CAFARELLI, CARMELA (1889-1 Sept. 1979) kept the flame of grand opera burning in Cleveland as impresario of the Cafarelli Opera Co. Born in Cleveland, she was the daughter of Rocco G. Cafarelli, an Italian who immigrated to Cleveland ca. 1887 to become the city's first harpist. She studied the instrument under her father and Henry B. Fabiani, playing from the age of 12 for visiting opera companies in need of a harpist. From 1918-21, she was the first harpist for the newly founded CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA.
Armed with a recommendation from Arturo Toscanini, Cafarelli then went to Italy to study singing. Making her operatic debut in Florence in 1923, she toured opera houses in Italy for the following 3 years but also became involved in a passport wrangle that left her "a woman without a country." The State Dept. refused to grant her an American passport on the grounds that her 1918 marriage to an Italian citizen, Allesandro Chiostergi, had made her an Italisn subject too. Italy also denied her a passport because her husband had become a naturalized American in the meantime. Re-entering the U.S. on a visitor's passport, she regained her American citizenship and divorced Chiostergi in 1932.
After numerous local singing appearances, Cafarelli formed the Cafarelli Opera Club (later Co.) to present Madame Butterfly in 1934. For the next 3 decades she presented an annual opera in Masonic Auditorium, concentrating on the standard repertoire and, in the early years, portraying the leading soprano roles herself. In the 1940s and 1950s, her company constituted the principal local alternative to the annual visits of the Metropolitan Opera (see OPERA). Cafarelli also taught voice and harp in her CLEVELAND HTS. home until 1976. She died in the Margaret Wagner House, and was survived by her grandniece, Sandy Rapp.