  Also a big part of my life will be empty now without her.  I hope you will keep your strength and carry on to your best ability with Roland and Melanie's support.  This summer will be difficult again as was last summer.  I have to remember all the happiness both of you brought to me and your friendship which has helped me to forget about my own troubles so much.

I am so terrible at expressing myself in words, but I want to say that last summer changed my life. When I went to Rome last summer, I was deciding if I wanted to pursue a career in opera. I was very unsure and decided that I would do Operafest in Rome and let my experience determine what I would do. I never imagined that my love for music and performing would grow like it did. I was able to truly remember why I became a musician. It felt like I had the fire in me again, and I knew this is what I wanted to do. I will be forever grateful to Louisa's vision, because without it, I don't know where I would be now. Since then, I have won a national voice competition and been invited to sing major roles with two opera companies this year. Man, had I quit......

 

I have thought of her so much since I heard the unfortunate news of her diagnosis.  I've thought about what a unique and special person she was, who had so much to give others.  I've thought about the big things--like Operafestival di Roma, and how she helped me and countless others enjoy the rich culture of Rome and the beautiful music that it shares with other cultures.  I've thought about how loving, joyous, positive, and generous she was, constantly giving and forgiving.  I've thought about how much she meant to you, and what a great blessing it was that the two of you were able to spend some time living, being, and working together. 

 

I've thought about the smaller things--like how much she loved to eat well, and what a great cook she was.  I've thought about the many meals we had together, especially at your house, that albeit their impromptu nature, were fit for kings.  And how she loved to dress in such a exotic, festive, colorful manner.  And how much she loved her treasured roses.  I've thought about how much she loved to laugh, and how easy it was to make her do so.

And how much she teased and tormented her cats!

 

I'd give anything to be back at 1445 Willow Lake Drive, reorganizing the basement costume stock, with Louisa yelling at me, you, and the cats, about how ridiculous her proudest project could be (and how ridiculous WE could be!).

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