Wednesday I went to the AVA "Brava Philadelphia," 75th Anniversary Gala.
Silly me, I didn't check the time on the ticket. I left my house at about 6pm, thinking I'd get there in plenty of time to grab a bite to eat before the performance. But when traffic stopped because of a truck stuck in the left lane, I pulled out the ticket for a peek. OOPS! 7:30 start time. Maybe I'd be able to grab a bag of peanuts somewhere...?
Traffic finally picked up and I made way to the parking garage below the theater. I just want to point out here that I paid $50 for the ticket and then $22 to park!!! There weren't enough spots in the garage so I had to leave my car in the middle along with the keys. They gave me a ticket for the keys which I promptly lost. But on the positive side, the lobby snack bar sold these little sandwiches so I was able to scarf something down in the moments before the bells went off.
So the format was, there were AVA graduates who were the "Gala Artists," and a group of "Resident Artists" who are still students. Everyone was great. A few of the resident artists had solos but for the most part they did ensemble pieces. They were all so good!! And the dresses - OMG one piece of eye candy after another. I'm still talking about the resident artists here. One woman had this gorgeous blond hair and was wearing the most stunning gown ever - it was this reddish/maroonish/brick color, shimmery, with shiny parts on the straps. Should have brought my binocs I guess... that's all the detail I can provide. There was so much glitz and rhinestone on stage. But why am I going off track with the clothing? The singing was phenomenal.
So in between the resident stuff, the Gala Artists came out and did their thing. And their thing was, sing. Oh no I've veered into Dr. Seuss land, sorry about that. I'm not going to write every detail about the evening... but I might come close! I should have taken notes, right? Everyone sang more than one piece. Here's what I remember.
Eglise Gutierrez. So so awesome. Words cannot describe. She did something from La Sonnambula and later a scene from Rigoletto. Legato, legato, legato. I think she took one deep breath at the beginning and then didn't need to breathe again until the end. Emotion in her face, her voice, her eyes. And she was wearing a beautiful purple gown and big sparkly earrings.
Angela Meade sang something from Abduction. She was in NJ Opera's production of it last summer. She is AMAZING. What a voice. The aria had a range from way down here to all the way up there and everything in between. Sounded like one of those arias that he wrote for someone specific. I don't know enough about Mozart to say more than that, but doesn't it make me sound knowledgeable? "Oh yes, he wrote that one for a specific soprano..." Ok, back to business. Her dress: Red gown. Spectacular. Let's see... checking the program...
Latonia Moore. Ok, I don't remember what she was wearing. Black probably? Gorgeous face but her hair kept falling in it!! She kept flipping it back. However it did not distract from her GORGEOUS voice. Madame Butterfly - blew me away.
Ok. Another soprano. Indra Thomas. Wow. WOW! And wow on the black dress with the green wrap! She changed it to a black gauzy type wrap later which made it even more elegant, if that's even possible. Hair pulled back into a tight bun with rhinestone crystals glittering everywhere. She looked like a princess and sang like a goddess.
It wasn't just a girls' night out. The guys - of course, Michael Fabiano!! Nessun Dorma. Don't think there was a dry eye in the house. His voice just washes over you. And after being in a production with him, it was so familiar. I was like, Oh yeah, that's right. He was great then and he's even better now.
Luis Ledesma sang the Toreador song from Carmen, surrounded by the resident artists. Like all the men, he was wearing a tux, but that doesn't stop me from imagining him all Escamillo-ed up. He seemed so familiar to me, I should check and see if I've seen him perform before.
James Valenti!!! We all remember him from this. He just made his Met debut in Traviata. You can read all about that in all the regular places. Here he sang O Sole Mio and had the crowd in the palm of his hand. And this man is TALL!! A tall tenor. Yes, I know, I barely push the bar at 5 feet, but that doesn't mean I can't tell tall from down here. I didn't realize just how tall he was until I saw him later backstage.
Before it started and also in between the singing, someone came out to introduce and thank various people who were involved in putting the evening together. The mayor of Philadelphia even showed up to say a few words. They also explained that Joyce Didonato was supposed to have been there but she injured herself (again?!) on stage in Chicago and needed surgery to repair a torn ligament in her knee. Ouch. But you know what? She's such a huge name, such a huge star, that having her there might have taken some of the spotlight away from the other performers. Not that I wasn't disappointed - but I wonder if the dynamic of the performance would have been different.
The crowd: What a mix. Several men in tuxedos, entire rows of them. Women in ball gowns. Women like me, in a nice long skirt and top. And then some people were very, very casual. Not quite pajamas, but not dressed up either.
The row behind me - one woman was eating Goobers, yes, you know, chocolate-covered peanuts, from one of those movie-size boxes, and offering them to her companions. Apparently she had a box of Raisinettes too. Another guy behind me had running commentary - "Wow. Amazing. Listen to that. Did you hear that?" and so on. It was what we were all thinking, but he said it all out loud.
The row in front of me - just as it was starting, one woman whispered something to her companion and a man two seats down let out this rude "shhhppp!"which did the trick, but still... Where was he when the same woman started humming along????
Over in the row of men-in-tuxes, this one woman kept talking to the people on either side of her. But it's ok. She was whispering. It was the loudest whisper I had ever heard. It echoed throughout the entire theater. It was amazing.
These minor incidents did nothing to mar the evening, they are merely amusing to relate.
When it ended I went back to say hi to Michael and give him a squeeze. You can see me doing that here. See my hand coming around? Squeezing. That's not a smile on his face, it's a grimace. Ok ok, I'm just kidding. I mean yeah I was squeezing but he was (I think) smiling. He was so sweet.
I finally finally got to meet Eglise in person! We have had comment conversations on facebook and it was wonderful to finally meet "for real." She had changed out of her gown but was still absolutely gorgeous in person. Her eyes are WOW! I felt instant warmth from her, as if we had known each other forever.
As usual it was super-crazy hectic back there with visitors and performers all wanting photos of and with each other. So after chatting for a moment I made my way back to the car where they let me have my keys back in spite of me having no idea where my ticket was. After a few crazy city-driving maneuvers, you know, wild u-turns, lane changes and so on, I found my way onto the highway and was home within the hour.
The only think I'd change: Next time I'm writing down what the singers are wearing so I can describe it here in greater detail.