A LIFETIME of song came to a bitter-sweet close Thursday for Concetta "Connie" Cascarino.
She performed the song "So What?" from the musical "Cabaret" at the annual Christmas dinner of the New Horizons Senior Center in Narberth after talking about the popular musical, set in Germany on the eve of the Nazi takeover.
Her rich soprano rang out in the room as it had in many venues throughout the region over a 60-year-plus singing and acting career. She returned to her table with enthusiastic applause ringing in her ears, put her head down on the table and died of heart complications.
She was 86 and lived in Havertown.
"She had been feeling fine," said her daughter, Deborah Cascarino. "We miss her terribly, but it was a wonderful way for her to go. She was afraid the day would come when she couldn't sing anymore."
Connie's singing performances extended from the Academy of Music and Robin Hood Dell in Philadelphia to Carnegie Hall in New York. She sang with the Rittenhouse Opera and Cosmopolitan Opera companies.
As an actress, she graced the stages of Old Academy Players, the former Abbey Stage Door, the Huntington Valley Dinner Theater and other venues.
"I first saw Connie perform as Aunt Abby in a production of 'Arsenic and Old Lace' at the Old Academy Players theater," Paul Muscarella, of Croydon, Bucks County, wrote in a guest book for Connie. "She was a hoot!"
"A few months later, I was lucky to share the stage with her in 'The Man Who Came to Dinner.' I always enjoyed talking to her and listening to her sing. Seems she was always signing or humming something."
Susan Lonker wrote: "I had the pleasure of working with Connie in 'I Hate Hamlet' at Old Academy. We sat next to each other at the dressing table and talked and laughed together."
Connie's career might not have gotten off the ground if she had heeded her stubborn father, Carlo DeRitis. He had no patience with her singing, and she was 23 before she was allowed to take voice lessons.
Her father changed his mind after hearing her sing in "Cavalleria Rusticana," her daughter said.
Connie wasn't going to let a little thing like reaching her 80s still her beautiful voice. She sang with the New Horizons Senior Glee Club, which performed 30 free concerts a year at churches, synagogues, community centers and nursing homes.
"We come with our aches and pains, but nothing hurts when we start singing," she said in an Inquirer story in April 2002.
Connie was born in the town of Atessa in the Abruzzi region of Italy and was brought to the U.S. at the age of 8 by her father and mother, the former Rosa Fioriti.
She would sing along with Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts until her father would snap, "Stop singing!"
Connie met her husband, Arthur L. Cascarino, at a clothing factory in Philadelphia where they both worked. They were married in 1948. He died of multiple sclerosis in 1993.
In the true tradition of Italian women of a certain generation, Connie was devoted to her family and treated them with Italian delicacies from her kitchen.
Her son, Arthur V. Cascarino, died at age 33. Her daughter is her only immediate survivor. She also was predeceased by two brothers, Angelo and Gaetano DeRitis, and a sister, Madeline Weatherford.
Services: Funeral Mass 10 a.m. today at St. Dorothy Church, Township Line and Burmont roads, Drexel Hill. Friends may call at 8:30 a.m. at the D'Anjolell Memorial Home of Broomall, 2811 West Chester Pike, Broomall. Burial will be in Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Marple.