Alberto Sarno, whose restaurant on North Vermont Avenue served as an unofficial tryout showcase for hopeful opera singers--and headquarters for opera buffs--for about two decades, was shot to death Tuesday morning outside his home.
Los Angeles police said they had no apparent motive for the murder, and no immediate clues to the identity of the slayer.
Detective Hank Petroski said Sarno, 59, arrived at his home in the 4800 block of Los Feliz Boulevard at 2 a.m. Tuesday--a few minutes after closing Sarno's Caffe Dell'Opera for the night--and parked his car, when neighbors heard someone shouting.
A moment later, Petroski said, at least one shot was heard.
Sarno's wife, Silvana Sarno, told police that she was awakened by "a commotion" and opened the front door of her home to find her husband dead, just outside. She said she knew of no one who might have a motive to take the restaurant operator's life.
Sarno, an actor and singer himself, was a favorite with singers and opera buffs alike because of the policy of his restaurant--which was to provide a place for young and unknown singers to air their talents.
Family Bakery Next Door
Singers were not paid, but piano accompaniment was provided, and guests were permitted to tip the musicians.
The restaurant is next door to a bakery founded by the Sarnos when the family moved to Los Angeles from Chicago more than four decades ago.
Alberto (whose real name was Albert Frank Sarno) opened the Caffe Dell'Opera as a restaurant and coffeehouse in 1967, offering food and nightly performances by the proprietor, a tenor.
"A lot of people come to hang out and make contact," Dino Sarno, brother of the restaurateur and proprietor of the bakery, said in a 1986 interview. "They are always looking for their paisans. People are looking for ties and stability. They know we are here."
In the early 1970s, Sarno helped produce a musical film, "Paisano," in which he sang and had a major acting part. He also made a number of recordings and albums.