Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sarasota Opera's Opening Night Gala

I think my expectations were just too high.  Sarasota Opera's Opening Night Gala was something I had wanted to attend for a long time.  Normally it is held the first Saturday of Feb., the same night as the Conservation Foundation's Palm Ball and I normally attend the Palm Ball.  I was so excited this year to find out those two events were going to be on separate weekends - yay!  I was able to go to both for once.

In the past, the opening night of the opera was a grand, grand, grand affair.  Truly the party of the year.  It was such a big, glamorous deal that I remember one year, the Herald-Tribune even ran a front-page story of it in the Sunday paper!  Marjorie North had told me she had to attend the gala, run home, write her story and get it in quickly for it to run the next morning.  That was apparently in its hey-day.  Saturday night's event was nice enough and nothing horribly wrong, it was just a tad boring.  As I said, maybe my expectations were too high.

About 300 people attended the gala at the Ritz Carlton. I think it used to be better attended.  One thing I must say they excelled at was getting guests to the Ritz.  You attended the opera at the Opera House and valeted.  Then somehow, all the cars were taken to the Ritz during the opera. At the conclusion of the opera, you boarded big Greyhound-type buses and were driven to the Ritz.  They had four buses and it was done in a very efficient and well-planned manner, with nary a glitch that I could see.

The opera that night was Carmen, my very favorite one.  I am certainly not going to critique it.  That's not in my skill set.  The H-T reviewer didn't enjoy it as much as I did.  Since this was opening night and a gala followed, the actual opera started at 4 PM.  Let me tell you how weird it was to be getting dressed in a ball gown at 2 PM in the afternoon.  I did feel a little goofy.

One thing that everyone seemed to love universally was the band.  I think the dance floor was full all evening.  The music was provided by the Jazz Legacy Big Band out of Tampa and they were terrific!  Definitely a band for other organizations to keep in mind for their events.

I even waited two days to write about this because I wanted to somehow feel more positive about the event and I never did.  I don't think it is fair to critique something without thinking how it can be improved.  Four things I think they can improve upon for next time:

1. Atmosphere - This was an event for the opera, for goodness sakes, and there was no atmosphere whatsoever.  They did have a gobo light projected on one wall that said Soiree in Seville in red - big whoop.  The centerpiece is pictured at the bottom of the blog.  It was fine, just expected.  Red roses.  I think a red or black tablecloth might have been more dramatic with the centerpiece than the creamy white one they used.  How I think they can improve - create interest.  How to do that?  It's the opera!  I assume they have a scenery department.  I would think they could make something that would invoke more of an essence of Spain.  For instance...when I chaired the Mistletoe Ball years ago, the theme was Scottish Highlands Holiday.  One wall of the tent was a mural of the Scottish Highlands countryside with a fog machine enveloping the scene in fog.  It really created the entire feeling of the evening.  Also, at the entrance of the tent was a castle-like doorway which people had to enter through and across the ceiling tartan flags were hanging down.  I had bag pipers playing as people came in.  It was just a few things, but very effective and made a huge difference in atmosphere and taking the event to the next level.  When the curtain was raised at the opening of the opera, everyone ooohed over the dramatic color and scenery.  They needed to harness that for the gala.  They could have even had volunteers dressed up in the bright yellow soldier uniforms welcoming everyone into the ballroom as a start.  Maybe a flamenco guitarist could have been playing during cocktails or as people entered the ballroom.  There is a scene in the opera where Carmen dances with castanets.  There could have been a short flamenco dance.  Maybe something with a matador.  I could go on and on, but you get the idea.. 

2. Food - This is a huge deal for me.  The food has got to be excellent and it really wasn't.  I know the chef tried hard to do something Spanish, but it was lacking in several areas.  First of all, there was broiled asparagus topped with a poached egg.  Okay, that looked good and was a bit different.  The only problem was that the egg was stone cold.  You basically had runny, cold egg yolk all over your plate - ick.  The asparagus was good though.  The entree was fine - short ribs - though not as good as Michael's On East.  The dessert to me, was a disaster and it could have been fabulous!  It was listed as Red Dragon Hot Chocolate with Zeploi's (I'm not sure why they spelled it with an 's) - a small shot glass of hot chocolate with four little doughnut balls.  I looked up the word Zeploi and it was no where to be found.  What was found was Zeppoli or Zeppole - small doughnuts or fritters, which is what it was.  It wasn't hot, it was cold and the doughnuts were cold, too.  If at least one of them would have been warm, it would have been 100 times better.   

3. The talking part of the evening - There was WAY too much talking.  Yes, I know they honored Betsy and Harvey Hinrichs, which was lovely, but they had the podium way over to the side and you couldn't even see what was going on.  The talking part should have at least been cut in half.

4. The gala's printed program - Speaking of Betsy and Harvey, they weren't even listed on the program as being honored.  Frankly, there was no listing of what the agenda was for the evening at all.  Fully one fourth of the program was "Greetings from the Chef".  What an incredible waste of space. 

The chairs were Rachael and Don Worthington.  I am sure they are a lovely couple.  Their bio in the opera program book as Season Producers is quite impressive.  They sound like they are very interesting and accomplished.  

That's it.  There was nothing really wrong with the event, it was just that it could have been so much more, with just a little effort.  I want to see it become again the grand event it is meant to be.  I know it can happen.  Please make it happen.

Those attending and not photographer below were: Victor DeRenzi, Susan Danis, Suzanne and Hank Foster, Carol and Les Brualdi, Dee and Charlie Stottlemyer, Victoria and Harry Leopold, Anna Maria Troiano, Harold and Wanda Rayle Libby, Max Eisenbarth, Jane and Ed Barvaria, Even Collinsworth, Bonnie Lancaster, Hillary Steele, Dr. Jack and Isabelle Wright, Lauren Dorsett, Betty Schoenbaum, Kay Delaney, Wendy and Jerry Feinstein, and so many more.

Sandra Lindqvist and Jacqueline Morton

Matthew and Lori Bower

Veronica Brady and Susan Buck

Gerry and Bea Elden

Mary Lee Ritchey and Elizabeth Gonye

Scott Anderson and Gordie and Elton White

Jonathan Strickland Coleman, Lydia McKenzie, and Rick Kerby

Irene and Sumner Bagby

Sheena Robinson and Kim Cornetet

Mary Lee Ritchey, Nancy Gridley and Donna Barcomb

Roxie and Mike Jerde

Karen Dove and Sylvia Barber

The centerpiece

The asparagus with poached egg

The dessert



  1. I sincerely disagree with Ms. Benedict's assessment of the evening. I attended the gala to support an organization that has brought so much joy to my life over the years. Not to have a flamenco dancer bounce around me during a cocktail hour. Leave that for the theater. Everyone I spoke to enjoyed the evening thoroughly.

    In this day in age when arts organizations are closing down while other arts organizations struggle to maintain their high artistic level with ever shrinking budgets, perhaps we should reassess our expectations to keep in mind the bigger picture rather than bash an organization for putting frugality first.

  2. I certainly respect your opinion Mr. Houston, and we all experience things differently, but I did not "bash" the organization. I was suggesting ways I thought they could improve the event, not the opera. I quite admire the opera and Susan Danis, especially. I attend every year and I enjoyed "Carmen". In regards to your frugality comment, nothing I suggested actually costs money - the scenery and costumes the opera already owns, while changing the color of the tablecloth also costs nothing. A guitarist might cost $200, but that would be it. Also, you do not choose to hold an event at the Ritz to be frugal, so that comment holds no water for me. :-) If I "bashed" anything, it would be the Ritz. I would be interested in hearing what you thought of the food. Was yours as cold as mine was? Also, don't you think a better use of the program would have been to highlight the contributions of Betsy and Harvey and not a greeting from the chef? In saying all that, I do appreciate your commenting on my blog. Thanks for reading!