Guys like Alex Concas don’t want you to just have a good time. It’s got to be the best time. And he doesn’t want you to simply pick up some Italian words and expressions, either. You’ve got to consume the language and the culture, become passionate about it.
Concas and his teaching partner, Natalie Blancardi of Compass real estate, said they aren’t just teaching you the Italian language in their Serata Italiana classes every Wednesday at a private residence in the area. They set out to make you Italian.
Blancardi hosted a recent class at her Valencia home. You walked in and everyone went wild to see you. The place was loud. The energy was electric. And it seemed contagious. You were welcomed with a handshake and a hand on your shoulder, with warm hugs and greetings.
“When you step into this house,” Blancardi said among the animated commotion in the place, “it’s like stepping into a little Italy. You feel like you’re in Italy for an hour and a half.”
Serata Italiana is the brainchild of Concas. Born in Rome, Italy, and having grown up on the nearby island of Sardinia, Concas left Italy in his 20s and landed in Amsterdam to work for IBM. Two years later, he came over to America — to Florida — and found work in marketing and public relations. In 1995, he started Serata Italiana.
With a passion to teach his native tongue, Concas set out to create an Italian language and culture program for beginners, advanced students and all those in between, featuring an Italian dinner during every class. The original goal, he said, was to offer Italy-related travel support, geography lessons, lifestyle facts and more with native instructors.
It was in 2006 that Concas and his wife, the internationally renowned pianist and composer Oksana Kolesnikova, whom he works with in the couple’s Oksana Management Group, moved from Florida to Los Angeles to expand their career opportunities. Concas focused on that side of his business, and then, in 2016, the Santa Clarita Valley’s “great schools and great community” lured his wife and him to the area to raise their son, Alessandro.
About three years after that, once the family settled down, Concas met Blancardi, a fellow Italian who grew up in Rome. Concas told The Signal at the time that meeting her was the spark that reignited his passion for Serata Italiana.
“With my previous experience putting these fun evenings together and her (Blancardi’s) sensational energy level, it all evolved quite effortlessly,” he said.
The first gathering, Concas recalled, took place at Vincenzo’s Pizza in Newhall. Concas and Blancardi said there wasn’t an empty seat in the building. During the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, the group continued to meet.
“We were doing it online,” Concas said. “We did it online with a glass of wine in front of the computer.”
Those who participate in Serata Italiana don’t have to be Italian and they don’t even have to be Santa Clarita Valley residents. In fact, at the recent gathering, there was a mix of participants from the SCV, Rancho Cucamonga and Burbank; some American, some Italian, and some Mexican and Colombian.
Regardless of their cultural differences and varied backgrounds, the group seemed like true Italians that night, speaking in Italian, even if some only knew a word or phrase or two from previous classes. They were a raucous bunch, too, and you’d think that, despite a few being brand-new to Serata Italiana, they all knew each other from way back.
“Ragazzi!” Concas shouted to the group. “Guys! Sit!”
He and Blancardi got everyone to settle in around a long table, covered with the customary red-and-white checkered tablecloth, set for over a dozen guests, and wine and steaming-hot plates of lasagna on their way from the kitchen to those pulling up a chair.
Nowhere would you find those confining one-piece tablet arm chair desks you’re assigned to in the typical classroom. In Blancardi’s home, you were like a large family gathered for Christmas Eve, Sunday dinner or a cousin’s communion or christening.
There was Kathy Schaeffer, a 67-year-old resident of Rancho Cucamonga, who’d taken an Italian language class at a community college some time back in response to what she called a “beautiful dream of going to Italy.” She had the desire to converse with an Italian group, and so she “Googled it online” and found Serata Italiana.
Then you had 37-year-old Erin Plesich. Originally from upstate New York and now a Santa Clarita resident and dental hygienist in the SCV, she ran into Concas at the Genuine Cigars shop and smoking area in Valencia. She smoked a couple cigars with him, and he’d said to her, “You’ve got to come join us,” to which she said she agreed enthusiastically.
“And here I am,” she exclaimed.
There was also 50-year-old Stevenson Ranch resident Ernesto Morales, who recently, with his wife, bought a house in Sicily, and actress, model and singer Angelica Bridges of Stevenson Ranch, who spent time in Milan during her modeling days, and who enrolled in Serata Italiana because she said she had plans to go back to Italy to spend time with old friends, including former Los Angeles Dodger Mike Piazza, who owns a home there.
Concas said, “My people are from all different walks of life.”
On this particular night, following the antipasti and then the lasagna and then a meat dish and then the torta al caffè — the dessert brought by one of the students — Concas went over parts of the human body (il corpo umano) in Italian. Testa is head, he shared, dito is finger, piede is foot, polpaccio is calf and caviglia is ankle …
But there was also full immersion in the language. Filmmaker and film illustrator Mauro Borrelli, who’s originally from Verona, Italy, and one of his collaborators, composer and music producer Leonardo De Bernardini, known as Leo Z from Bologna, Italy, spoke mostly Italian with others throughout the evening.
If it’s true that the best way to learn a language is to move to a foreign country to submerge yourself in everyday conversation, then Serata Italiana might just be one way of doing that without the costly airfare, travel and TSA pat-downs. In all fairness, though, there were those handshakes, hands on your shoulder, warm hugs and greetings at the door on the way in and the way out.
Serata Italiana plays Italian-language films from time to time, alongside Italian songs, with film and music suggestions always welcomed. Students are also encouraged to bring their favorite desserts or vino to class, Concas said, and to network and socialize among themselves — in Italian, of course.
“What do you like? You like opera? … How about food? You eat meat? … Oh, wait’ll you see this …”
Concas appeared to be passionate about getting to know everyone, and also about sharing the Italian language and his Italian heritage with those he meets. Really, he said, it’s not just words and the structure in which those words are used to communicate. It’s sounds, sensations, scents, tastes; it’s a look, a gesture, a feeling; it’s an intense desire, an enthusiasm that he and Blancardi want to pass on to their guests. It’s serata Italiana — an “Italian evening,” where, as the group’s website suggests, “fun meets culture.”
For more information and to register for the program, go to SerataItaliana.club.