Well before the spotlight fell on Margaret Alkek Williams, the scene in the Grand Foyer of Wortham Theater Center could have been a casting call for a contemporary version of My Fair Lady, the theme adopted by Houston Grand Opera Ball chair Rudy Avelar for this white-tie-and-tails evening.
From a stunning Lynn Wyatt in black Oscar de la Renta to a ravishing Reese Lasher in a billowing gown by Carolina Herrera, the ladies dressed as for no other night on the social calendar.
Wearing a couture creation by Ripetta encrusted with thousands of Swarovski crystals and green and silver beading, Williams shimmered in the spotlight as it was announced that her Alkek and Williams Foundation was gifting HGO with $4 million for the creation of a general director chair fund in her name.
The fun and frolic
Announcement of this major gift was just the start of the evening's excitement that included a serenade of "Some Enchanted Evening" by HGO studio artist Michael Sumel. The big surprise was the Las Vegas dance troupe, costumed as if from the original My Fair Lady, performing to "Singing in the Rain" which suddenly gave way to "It's Raining Men" as the male dancers ripped off their shirts to reveal tough-as-steel six packs and rippling biceps.
"We're all about fun. The opera is fun," explained HGO's director of special events Guyla Pircher. The blissful partying went on until the wee hours — thanks to the inspired dance music of hometown talent David Caceres — with Margaret Alkek Williams kicking up heels until 1:30 a.m.
The "My Fair Lady" theme prevailed in a frothy feminine decor with dozens of over-sized parasols edged in fresh flowers and suspended from overhead. Soaring centerpieces overflowed with roses, orchids and tulips. Smaller silver vases at the base held profusions of fragrant blossoms. Richard Flowers and The Events Co. spun the decorative magic. Even the dinner reflected the theme with Jackson & Co. delivering its consistently divine fare with a dessert that included chocolate parasols.
As for his selection of the theme, Avelar explained, "I've always had a close relationship with all the ladies of Houston, not only with the opera but with the other organizations too. This was my way to honor them and to thank them for their friendship and support and inspiration."
As HGO director of development and patron services for 34 years, the much-beloved Avelar was asked by HGO general director and CEO Anthony Freud to take the helm of this year's gala.
Avelar's fair ladies turned out in force and in high fashion. Among the many fabulously-dressed dames were Karen Mayell in full-skirted Monique Lhuillier, Isabel David in a sophisticated Roland Mouret, Sue Smith in totally-beaded Naeem Khan, Terrie Turner in a feathery Carolina Herrera, Pat Breen in tiered Oscar de la Renta, Cathy Brock in Oscar, Phoebe Tudor in Zang Toi and Bobbie Nau in a sophisticated custom gown from Elizabeth Anthony. Stepping outside of her fashion comfort zone — basic black for formal — Janet Gurwitch wore a one-shouldered, coral (color of the season) by Lanvin.
Joanne King Herring wore a party frock that could have been a period costume complete with lace gloves, designed for her by Cesar Galindo. He was part of the scene wearing a herringone silk shirt with his formal suiting. In a contemporary nod to the "My Fair Lady" theme, Diane Lokey Farb wore a full gown bedecked in bejeweled flowers by Lebanese designer Zuhair Murad. She found the gown in Dubai on a trip she made there late last year. And then there was Cindi Rose in a billowing black and white Naeem Khan with flowing ostrich feather chapeau that looked as it had come straight from wardrobe.
A who's who of Houston society, both venerable and fresh, turned out, including Randa and Charles Williams, Cynthia and Tony Petrello, Anne and Dr. John Mendelsohn, John and Becca Cason Thrash, Michelle and Frank Hevrdejs, Beth Madison, Ralph Burch, April and Tom Lykos, Sheridan Williams, Dr. Steve Hamilton and Tom LeCloux, Bobbie Vee and Gerald Cooney, Donna and Robert Bruni and Denise Bush Bahr and Philip Bahr.
The late-night frolic
At just about the time that some in the older crowd were heading for valet parking, HGO's young professionals group opened the doors on the Encore party. Chairs Divya and Chris Brown welcomed a sellout crowd of 250 for late-night food, drink and dancing. The party went on until the lights came up at 2 a.m.