My first gala

I don’t even know where to begin! I guess I should start with how I got the tickets in the first place. On September 11th, I sang for a private party at a country club. I got very little information about the gig other than the location, time, the type and number of songs they wanted, and that the client was somehow connected with the LA Opera. When I got there, I found out the client is VERY well connected with the LA Opera. He offered me and my accompanist (friend Eric Belvin who played for me at the Hollywood Bowl) two free tickets EACH to any opera we wanted to see this season at the LA Opera. I’m not very good at containing joy, excitement, or any extreme emotion so I’m pretty sure I came across as a giddy little girl who just got the Christmas present she’d been wanting all year.

The 5 songs went well and people even sang along. The birthday girl loved it (that’s what really counts) and my first non-Hollywood Bowl appearance went smoothly even with a last-minute song change. Side note: Eric, you’re amazing to be able to pull that song out of midair. It was so sweet to watch the host couple while I sang. They are such lovely people that just have this glow of joy about them.

At the birthday dinner after my cocktail performance, I talked about everything that happened that night at the Hollywood Bowl with Kristin. I mentioned wanting to see Carmen at the LA Opera and that I was planning on having my friend Mike who filmed the viral video to be my “plus one” for the opera tickets the host had offered earlier. Over the course of conversation, the host asked if my friend and I would be interested in dressing up and going to the opera. Yes? I wasn’t sure where he was going with this because any chance I get to dress up, I do. He then offered me gala tickets to Carmen’s opening night. My eyes got wide as I gasped a thank you and reached for my phone to text Mike, “CLEAR YOUR CALENDAR FOR THE 21ST!!!”

A gala. I’ve never been to a gala. What do I wear? Gown. Ohhhh, Mariah? My friend Mariah has impeccable taste in clothing. The one shoulder black dress she wore for her senior recital fit me like a glove. She also gave me some sparkly earrings to go with it! I felt like Cinderella.

Mike was very pleased with the wardrobe choice – or rather the length of the dress – because it was too short to wear heels with and I’m pretty sure he personally thanked Mariah for that fact. I’m tall enough without heels!

Mike and I before the gala

On the way to the gala Mike and I realized that just a month earlier we were brainstorming logistics for how to sneak into a rehearsal of a concert we wanted to go to but couldn’t afford to buy tickets for after the ticket money we spent to go see Kristin Chenoweth. Yeah. We’re “those” people. Now, in a borrowed gown and a choir tux, we were heading to a gala at the LA Opera to go see one of the most iconic operas ever.

When we pulled up around 5:00, there was a red carpet from the valet area into the cocktail area. I can now check “to walk the red carpet” off my bucket list! Cocktail hour. When we walked into the cocktail area, a living fountain was in the center. There was this gorgeous, slowly moving, living statue with water shooting out of her fingertips. I took this picture when they were trying to herd us all into the dinner area so they turned off the water and she stopped moving but just take my word for it – gorgeous.

living fountain

To the right of the statue was a man with a bicycle full of red roses. He gave me a long stemmed rose and Mike got a short stemmed rose for his tux pocket.

The food. OH MY WORD THE FOOD! All Mike and I had to do was stand still and people came to us with platters of food. Of course, being the foodie I am, I had to taste one of everything. First was a spoon of seafood ceviche. Literally, it was in a spoon. A very large spoon. Think ABC’s “The Taste.” There was a delicious rice dish with some exotic spice that I have never tasted and probably will never taste again that was served on what looked like bamboo plates with wooden spoons. Next was an equally delicious tempura in a boat made from a large dried leaf of some sort that was actually in the shape of a tiny squid so I tried not to think of what I was eating and to just focus on the deliciousness. It’s one thing to be an omnivore, it’s another thing to eat the entire body of whatever creature you’re consuming… but it was tasty! Next came a little ball of a seafood mixture within a bread ball. By my descriptions, you can tell I’m used to gourmet food… not. There was also a cheese station with flavors my tongue did not know what to do with. The feta blue cheese was surprisingly strong. Over in a corner, there was a guy painting a female dancer in a red dress against a dark brown background. Instead of a paintbrush, he used what looked like a rag. I turned my back for two seconds and he had painted most of her male dancing partner. It was beautiful to watch.

The courtyard to dinner opened up at 5:30. Mike made the comment that directing this many people into a new area must be like herding cats. Nobody, it seemed, wanted to be the first into the dining area. After all the food offered at cocktail hour, no one was in any rush!

Carmen menu

I took a picture of the menu with the rose I was given but the downside is that you can’t read everything so I’ll type it out too.

Appetizer

Green Asparagus and Frisee Salad

Heirloom Tomato Pico de Gallo

Soft Boiled Eggs with Hollandaise

Entrée

Veal Loin in Osso Bucco Sauce

Creamy Polenta with a Fall Vegetable Mosaic

A Little Something Sweet

First thing I noticed? The menu was on shiny paper. I have an affinity for shiny things. Second thing? Quail eggs. Quail eggs? I did not take a picture of each course, even though I wanted to, but it was all delicious and unlike anything I have ever tasted. The only familiar taste was Hollandaise sauce. The veal was tender enough to be easily cut with a table knife. The best way to describe the Fall Vegetable Mosaic is a flaky bread basket in the shape of a planter with sweet potato “mud” and vegetable “flowers.” One of the vegetable “flowers” was a tiny piece of purple broccoli. Purple. I looked over at Mike’s plate and the Mosaic was identical. This wasn’t just food; it was art! Sadly, I missed “A Little Something Sweet” because of a bathroom hunt. When I got back, they were out of dessert. It was a little cookie on top of a tall shooter glass full of something hazelnuty, according to Mike.

After dinner, Marc Stern (chairman of the LA Opera) took the mic to welcome everyone. When he was done, he directed our attention up to the second floor balcony where a trumpet announced a few notes before being joined by two other trumpets with flags hanging from them. The flagged trumpets parted and there stood Placido Domingo. That man knows how to make an entrance! He welcomed us and soon disappeared for his final preparations for the evening.

Afterward, we all filed in to the auditorium. The gala crowd took up most of the front of the Pavillion. Mike and I were in the second row! I have only been that close to a concert stage one other time in my life and it was on my birthday this year when my parents surprised me with tickets to a concert edition of Tosca. Mike and I were very pleased with our seats, as evidenced by our smiles.

When you’re that close, the stage fills your peripheral vision. When Placido Domingo came out and took his bow as conductor, I realized I was less than 10 steps away from an opera legend. *angels sing* During the overture, I looked to the right to see the TV monitor imbedded in the wall for the cast to watch their conductor. As a first year conductor myself, I absorbed as many of his mannerisms as I could and noted how the orchestra responded to each micro-movement. Then, the curtain opened.

When the curtain opened, I’m pretty sure I gasped because that massive set was so unexpectedly grand. At that moment, I was completely enthralled. Normally, I’m a fidgety person when I have to sit for a long time. I don’t think I moved until the first intermission. Never before have 3.5 hours passed so quickly. The production was brilliant! The whole cast was phenomenal but I’ll talk briefly about my favorite two. Patricia Bardon, hailing from the British Isles, was excellent as Carmen. She had such spunk! At the LA Opera, I expected excellent voices but not necessarily the brilliant character acting. Patricia gave the character so many layers. I know I shouldn’t be surprised but, then again, I really didn’t know what to expect. Pretty Yende, a soprano from South Africa, played Michaela. Sometimes soprano voices wear on my ear – and I say that as a soprano myself – but not this lady! Her tone was shimmering, just the right balance of bright and rich, and she didn’t waste a note. I want to hear more of this woman!

The after party had more food but I didn’t taste one of everything because I was still full from dinner! The one thing I did have was a caramel custard served in an eggshell. Yes, a real egg shell. After the band played for 20 minutes or so, a giant curtain opened and rose petal shaped confetti rained down over the dance floor in the center of the room. There’s Placido! Another grand entrance. The mains of the cast were behind him on the staircase.

When the crowd dispersed, I couldn’t find Placido. I had packed a Sharpie in my clutch so I could get him to sign my ticket. I ran into the ever lovely and bubbly birthday girl from a couple weeks before who directed me to the side of the room Placido had disappeared to. The husband of the birthday girl (the well-connected man I sang for at the private party) headed Placido off at the pass and shook his hand, congratulated him on a glorious performance, and then introduced me by name. And, thanks to him, Placido autographed my ticket. That’s going in the scrapbook! Placido's autograph

At the end of the night, Mike and I took one final picture on the staircase on our way down, with the dance floor in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What an incredible night to remember!

final picture of the night

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