ENGLEWOOD, N.J. — Cliffside Park grandmother Mary Ellen Rohon likes an audience.
The New York City native spent years in front of the camera as a pioneer in the world of educational television.
Now in retirement, the 88-year-old spends time in front of a live audience as a mezzo-soprano in Englewood's Verismo Opera Company.
On Sunday, Rohon will perform in her 26th opera when Verismo debuts Amilcare Ponchielli’s "La Gioconda" at bergenPAC in Englewood.
"Being with Verismo has given me a non-paying but very fruitful second career," said Rohon, who has been with the volunteer opera group for 13 years. She joined after her husband passed away.
"I have always been an active person and I needed something to keep me active," she said.
Verismo keeps Rohon very active. Along with singing, Rohon serves on Verismo's Board of Directors and also coordinates the chorus schedule, arranges auditions and sends out email newsletters.
"I do whatever is asked of me," Rohon said.
In return, Rohon gets the companionship that is lacking in the lives of many people her age.
"I love the camaraderie of the group," Rohon told Daily Voice. "We are all in it together to try to make this thing work and that is just a great feeling."
But being the oldest singer in the opera also presents many challenges. Rohon said the hours of practice leading up to Sunday's debut has been "cumbersome." Learning "La Gioconda," which is written in Italian, has also been a feat.
"It is very difficult for an aging brain to memorize an opera in a foreign language," Rohon said.
Still, come curtain Sunday, Rohon said she will be ready.
"If you are a performer you live to be on the stage in front of that audience," Rohon said. "For somebody my age it is an incredible thrill."
La Gioconda will be performed this Sunday at 3:00 PM at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood.
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