By Scott MacClelland
THE OCCHIATA Foundation, which introduces school kids in Monterey County to opera, is, like so many operas, a love story itself. The tight-knit Gargiulo family of Monterey venerates the memory of their patriarch, composer/conductor/musicologist Theodore Gargiulo, who died in 2006, just before his 91st birthday. He and his second wife Gloria, a successful singer in New York who fell in love with the dashing older conductor, had two children, Franca and Terrence. Mother and adult children are all over-achievers with an abiding commitment to helping others realize their potential as citizens and lovers of the arts.
The family moved to Monterey in 1971, from Columbus, Georgia, so that Ted, as he was popularly known, would launch an instrumental music program for enlisted personnel at Ft. Ord. In later years, with the support of a chaplain at the Defense Language School at the Monterey Presidio, Ted founded and conducted the Pan-Cultural Orchestra for amateur and professional musicians, military and civilian alike.
Creating an institution to honor her father, and as a Christmas present to her mother, Franca Gargiulo proposed Occhiata. (The word occhiata means look, or glance, but has other implicit meanings. The choice of the name reflects Maestro Gargiulo’s wink when musical things came together well in rehearsal or performance.) On the subsequent 50th wedding anniversary of Ted and Gloria, in 2009 a well-known Monterey singer contributed $500, and Occhiata was born.
As Terrence explains, “That gift hit a positive chord, and with a lot of sweat equity, has blossomed into a strong community collaboration. From that passion, we really do make magic in the kids’ lives.” He emphasizes that Occhiata’s goals are based on an abiding dedication to see these students turn into excellent citizens in their communities.
Franca Gargiulo, who lives with her nuclear family in San Francisco, is the founder and executive director of Occhiata. She is a board member of Coro, which since 1942 has been “Training Tomorrow’s Leaders.” Her professional career includes international public relations and corporate marketing.
Terrence Gargiulo, also a family man, lives in Monterey, but, at the moment, is working under contract in organizational development training in Foster City. He has a master’s in management degree, and won the leadership award at the 2008 Asia Pacific Human Resource Management Congress. His philosophy is “to engage people to be part of your story.” Mainly, he is the face of Occhiata, the cheerleader for opera who coordinates with school districts and teachers to prepare them for the experience their students will ultimately enjoy: a bus ride to the Monterey 13 movie complex at Del Monte Center to watch a live telecast from the Metropolitan Opera. That event is typically followed by a trip to the beach and/or a barbecue.
Since the first outing, in 2009, youngsters from numerous Monterey County schools have seen Carmen, Don Pasquale, Faust, Aïda, Tosca and, last year, Carmen again. This fall will see another round of preparation, including a PowerPoint display, and another trip to Del Monte Center. But right now, which Met production and which schools are not named. “The focus this year is on the middle school level,” says Terrence. “We’ll develop the curriculum and post new stuff on our website to support the teachers.”
Gloria serves Occhiata as its artistic director. She has all the qualifications for the job. She sang professionally in her native New York, in opera, popular music and musical comedy. She worked in retail and, until her retirement, was an administrator for McGraw-Hill in Monterey. Terrence calls her “the most gracious, selfless servant of the arts.”
Late in life, Ted composed the as-yet-unproduced one-act nativity opera Tryillias, based on a story and libretto by Terrence. With father at the piano Terrence sang the opening recitative and aria from the opera during a midnight mass at Mission Soledad in 2003. (To hear it, click HERE) “We believe that American opera can only survive as a genre if it gets air, but doing a production is frighteningly expensive, especially when introducing new works,” he says. He believes the only way “is to put it to film.” It remains a dream yet to come true.