‘Leyna Gabriele,’ Sonnet in ‘Light Shifts’

Leyna Gabriele (courtesy of Leyna Gabriele

Upon the release of my second book (the first, a novel released a year ago-Peregrine: The Ceremony of Powers) I decided to post selected sonnets from the In Memoriam section. The individuals I wrote sonnets about impacted my life. Whether I knew them or not, I felt a deep kinship to their work. In some instances, like Anthony Bourdain, I was able to connect in brief interviews at Tribeca Film Festival where he was promoting two films. (see my YouTube Channel). For Light Shifts, go to https://caroleditostibooks.com/

The most personal of connections in this section of Light Shifts was with my cousin Leyna Gabriele. Leyna was my mother’s niece; they adored each other and my mother gave her the non-judgmental love she needed. She was devastated when my mother left the family in Fairmont, West Virginia, got married and moved to the New York City area. However, when Leyna pursued her opera career in New York City, she practically lived at our house on various weekends.

NYT Obituary of Leyna written by Sam Roberts (2019)

Leyna Gabriele died at 95 years old, thankfully, before the pandemic in 2019. Considering that our family would not have been able to be together to say goodbye to her, she selected the right time to leave us. Leyna was amazing to family, friends, work colleagues and all who made her acquaintance. And she was a Diva.

A lyric coloratura soprano who lived and worked in New York City, in 1954, she married Vito Pisa of Chez Vito, a Manhattan supper club (circa 1950s-1960s). At Chez Vito she and other professional opera singers performed opera and pop numbers, accompanied by violinists. In between songs she and Vito were host and hostess to Metropolitan Opera stars and celebrities of the theater world, politics, Hollywood and even notables of the scientific community (Werner von Braun).

Leyna’s voice was perfect for the role of Baby Doe in the Ballad of Baby Doe, an opera based on the real-life romance between silver magnate Horace Tabor and Elizabeth McCourt, known as Baby Doe. John Latouche wrote the libretto. Leyna helped Douglas Moore while he was composing the music at Columbia University. Her exceptional voice was capable of reaching the silvery notes that the role of Baby Doe required.

Douglas Moore, composer of ‘The Ballad of Baby Doe,’ and Leyna Gabriele, in her costume for Baby Doe (courtesy of Leyna Gabriele)

Dolores Wilson and Leyna alternated in the role of Baby Doe which she starred in the second night and subsequent performances after the opera opened in Central City Colorado in 1956. She was a fan-club idol for the DoeHeads (website: http://www.babydoe.org/). They are opera lovers who appreciate that The Ballad of Baby Doe is an American opera, written in English and conceived by an American librettist and American composer.

The DoeHeads frequently get together when The Ballad of Baby Doe is performed. They hope to see The Ballad of Baby Doe eventually presented at The Met. Leyna met with the DoeHeads one last time. Cousin Jim Gabriel accompanied her and together they watched the performance of The Ballad of Baby Doe and afterward, Leyna was lauded for being the first to work with Douglas Moore on the songs.

My poetry book Light Shifts is dedicated to Leyna. In the In Memoriam section, I included a brief account of my experience with Leyna growing up. She was there for my brother’s and my birth. I was by her side the day before she passed.

NYBG orchids at the 2020 Orchid Show ‘Jeff Leatham’s Kaleidoscope’ (Carole Di Tosti)


All beauty, glamor, striking majesty,

You shined on paths you walked through light and dark,

And people noted, turned to look and see

Who was this presence bold, brave, vibrant, stark.

Most gracious, kind and loving with your kin

And friends alike who visited from afar,

But your competitive spirit’s ambition to win

Was gracefully tempered not to be a star.

Though star you were when we beheld your face,

As youngsters, Gabe and I admired you.

We felt your impact on our lives. Your Grace

Bestowed with laughter and Light, what’s real and true.

Oh Leyna. I pray God’s loving arms will keep,

You safe, secure in New Life. Rest in Peace.

About caroleditosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is an Entertainment Journalist, novelist, poet and playwright. Writing is my life. When I don't write I am desolate. Carole Di Tosti has over 1800 articles, reviews, sonnets and other online writings. Carole Di Tosti writes for Blogcritics.com, Theater Pizzazz and other New York theater websites. Carole Di Tost free-lanced for VERVE and wrote for Technorati for 2 years. Some of the articles are archived. Carole Di Tosti covers premiere film festivals in the NY area:: Tribeca FF, NYFF, DOC NYC, Hamptons IFF, NYJewish FF, Athena FF. She also covers SXSW film. Carole Di Tosti's novel 'Peregrine: The Ceremony of Power,' is being released in November-December. Her two-act plays 'Edgar,' 'The Painter on His Way to Work,' and 'Pandemics' in the process of being submitted for representation and production.

Posted on February 1, 2022, in The Writer's Tower and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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