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© 2020 by Patricia Shanks

Singing at Sarno's

When I first started my career I focused on opera and legitimate musical theatre singing. At the point I sang at Sarno’s Caffe dell’Opera in Los Angeles, I was yet to sing with the Los Angeles Music Center Opera Association and with Opera Pacific. This was a few years before I was a staff soloist and section leader with the Hour of Power Choir at the Crystal Cathedral (now Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove), and another couple of years before I sang with the Los Angeles Master Chorale under Roger Wagner. Between all of that, I sang with the Camerata of Los Angeles, and I soloed about town. Some Vaughan Williams, Handel, Mozart, others, some national anthems, weddings and funerals. This is what classical singers do.


Sarno’s was a unique place where legitimate singers gathered to sing what they couldn’t sing just anywhere. It was a free-will offering of arias and show tunes by a bohemian collection of all voice types and then some, with an accompanist at the ready. I didn’t know the male singer who jumped up to complete this duet with me, singing “If I Loved You” from CAROUSEL. Another time, I sang the aria from LA BOHEME, “Si, mi chiamano Mimi.” There is a spot in the aria where Mimi asks of a tenor, “Do you understand me?” This is in Italian, of course. To my surprise several men sang, “Si.” Right on cue. I guess they were paying attention.


The owner of Sarno’s, Alberto Sarno (Albert Frank Sarno), was a tenor and an actor. Though Sarno’s closed in the 1990s and the restaurant changed hands and names a few times, the legacy of Sarno’s Caffe dell’ Opera lives on in Los Angeles history, and in the hearts and minds of those of us who experienced the unique establishment and its musical clientele.