It might be chilly this early November morning, but love is in the air when Giada Valenti slides into a corner booth at the cozy Sant Ambroeus in the West Village.
The love of her life, her husband as well as her manager, JJ Pouwer of One West Concerts, takes a seat at an adjoining table, proferring, “I’ll just let her talk.”
And she does, as well as touch and laugh. She keeps the interviewer engaged, just as she does her audience.
It’s always amazing to meet someone in person who you only know by their singing. In meeting Giada, I’m taken by her petiteness — and I tell her so. (She laughs.) Packed in this Venetian’s small, tight frame are a set of lungs and a voice that ignite romance. She has seen firsthand from the stage how a song such as “E Mi Innamorerai” can get a couple to touch hands.
“We’re so busy and stressed today,” she says. Through her singing “I try to bring joy and love” to those in the audience.
She also knows from personal experience what happens when eyes lock across a room. “I believe in love at first sight,” she says. It was while performing in Switzerland that she spotted JJ in the back of the room. They met. They talked. It was love. So much so, she wrote “But Beautiful” for JJ, which she included on her album “Italian Signorina.” The song opens with “It was love at first sight.”
All good love is enduring, they say, and for Giada she found how loving JJ is when she ended up spending June of 2012 in a bed at Mount Sinai Hospital. She says she had been suffering from low blood sugar for a while. Then she started to faint — on a daily basis. She got to know EMS crew members quite well since they took her to the hospital so often.
She wrote of her experience on a blog: “I was brought to the emergency room one day after fainting again and they told me I could not leave or I would die because my sugar was not able to stabilize.”
Ten days later researchers at Mount Sinai would find three tumors on her pancreas. It was called insulinoma. All through her ordeal, JJ was there, she says. I look over at JJ and he nods, his expression saying it all.
After surgeons removed half of her pancreas, she was reinvigorated. The month in the hospital “changed my life,” she says. “I was blessed by God” for giving her a great team of doctors.
Two months later, she invited the surgeons and nurses who cared for her to her first post-op concert. “They knew me inside out, literally.”
Giada was born in Portogruaro, Italy, near Venice. She started to sing when she was 7 years old. She remembers being admonished by her grandmother when she started to change the lines of the classic Italian songs. She saw no harm in it.
She kept singing and by age 12 she was in a band that included her cousin. Then she was off to music school in Venice and the Conservatorio di musica Giuseppe Tartini in Trieste in northeast Italy where she earned her music degree. She was off and running, garnering success for her interpretations of love songs, most of which she sang in Italian.
Next came London where she wrote songs for independent publisher Right Bank Music. She attended a writing session in Denmark called D-Pop, where she had to write a song a day for different artists. But it just wasn’t write the song, it had to be sung and produced by day’s end. She says it was so enjoyable she ended up writing two songs a day.
It was there that two fellow writers suggested she record a song in English. The result was “Italian Signorina,” which caught the ears of some music executives who invited her to New York City.
In 2005, she came to New York.
“It was magical. It was the holidays. It was just spectacular.”
In December 2005, Giada self-released her “Italian Signorina” CD.
The song “Caruso” caught some buzz and she sang it on the red carpet at the New York City Columbus Day Parade in 2005, 2006, and 2007.
Since coming to New York City she expanded her reach by networking with Italian-American groups. Her first concert was at the Dicapo Opera Theatre, which is on the lower level of St. Jean Baptiste Church on East 76th Street.
She quickly realized that in order to help promote herself she needed to improve her English. The best way to do that she says, was the way she did it in other countries — watch children’s programs on TV. And in New York she turned to programming on PBS.
So, it’s not surprising that she and JJ contacted PBS to take a look at a production they put together with financial backers called “From Venice With Love.”
The concert was shot at the Madison Theatre on Long Island. Bonus footage on a DVD features Giada giving a tour of Venice. The performance will be shown several times on ThirteenWNET. (For specific times, visit giadavalenti.com)
To promote the performance, Giada and JJ will be visiting a number of PBS stations across the nation, starting with Nashville. And speaking of Nashville, the home of country music, Giada says she hopes to do a duet with Rascal Flatts.
One incentive that has gotten Giada this far in her life is “You have to dare to dream.”
And we would like to add from The Beatles, “All you need is love, love is all you need.”