Katrina and I are always on the lookout for special experiences during our trips, which is one of the reasons we travel on our own rather than within the safe confines of a group. Here’s one such one-of-a-kind adventure.
Some background, first: In 2002, I received an e-mail from a gentleman in New York City named Frank Basile who said he attended Indiana University in the mid-1980s and was often asked if he was my son. Occasionally, he’d get a call inquiring about booking a motivational speech—something he, an opera singer, didn’t really do. And he would tell them they were looking for the other Frank Basile. He said he thought often of contacting me but didn’t get around to it. Belatedly, though, he invited me to contact him whenever I was in New York, suggesting we should get together over a cup of coffee.
Last March, Katrina and I were scheduling a trip to New York to attend the Broadway opening of Michael Feinstein’s show “All about Me.” As I was looking over the information I had deposited from time to time into my New York file folder, I ran across a copy of this old e-mail. It was the day before we were scheduled to depart, and I decided to contact Frank to see if we could schedule that coffee meeting.
To no surprise, I received a failure notice on the e-mail. Who among us hasn’t changed addresses over the past decade? But a quick Google search found a major New York Times article stating that my namesake, who was 41 at the time, was married on April 29, 2004, at Sardi’s Restaurant with 300 friends in attendance, including Michael Feinstein.
Already, we were only two degrees of separation from each other.
Making the odd connection even more interesting: His bride was legendary actress Celeste Holm, who had turned 87 on their wedding day. To refresh your memory, Holm won an Oscar for her performance in “Gentlemen’s Agreement” and was nominated for others, including “All About Eve.” She became part of theater history playing Ado Annie in the flagship production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” in 1943.
After finding a current e-mail address, we made contact and set up a meeting for the afternoon of Feinstein’s opening—which he and Holm were also planning to attend.
Over pizza, we spent three hours hearing the interesting May/December story of his meeting and falling in love with Holm. He even recited a love poem written for her, while sitting right there in the restaurant. I’m certain everyone in the restaurant enjoyed his baritone delivery!
At the opening, our group from Indianapolis and Carmel was standing outside the roped-off area where we could watch the celebrities—including Liza Minnelli and Elvis Costello—as they arrived. Finally, Basile and Holm appeared, she elegant in her evening attire and he looking dashing in his tuxedo as they were photographed and briefly interviewed by reporters. As they followed the other celebrities into the theater, Frank spotted Katrina and me, broke ranks with the other VIPs, and brought Celeste over to the area where we and the other “unwashed” stood gawking. She couldn’t have been more gracious.
When we arrived back in Indy the next morning, we had an e-mail from him saying how much he enjoyed meeting and visiting with us. He concluded, “I hope some day to have the pleasure of singing for you in The Basile Opera Center! Wouldn’t that confuse a few people?”
I related the story of our trip to John Pickett, executive director of the Indianapolis Opera, who immediately saw the potential of officially introducing the new home of the IO at 40th and Pennsylvania streets with a performance by its namesake. Always alert to the possibility of raising much-needed money to support opera in our city, John also saw the possibility of making this a fundraiser.
A couple of months later, John met in NYC with both Basile and Holm to discuss a return to Indiana, where he received his musical education and got his start. So, on Feb. 24, Frank Basile will appear at the Basile Opera Center for a show titled “Basile at the Basile,” singing everything from opera to songs from the Great American Songbook as well as songs from some of the musicals in which Holm appeared.
In addition, on that evening, the Heartland Film Festival will present Holm with a lifetime achievement award, which will also feature a retrospective of some of her greatest roles.
Since he is to be the main attraction at the upcoming event, Frank’s credentials should be noted. He has sung everything from opera to country to jazz in some of the most prestigious houses and stages in the world, including the Metropolitan Opera and the White House and with such outstanding organizations as The National Symphony Orchestra, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Boston Pops. Many years ago, he also sang in Gibraltar with Indianapolis’ own internationally renowned Angela Brown.
He recently returned from Istanbul, where he sang concerts showcasing arias from the opera “The Leonardo Bridge,” which is scheduled to make its world premiere in Istanbul in the spring of 2012 with Frank singing the title role of Leonardo DaVinci.
The moral of the story is to look in your trip folders for old notes and articles and don’t be afraid to venture into the unknown on your trips. You never know what interesting experiences and opportunities await you.•
Basile is an author, professional speaker, philanthropist, community volunteer and retired executive of the Gene B. Glick Co. His column appears whenever there’s a fifth Monday in the month. Basile can be reached at Frank_Basile@sbcglobal.net.