Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Metropolitan Opera Opening Night Gala


Rally protesting the showing of "The Death of Klinghoffer"
(All pictures Lieba Nesis)

The Metropolitan Opera held its annual gala at Lincoln Center to a flurry of controversy. This year I held a dual role of protester and participant in the course of a night, and felt slightly uneasy in this position. There was a rally I attended across the street to object to the showing of the "The Death of Klinghoffer" scheduled for October 20th. This opera desecrates the memory of Leon Klinghoffer in the most outrageous fashion and mixes art and terrorism - a disastrous combination. Legitimizing the senseless killing of a wheelchair-bound jew in order to gain an understanding of the terrorist's plight is outrageous and ill-advised. The rally had speakers who were victims of terrorism, including a letter read from Daniel Pearl's parents denouncing the inclusion of this opera in the repertoire of Lincoln Center. The callousness of this choice has not gone unnoticed and there will undoubtedly be many concerned patrons of the opera who will unsubscribe. Peter Gelb, the general manager of the opera, should recognize the error of his ways, and pull this opera from the fall schedule before the damage is irreparable.

Jill Hennessy in Cynthia Rowley and Gina Gershon
 in Zac Posen

Notwithstanding this unfortunate interruption, I rushed across the street to the gala, where an illustrious crowd comprised of glitterati, socialites and artists, congregate annually to usher in the beginning of the cultural season, after many have been ensconced in the Hamptons. This year the crowd and their fashion choices exceeded expectations. The attendees included designers Vera Wang, Zac Posen and Domenico Dolce; actresses Jill Hennessy, Bridget Moynahan, Jennifer Esposito and Gina Gershon; and socialites Jean Shafiroff, Zani Gugelmann, Julie Macklowe, and Lucia Hwong Gordon.

Renee Fleming

Moreover, Renee Fleming, Grace Coddington and Peter Martins were just a sprinkling of the creative elite who joined billionaire David Koch, without whom no cultural event would be complete. Unfortunately, the opera itself "Le Nozze di Figaro" was a bland disappointment invigorated by the participation of James Levine, who despite crippling back pain, lent excitement and gravitas to the event.

Chiu-Ti Jansen in Cavalli and Lucia Hwong Gordon
The opening, which began with the star spangled banner, was melodious and pleasurable due to the numerous audience members who were opera veterans, or rejects. My enthusiasm for vocal expertise waned during the first act due to its 2 hour duration whereby, my fidgety restlessness incurred the wrath of my unfriendly neighbor. Furthermore, the sets and costumes were surprisingly bare, with a revolving wood stage set displayed throughout, coupled with drab servant costumes and an occasional gown. Perhaps, the simplicity was inherent to this opera, but it still did not seem fitting for this momentous evening. However, the dire financial situation of the Metropolitan, which according to its general manager could face bankruptcy within 3 years, is a possible explanation for the modest stage sets and attire. Moreover, the sopranos voices were splendid, but lacked the wow factor of prior years.

Domenico Dolce

Nevertheless, the evening had a glamour and allure that is hard to beat and this sentiment was reiterated by stylist Carson Kressley, who noted that this and the Met Gala are the 2 most exciting fashion events of the year. He also commented on the variety of fashion choices which "ranged from bedazzled tracksuits to Balenciaga ball gowns." Spotting Domenico Dolce, who tried to remain inconspicuous, I asked him whether he would ever join the ranks of Valentino and Lagerfeld and design attire for the opera or ballet. Dolce shot me an incredulous look and cleverly remarked, "I am a fashion designer not a costume designer. You need to know the story and its history before you can design for the arts, and I do not do this."

Elana Taranina in Dior and Merih Morgan and Irina Bas in Tom Ford

Undeterred by the brevity of his response, I approached Grace Coddington, who was unusually smiley and gregarious, declaring that she loved the whole event and wishes she could wear the costumes displayed on set. I was more desirous of possessing the apparel of much of the audience - which was nothing short of spectacular. There was Christine Baranski in a black tuxedo pantsuit and glasses standing near a Zac Posen clad Gina Gershon.  The creativity of the outfits were noteworthy in comparison to other years, with guests, men and women alike, choosing sartorial individuality over safe and conventional evening wear.

Zani Gugelmann in Valentino couture and Gillian Miniter
in Bibhu Mohapatra

The conclusion of the performance, 4 hours later, was met with applause and hollers. The well-heeled guests congregated in the beautifully adorned tents to socialize with their peers and recount the night's festivities. Bill Cunningham, and numerous other photographers waited patiently to snap the photos of those performers whose names they barely knew. The importance of events like these should not be underestimated, as it exposes a wide variety of individuals to the refinement and loftiness of the arts. The Klinghoffer opera, which allows disorder and hatred to enter the opera lexicon, is an anathema to this cultural institution which is meant to provide a respite from the chaotic environment surrounding us.






- Lieba Nesis

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