La Fiesta Italiana

Italy Comes to Monmouth at “La Festa Italiana”

The Department of World Languages and Cultures and The Italian Club at Monmouth University held their annual “La Festa Italiana” or “Italian Festival” in the Wilson Hall Auditorium on Tuesday, Apr. 5. The event celebrated various aspects of Italian culture, such as food, music, poetry, and more.

The festival was attended by various language professors, students enrolled in the language classes at the university, and even some students from the neighboring Long Branch High School. It was hosted and overseen by Dr. Maria Simonelli. Simonelli, who began La Festa Italiana around ten years ago, is not only a professor of Italian and Latin at the university, but is also the Department Coordinator of the Italian Program and the advisor to the Italian Club.

“Signora Simonelli is an amazing professor and a genuinely caring person,” said freshman elementary education and history student Samantha Papa, who is also currently enrolled in Simonelli’s Italian 202 class and an active member of the Italian Club. “She lights up every room, and I wouldn’t have wanted to work with anyone else but her.”

Dr. Priscilla Gac-Artigas, a professor of Spanish for 20 years at Monmouth and the former chair of the World Languages and Cultures Department, shares a similar sentiment: “I believe that if someone needs to get credit for the success of the event, it is Professor Simonelli,” said Gac-Artigas. “Since she has been at Monmouth she has been an inspiration to all her students. Her passion for teaching and dedication to her students has been inspirational to her colleagues as well. The Italian program exists basically thanks to her hard work, and also to our present chair, Dr. Barrea-Marlys.”

Simonelli kicked off the event with a welcome to all in attendance and introduced the guest speaker and student performances with an undeniable excitement in her voice. Dr. Carlo Davoli, the Education Office Director at the Consulate General of Italy in New York, was the honorary speaker. His presentation of “Italy North and South, The Socioeconomic and Cultural Differences” prompted multiple questions during the Q&A from professors and students alike, with topics such as agriculture, employment, and studying abroad being subsequently discussed.

“I found the speaker at the festival very informative about the employment and regional differences in Italy,” said freshman elementary education and history student Juliana Illiano, also an active member on the executive board of the Italian Club.

After Davoli, it was time for the various student performances, beginning with seniors Carolina Carvalho and Stephanie Moscatello reading Giovanni Pascoli’s poem “Mare” in Italian.

“Professor Simonelli asked me to do something and a poem was something I felt comfortable doing,” said marketing student Moscatello, who has participated in the Italian Festival in prior years. “I was a little nervous before, but not too bad.”

Marjorie Mora, freshman health studies student, continued the festivities with her presentation “How To Read Rhythm,” which emphasized her musical expertise thanks to years of playing the clarinet and a love of music in general.

This led into two musical performances by students. First, a performance of Dean Martin’s “On an Evening in Roma” by students Dave DePaola on guitar, John Fabricatore on saxophone, Antonio Scavo on battery, and Nicole Seitz as the vocal. After, sisters Maria and Carolina Carvalho sang a rendition of “Santa Lucia.”

“Always before performing in front of audience, no matter what size, I am a little nervous. I have discovered that getting nervous before can be a good thing because the nerves allow me to have some adrenaline, which helps my breath support and create more focus and energy for the song,” said Carvalho, who has not only sang, but has also performed the tarantella at previous Italian Festivals and is also an officer for the Italian Club. “I was also excited to sing, especially in support of my heritage by singing a duet with my sister.”

La Festa Italiana was concluded with the student performance of the traditional, southern Italy originated folk dance, the tarantella. John Centaro, Juliana Illiano, Samantha Papa, Marta Telatin, Natalie Mallamuci, Bridget Nocera, Tyler Bounassi, and Leslie Smith all danced to “Tarantella Napoletana.”

“Before performing I was nervous but excited because I knew that our group worked really hard and would do a great job,” said Papa. “After the dance everyone had a smile on their face. We were all extremely proud of our performance.”

The group, full of mostly newcomers to the tarantella dance, was ultimately excited for their performance. “I was a bit nervous because it was my first time performing the dance in front of a crowd, but still excited,” said Illiano. “After the performance, I was proud of the group for doing such a great job.”

On whether the event was a success, many students and staff seem to all agree.

“I am convinced it was a complete success,” said Gac-Artigas. “Students were engaged, asked intelligent questions to the speaker from the Italian consulate, and showed a lot of talent in their performances.”

Illiano also had a great time at her first Italian Festival. “I truly enjoyed the Italian Festival! I think it was a great way to share the talents of Monmouth students, as well as spreading the Italian culture.”

While the Festival may have not been very long, it was still incredibly important to the students learning the language, the department staff, and to the university in general.

“I really love the opportunity to enjoy students’ performances and the speakers that Professor Simonelli always brings to campus,” explained Gac-Artigas. “Both the Italian Festival and the World Languages Festival allow us to share with our colleagues in other departments and with the university community as a whole that learning a language has more to it than teaching vocabulary and grammar.”

PHOTO COURTESY of Russell Cerminaro