Bringing the Sights, Sounds and Tastes of Italy to Southington

The Southington Italian-American Festival will take over Center Street this weekend and organizers hope some new features and big performances will help make it the best year yet.

The stripes along Center Street have been painted green, white and red, the Italian flags are being hung at businesses throughout the downtown area and organizers are preparing to transform the town’s central business district into a little piece of Italy.

The time has come again for the Italian-American Festival, one of the town’s biggest annual events, and with several big name Italian singers, new local performances and other classic Italian treats.

“Each year, it is hard to come up with something new, but what we strive for is to improve upon what we have done already,” said Joe LaPorte, a member of the festival committee. “We have a lot of the classic favorites including food vendors and live music, with a few new wrinkles and we are excited for what we have to offer this year.”

The Eighth Annual Italian-American Festival will feature several “big draws,” LaPorte said, including the addition of popular musical talent Ross Benoliel and entertainer Vincent Ricciardi. The two performers have worldwide credentials and will bring a real Italian-American feel to the downtown area, LaPorte said.

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Benoliel, the founder and artistic director of “My Opera House” in New York City has livened stages worldwide over the last several years. He was most recently seen as Figaro in “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” as part of the New Jersey State Opera and has also performed as Marcello in “La Boheme” with Lyrique en Mer in France and with the Hong Kong Opera.

The spirited Italian opera performer has also performed in Munich, Vienna and Bremen, as well as with the New York City Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Tulsa Opera, Madison Opera and Chautauqua Opera.

Riccardi, a lyric tenor with a voice that rivals classic Italian musicians of the past, brings more of an Italian-American feel with performances that have shined on the stages of nightclubs across the northeast, including in Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania.

“It’s these kind of artists that really help make our performances stand out and bring that tradition of old Italy to life,” LaPorte said.

But nationally recognized talents aren’t the only ones who will take to the spotlight this year either.

The main stage, located on the parking lot to the western end of Center Street, will also be home to local performances by Southington youth who have worked over the last several years to sharpen their Italian language skills.

Tina Riccio, a foreign language teacher at and volunteer Italian teacher with the , said her students are looking forward to showcasing what they’ve learned in performing skits and songs in traditional Italian.

“A lot of these kids in town have a strong Italian heritage,” Riccio said. “This is a chance for them to not only show what they’ve learned, but we also have traditional Italian instruments, an accordion player from Cheshire and more.”

Riccio said many of the students received tutor lessons from members of the high school’s Italian Club and have worked hard to get ready for this performance. The students were able to perform at the Southington Drive-In in 2011, but she said this is a greater chance for them to share their heritage with the whole community.

In addition to performances, office assistant Julia Bernardinelli said in a press release that the event will feature the classic treats of countless food vendors, a kids’ carnival and a wine making contest, among many other opportunities.

The 2012 festival will also feature the ceremonial Italian Mass with the procession of the Madonna, a tradition that dates back hundreds of years. The mass will be held at 10 a.m.

“There is so much Italian heritage in the community and this is really a way for everyone to get out, come together as a community and celebrate our Italian roots,” LaPorte said. “The festival has drawn residents from across the northeast and we hope this year will bring the largest turnout yet.”

Unofficial events have helped prep the festival all week and continue tonight with a special performance of the . Opening ceremonies for the festival will be held Friday evening at 5 p.m.

The festival will run from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday from Noon until 11 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.

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