Associated with gold, a 50th anniversary celebration can delight in the signature color. And so it was with “A Gala Performance Evening of Stars,” a benefit for the New Orleans Ballet Association and presented by its Ballet Resource and Volunteer Organization. The honorary chaircouple was Gov. John Bel Edwards and first lady Donna Hutto Edwards. Former New York City Ballet Principal Wendy Whelan (also the evening’s guest curator) and Complexions Contemporary Ballet Artistic Director Desmond Richardson were the special honorary guests; former Councilwoman Jacquelyn “Jackie” Brechtel Clarkson, Dr. Bernard M. Jaffe and Janee “Gee” Michelle Tucker were the Lifetime Board Member inductees; and Antonina Skobina and Denys Drozdyuk, Lindsi Dec and Karel Cruz, Laura and Jerome Tisserand, Adiarys Almeida and Taras Domitro, Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets and Nayara Lopes and Sterling Baca were paired as dancers. Nathan Hurling was the stage manager and Joan Long production designer.
The golden gala started with another color: red. At 6 p.m., patrons arrived, striding the red carpet to the Mahalia Jackson Theater of the Performing Arts. A half hour later, and after introductions, the above induction and the onstage student cast for an opening presentation, the “Evening of Stars Performance” began, wowing the audience. Post-performance — and the standing ovation and thunderous applause — a brace of social rounds ensued. The first was the exclusive Champagne Patron Party and the second, the gourmet seated dinner on stage (yes, onstage!) by 1718 Catering by the Hyatt Regency New Orleans. With the general audience cleared out and patrons on a higher tier of the theater sipping bubbly and enjoying various cheeses, decorative wizards transformed the stage into a dreamy, astral setting.
Committee Chairman Stephen Sonnier and Henson Davis designed the décor along with NOBA’s Joan Long. Three types of coverings — golden satin, sequins and tulle — were placed over the tables, which were centered with stunning arrangements of gilded philodendron leaves, curly willow and giant James Story orchids created by Dunn & Sonnier (Stephen Sonnier). A backdrop of stars and colored lighting, along with nine chandeliers (Maloney Productions and the New Orleans Opera Association), were further designs by Joan Long.
“An evening reminiscent of the Gilded Age,” “gorgeous chandeliers,” “elegance and grandeur,” “gourmet food and fun,” were some of the many laudatory remarks, as was that of Teresa Guzzetta (attending with husband Dr. Don) who stated, “I can’t believe the stage was turned around in such a quick time from performance venue to elegant dining venue.” Everyone shared that sentiment as they raved about the dancing.
Headliners were Gov. John Bel and Donna Edwards, BRAVO President Stephanie Burks, NOBA Chairman John M. Duck and Renea, NOBA executive director Jenny Hamilton, Pamela and Werner Williams (in the top donor category, Visionary), Sandra and Joel Chaisson, Ralph and Ashley Mahana, Joseph “Joe” and Sue Ellen Canizaro and grandson Ryan Lopiccolo with wife Kaitlin, Carlos and Jan Mickan, Dottie Belletto (NOCCI), Bill Goldring, Gregory Curtis and Bradley Feichter, Gayle Dellinger (who’ll be addressed as “Your Majesty” soon), Joan and Lawrence Zaslow, Gregor Fox and Camille Patti, Ann Duplessis, Russ and Sandra Herman, Peggy and Timber Floyd, Kerry Clayton and Paige Royer, Karen Wood and Jim Ward, Tiffa and Kerry Boutte, Jacquee Carvin, Kathleen Mix Diamond, Gerri and Murray Valene, and Deborah Alciatore Empey, who chaired the auction, set up just off the stage, along with Toni Van Zandt Bachmann and Rosalyn Ditta. Attending, too, was Charlotte Bollinger, who teamed with Gregory Curtis to chair the days-later “Golden Benefactor’s Dinner” at the Windsor Court Hotel. It was presented by NOBA, BRAVO and the hotel in the “magnificently renovated” La Chinoiserie on the 23rd floor.
To cap off an evening of dancing, it was only fitting there should be more. Julio and Cesar’s scintillating sounds, most with an infectious Latin beat, lured dozens to the floor. Even the “Star” dancers.
“We’ve been doing this for 41 years, yes, 41 years,” said Frank Wong at the conclusion of the cooking demonstrations and as folks were queuing up for the presented dishes. Once again, New Orleans Chefs’ Charity for Children held forth at midday in the Hilton Riverside to benefit St. Michael Special School. The Oscar J. Tolmas Charitable Trust was the Presenting Sponsor (represented by Lisa Romano and Vincent Giardina) with Tesson Foundation and Lynne A. Burkart as the respective Diamond and Platinum ones. Blair Monroe and Kevin Colomb represented the J. Edgar Monroe Foundation and Cindy Paulin, the Angel Wings Foundation.
More top names to know were Cindy Bowman and Eileen Schulin, event co-chairwoman; the school’s Ladies’ Guild President Erin Shea-Stahnke and Vice President Nancy Colomb, and scores of guild members, who solicited raffle and auction items. Further luminaries were master of ceremonies Eric Paulsen and event principal Dominic Massa, of WWL-TV; St. Michael School President/Principal Tish Sauerhoff and assistant principal Ann Higgins; Gary Solomon and son Sam Mickal Solomon, respectively of the school’s finance committee and board; Freida Johnson, whose late husband, Phil Johnson, founded the event 42 years ago; and Karen Cahn and Larry Leruth, representing the recently deceased Joe Cahn and Marie Leruth for whom there were tributes. Marie’s late husband, Warren, was a co-founder of the event.
And now for the chefs! Thanks aplenty targeted Greg Reggio, Justin Devillier, Nina Compton, Alon Shaya, Eneril Lagasse, Andrea Apuzzo, Chris Lynch, Leah Chase, John Folse and the Wong brothers: the above Frank as well as James, John, Tommy and Joe. Wine came from Delicato Family Vineyards and Ste Michelle Wine estates. The “toques” spearheaded demonstrations of their cuisine, which was served at lunch and enjoyed by Dee Bordlee, Anna Bordlee, David and Sue Sabrio, Lea Siegel, Claire Orth, Edna Delucca Klein, Olga Rome, Chet and Denise Mehurin, Karen Schindler, Joan Hartson and about 800 others.
In the auction, Connie Boudreaux, Paul Candies (“winning” a dinner offered by Monsignor Christopher Nalty), Kristina Galjour and Karen Jones (Greg Reggio’s sister) were among the top bidders, while Monica Knauer, a St. Michael School parent, won the Taste of the City raffle.
Suspense abounds each year when the Metropolitan Opera in New York holds its National Council Auditions of the Gulf Coast Region. The program, just held in Tulane’s Dixon Hall, was opened with welcoming words by Gulf Coast Region Co-Chairwomen Mmes. Charles L. Dupin and Bruce Gordon, Diane and Melissa; Mrs. Harry C. Stahel, Claire, president of Amici, the support group; and Philip Straub, who both emceed and had a featured discussion with chorus master Carol Rausch.
Metropolitan Opera Judge Gayletha Nichols, along with district and region judges Danielle Orlando and Craig Terry, and native New Orleanian and internationally renowned tenor Bryan Hymel, awarded first and second places to a pair of sopranos, Sylvia D’Eramo from Texas and Yunuet Laguna from Mexico. Encouragement awards tapped Efrian Corralejo (Mexico), Leia Lensing (Iowa), Tiffany Townsend (Mississippi), Denis Velez (Mexico) and Gamaliel Reynoso (Mexico).
Then it was on to the art-filled home of Joyce and Sidney Pulitzer, where an impressive floral arrangement of Gerber daisies bedecked the dining room table. Saffron catered with a host of taste treats. Mingling were the Dupins, the Gordons, the Stahels, Bryan Hymel, Michelle and Kimball Schlafly, Dwayne O. Littauer, Rebeccka Coe, Susan Garic Wallace, Eileen and A.J. Capritto, immediate past Amici President Michael Harold, Harold and Constance Cowart Young, Margie Breeden, Elroy Eckhardt, Jacqueline Gamble, Marla Garvey, Loretta Whyte, Ellen McGlinchey, Virginia Dare Ruffin, Baty Lands, Courtney-Anne Sarpy, Katherine de Montluzin and others, who relished the deserts of the auditions and its wealth of talent.