Anna Maria Alberghetti: The name itself is musical, a chant, rolling off the tongue metrically. For an hour last week, the Italian-born singer and actress delivered the amazing story of her life to a packed and clearly enchanted crowd at the Edwards Theatre in Newport Center.
She sang, accompanied by a pianist. She dropped enough names to fill a column. And while she skipped along the summits of her career--from an American debut at Carnegie Hall when she was just 13 years old to her work in Hollywood and on Broadway, where she bagged a Tony award for her starring role in "Carnival"--Alberghetti was also frank about the downside of her whirlwind youth, the breakup of her marriage and her years in therapy.
Afterward, at a luncheon in her honor at the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach, the brown-eyed beauty confided, "I feel almost like I have gone through a cleansing-out each time I give this talk."
That talk was the fourth and final of this year's Town Hall lecture series, jointly sponsored by the Assistance Leagues of Laguna Beach and Newport Beach, and it drew nearly 800 women (and maybe a dozen men) at $15 each. Proceeds from the lecture and luncheon were split between the two Assistance Leagues, which fund such projects as day care and community outreach for the elderly, disabled and needy. Event organizers said the not-yet-tallied proceeds from this year's lecture series should match the 1988 Town Hall proceeds of roughly $30,000.
Alberghetti's psychic cleansing washed over the attentive theater crowd, beginning with this romantic pre-memory from her earliest days in Pesaro, Italy:
"When I was a little baby, my crying was music to my father's ears. He said, 'Listen to that girl! She will be a great singer one day!' He let me cry as long as I wanted to develop my lungs and voice."
And develop it obviously did--enough for a hometown debut at the age of 6, leading a 100-piece orchestra with vocal flights from "Rigoletto," "La Traviata" and "Madame Butterfly." From there, daughter and father (a noted cellist) were soon out on tour, through Italy, across Europe and to Scandinavia, where they went to see a movie called "Carnegie Hall."
"After seeing this wonderful movie, my father decided that I would make my concert debut at Carnegie Hall," Alberghetti said. "He was so positive about my success in this country that he packed up his family and spent all the savings moving us to the U.S."
Pressure? "I was never spared any of the weight placed on my shoulders. My family's future depended on my success at that concert."
Needless to say, the little girl with the phrase-book English was a hit--an early edition newspaper headline dubbed her "An Angel From Paradise." And with her family's success riding on her fate, there followed in quick strokes: appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Colgate Comedy Hour" and Edward R. Murrow's "Person to Person"; a private concert for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor; a couple of bit parts in movies; a Las Vegas act with Red Skelton, and a cover on Life magazine.
All that before her 20th birthday.
The roller-coaster ride tipped downward when Alberghetti's father died after a lingering illness and the family savings were again depleted. But with mother, sister and brother to support, she did what she had to, cranking up another Las Vegas act, taking another shot at Hollywood (in "10,000 Bedrooms" with Dean Martin and "Cinderfella" with Jerry Lewis) and finally landing her Tony-rewarded role in "Carnival."
Success? "I had everything I could have hoped for in my career," Alberghetti told the mesmerized crowd. But after a year-plus on Broadway and another year on the "Carnival" tour, she felt "lonely, empty, terribly unhappy." So she came back home to Los Angeles, got married and gave birth to two daughters.
"Growing up a breadwinner may have matured me in some ways, but it stunted me emotionally," she said. Residual resentment from her high-pressure childhood contributed to the breakup of her marriage, she said, and sent her into therapy, "where I discovered that all those years of my father's harsh criticism and little praise . . . left me with no self-esteem."
Alberghetti punctuated her talk with songs and medleys--from the Italian folk songs of her youth to snippets from arias and Broadway musicals--and she capped the program with a suitably inspiring "Climb Every Mountain" from "The Sound of Music."
At the Balboa Bay Club luncheon following the lecture, incoming Town Hall President Karen Stevens said the finale really got to her.
"During that 'Climb Every Mountain' business, I was sitting there going, 'Don't cry, Karen! Don't cry!' " she said. "I'm so emotional, you know? I always thought I'd make a great Italian."