Upon arrival, guests were met with a gracious receiving line (I love that!) and were offered charming Chinese fans which were placed in a circle around one of the Ritz's gorgeous orchids in a Chinoiserie planter. It is a glamorous crowd that attends the opera and it was a joy to see everyone's diamonds, furs, and chic gowns. I think that may be the best part for me! It is one of the few galas where you are encouraged to pull out all the stops, fashion-wise.
The ballroom had a soft red glow all around it, which made everyone look so marvelous. Exquisite silk lanterns hung merrily in each of the four corners and a stunning pagoda facade was a perfect atmosphere piece behind the band. The pagoda was made by the Manatee Player's Artistic Director, Rick Kerby and his production staff. It was designed by Richard Ferrell. The centerpieces were dramatic, with their gold fans and bright orchids commanding attention on each table.
This event always has a luxurious four course meal and it did not disappoint. The Ritz has a new chef and I believe it shows. Each course was quite good and interesting, though I did scrape the green tea layer off my dessert, but that was just a personal taste thing! I must commend the Ritz staff. I have noticed such a high level of service and attention this year. I think they have all stepped up their game dramatically!
The coup de grace of the evening though was the brief opera performance of three pieces from soprano Asako Tamura and tenor Heath Huberg. They were more than fabulous. After one aria by Asako, my dinner companion said it had given her chills and I agreed. It was magical! I am so glad they added this component to the evening.
Dancing, dancing, dancing, that was what was going on most of the evening. I don't believe I have seen dancing throughout the entire evening since the old Mistletoe Ball days. The 42nd Street Big Band played all types of music and played them well. A friend of mine said her shoulders actually hurt the next day from all the dancing she did!
As for me, it was one of the most enjoyable evenings I have had in a long time and I think I owe that to my very fun table. Other guests commented on how much laughter was coming from us! So, thank you to my table mates - Marsha Panuce, Dan and Jennifer Vigne, Tom and Marjie Peter, Dennis Stover and Phil King, and Jane Wellard and Elena Azuola - you were just terrific!
I think the opera really made a statement that they were back as one of the most beautiful and elegant galas in town. Do not miss this event next year. I know I won't!
Others seen in the crowd were Mary Lou Loughlin, Bill and Annette Lloyd, Marcia Frankel, Bert Fivelson, Carol and Les Brualdi, Erik and Sandra Lindqvist, Carol and Larry English, Anna Nekoranec and Bengt Niebuhr, John Nigh and Claudia McCorkle, Judy and Jack Bloch, Natalie and Gerry Radford, Joel Fedder, Edward Alley and June LaBell, Harold and Wanda Rayle Libby, and so many more.
Richard Ferrell, Rachael Worthington, and Jonathan Coleman
Sarasota Opera Executive Director Richard Russell
Sarasota Opera Artistic Director Maestro Victor DeRenzi and friend
Anne Chauvet and Marsha Panuce
Scott Anderson and me
Lydia and Patrick McKenzie with Isabelle Wright
Beathe Elden and Elissa Soyka
Elizabeth Gonye and Mary Lee Richey
Jerry and Wendy Feinstein
Molly Schechter and Harold Ronson
Salena Wilhoit and Rachelle Belanger
Elizabeth Wery and Irene Bagby
Monte and Bill Davis
Doug Crossan and Marilyn Bezner
Eleanor and Bruce Ballard
Teri Hansen, Steve Wilberding and Veronica Brady
Jacqueline and David Morton
John Annis, Jocelyn Stevens, and Harry Leopold
Phil King and Dennis Stover
Marjorie and Tom Peter
Sarah and George Pappas
Hank and Suzanne Foster
Dan and Jennifer Vigne
Jane and Ed Barvaria
Linda Carson, Steve Sabato, and Marsha Panuce
Moi and Salena Wilhoit
The pretty ballroom aglow in red
The dramatic centerpiece
The place setting
Silk lanterns in all four corners of the ballroom
42nd Street Band with the pagoda backdrop
Another view of the backdrop
White chocolate covered toffee party favors from PNC
The first course- vegetable chow chow
The salad course - spinach salad
The main course - Filet Mignon and pomme puree
Dessert - Green Tea Panna Cotta Chocolate Mousse