Even as the black-tie attired guests stepped gingerly through inches of water, ladies genteelly hiking their designer gowns, Houston Grand Opera's opening night gala dinner showed no signs of surrendering to Mother Nature's soggy mood. In fact, the late-night soirée went on in the party tent on Fish Plaza with an exuberance inspired by the enormously colorful performance of Aida.
While it poured outside, the party tent interior shimmered in a cloak of gilded fabric, a forest of palm trees created by soaring centerpieces on each table. The palms were cleverly supported by golden pyramids dressed in orchids and, at each end of the tent, a massive mural of a reclining Cleopatra added to the ambiance. (Houston Ballet's Lauren Anderson in Cleopatra costuming was the subject of one.)
As the champagne corks popped, crews with mops battled the relentless flow of water seeping under the edges of the tent, prompting one guest to quip, "It seems that the Nile has flooded its banks."
All's well that ends well, as the evening raised $450,000, a record for HGO opening night galas.
Few seemed perturbed by the watery setting as most laughed off the rain, including opening night chair Frances Marzio. As planned herald trumpeters called the gathering to attention for Perryn Leech's introduction of the Aida cast and presentation of honors to outgoing HGO board chair Beth Madison. "She is a true Houston treasure," Dr. John Mendelsohn noted as Madison resided on a throne, escorted there by hunky "guards" in costumes from the production. The evening marked Mendelsohn's ascension to board chair.
Among the ladies lifting their hemlines was Donna Bruni, who prior to the opera conducted the orchestra in the national anthem, an honor she had earned via auction at last spring's Opera Ball. For her conducting debut, she wore a tuxedo. By intermission, she was in her striking ball gown.
Of course, all eyes were on fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, who designed the sets and costumes for the HGO Aida production. And, yes, that pink coif is her real hair, not a wig. Only those who got close to her could tell for sure.
Sitting down for the late-night dinner by City Kitchen were Margaret Alkek Williams and Jim Daniel, Phoebe and Bobby Tudor, Christopher Gardner and Gary Tinterow, Carol and Mike Linn, Lynn Wyatt, Eileen and George Hricik, Sara and Bill Morgan, Francoise and Ed Djerejian and Pat and Dan Breen.
At night's end, it was time once again to walk on water and, at this point, the covered red carpet connecting the party tent to Wortham Theater Center was as sloshy as Memorial Drive after a hard rain. All's well that ends well, as the evening raised $450,000, a record for HGO opening night fundraisers.