Attendees of the Hoboken St. Ann’s Feast will soon have something in common with United States presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. They will all have been serenaded by Cristina Fontanelli, a former Hoboken resident and internationally known opera singer.
“My roots are in Hoboken,” said Fontanelli, who was born in Brooklyn but spent time in Hoboken growing up, as well as living in the mile square city in the 1990s. “My grandparents came from Italy and settled in Hoboken. My mother still lives there.”
Every year, Fontanelli, who now lives in Manhattan, returns to Hoboken to perform; but she’s here a lot more often than that.
“I want to feel like I’m doing something with my life for humanity.” – Christina Fontanelli
Fontanelli recently was featured in a national radio advertisement for Dominos Pizza and also performed on CBS.
A world traveler
Her music is primarily Italian themed.
After singing a Neapolitan themed folk song years ago, a reporter from The New York Times came up to Fontanelli and asked what song she just performed, saying it was beautiful.
“I thought, ‘How sad is this that we’re losing our musical heritage?’ ” she said. “The songs are worth preserving because they’re so beautiful.”
So Fontanelli began sharing her talents with the world. Her list of countries visited could rival that of any international traveler.
Fontanelli has performed in Korea, Japan, California, Boston Symphony Hall, Lincoln Center in New York, Istanbul, Kenya and Uganda.
“Africa stands out as my favorite experience,” she said, referring to a safari trip she went on during the visit.
“The reason it stands out from all the other places was that it was the least developed,” she said. “To be in a place that was not touched by industrialization was amazing. We just sat at the riverbank at the source of the Nile River; but since then they put up a dam. It’s hard to go anywhere where it’s just natural.”
Fontanelli has made it a point to return to Hoboken for the St. Anns’ Feast.
“Hoboken represents my roots,” she said. “St. Ann’s has been a blessing all my life. I’m attached to my Catholic roots, and through the years I’ve learned a lot during these feasts. I love coming back to Hoboken to sing.”
Former Mayor Anthony Russo even rewarded Fontanelli with a plaque and a celebration of her own day when she performed years ago.
“The thing that makes me so happy is that I’m hired to sing and represent Italian music and culture,” she said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Fontanelli’s rise to glory wasn’t set in stone from a young age, but she did say last week that her mother has “the most beautiful voice [she’s] ever heard.”
Fontanelli studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, hoping to become an actress. But along the way, she discovered a singing talent. Over the years, she’s performed in the White House for former President Bill Clinton, and also sang at the 2005 inauguration of George W. Bush. Fontanelli also recently sang at Mickey Rooney’s 90th birthday party in front of celebrities like Donald Trump and Regis Philbin in New York City.
After many of these high profile performances, something clicked for Fontanelli.
“I was doing an interview on a radio station about the St. Ann’s Feast and it was almost like a light bulb went off,” Fontanelli said. “I said to myself, ‘Oh my God, you really are a singer.’ For a while it just snowballed and was a way to pay my rent and I kind of just went with it. But it finally dawned on me that it really is my calling. I was out there singing and not having a realization that I was good at it.”
Returning to Hoboken
Fontanelli compared singing for a career to “being an athlete.”
“I dedicated my life to learn how to be a great singer,” she said. “The thing I love about this job more than anything is that music is a healing force. It’s a universal language. Through my music I can elevate people, their spirits, and their souls…I want to feel like I’m doing something with my life for humanity.”
Fontanelli will be back at the microphone on July 21, the opening night of the annual St. Ann’s Feast in Hoboken.
“I’ll be there with my big band, a 12-piece band,” she said. “I also hope to go and volunteer at the Novena Mass to sing the Ave Maria.”
Ray Smith may be reached at RSmith@hudsonreporter.com