A magical evening filled with elegance and romantic motifs provided guests with “An Affair to Remember,” a benefit for Opera Santa Barbara in the Loggia Ballroom of the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara.
The festive, glowing crimson room celebrated the opera and gathered appreciative patrons of the arts to support the biggest fundraiser of the year for Opera Santa Barbara.
General director Steven Sharpe spoke of a bright future and of the solid financial footing of a company that has been growing strong while others nationwide struggle.
“For a company to make it to 20 years in opera is a major achievement, and for us to be moving into our 20th is something to celebrate,” Sharpe said. “And I consider tonight the beginning of a year-long celebration of our 20th anniversary because that really is what we’re doing here tonight.”
Cocktails and appetizers began the evening as guests enjoyed music from local DJ Gavin Roy. Guests then strolled to their tables with valentines in hand to sit for dinner and were presented with a salad of eggplant, cannelloni, chive goat cheese and bell pepper vinaigrette before a welcome message and the evening’s first performance, Io Son L’umile Ancella from Adriana Lecouvreur by Francesco Cilea.
The black-tie-dressed crowd soaked in an opera aria Non ti Scordar di me by Ernesto De Curtis that perfectly complemented the delectable tenderloin beef short-rib duo, black truffle parsnip puree, watercress, Maitake mushroom and port sauce or pan-seared seabass, wasabi sesame oil, crushed potatoes and pineapple cucumber salsa.
A silent auction with items from a special first-ever Party Book that was mailed to guests before the event included exclusive opportunities for bid, such as an Italian Opera Dinner Party, High Tea at the Tea Gardens and Sushi at the Pagoda House.
As dinner was cleared and the silent auction closed, guests were treated to yet another wonderful performance from La Boheme, “O Soave Fanciulla,” by Giacomo Puccini that continued the warm feelings of the evening.
After the performance, auctioneer Andrew Firestone offered a tempting array of items, including vacation packages to New York City, Italy, Tamber Bey in Napa Valley, The Adriondacks and Santa Fe.
An aria auction followed the live auction with a “menu of arias,” from which donors could choose from one of three arias by Puccini or Giuseppe Verdi to honor someone special with performances featuring accompanist Catherine Miller, soprano Michelle Johnson and tenor Ta’u Pupu’a.
At the conclusion of the auctions were two more passionate closing performances, Vissi d’arte from Tosca by Puccini and La Donna e’ Mobile from Rigoletto by Verdi.
This season’s successful and completed full-length operas included the well-received Madame Butterfly in November and the recent run of Aïda in early March, with Don Pasquale upcoming as the final fully staged opera performed at the Granada Theatre, on April 26 and 28.
In addition to the 7:30 p.m. evening and 2:30 p.m. matinee performances, Opera Santa Barbara offers free student dress rehearsals, with Don Pasquale on April 24, appropriate for those age 6 or older. Admission is limited to students with valid ID.
Don Pasquale is the comic masterpiece by Gaetano Donizetti in which an older man wills his fortune to his nephew on the condition that he approves of the young man’s bride, who unfortunately doesn’t live up to expectations. But the conniving girl, Norina, to be played by Zulimar Lopez-Hernandez, instead weds the older gentleman, Don Pasquale cast as Philip Cokorinos, in an attempt to get both the fortune and her true love, the nephew Ernesto, to be played by Javier Abreu.
A dessert course of warm chocolate cake with caramel praline crunch and cocoa sherbet was enjoyed by all before guests took to the floor for more dancing to the sounds of DJ Gavin Roy, who closed the evening with a spin through the great American classics.
Aida star Michelle Johnson shared with Noozhawk her fondness for Santa Barbara and her desire to one day live here after traveling extensively with different companies.
“We travel so much, and Opera Santa Barbara is one of those gems that really nurture young singers and allow us to be instead of understudies, let us be the principal characters and give us that one chance to really shine,” Johnson said.
The mission of Opera Santa Barbara is to add cultural enrichment by presenting high-quality performances and community programs that showcase the beauty of opera, and the evening was a wonderful tribute to the arts.
An educational presentation, “Go Further: Don Pasquale” presented by Santa Fe Opera favorite Desiree Mays, will be at the Faulkner Gallery of the Santa Barbara Central Library on March 27. Tickets are $15 for general admission, $12 for subscribers and $5 for students with ID.
Opera Santa Barbara also has free noontime concerts continuing on April 10, 17 and 24 at the Faulkner Gallery with performers offering a varied program of arias and ensembles.
Opera Santa Barbara extends a special thank you to the event sponsors:
» Roger and Sarah Chrisman, the Santa Barbara Foundation, and Bob and Sandy Urquhart