Bette And Martin Attend The Opera

Wall Street Journal
Making Merry With ”˜Widow’
Jan. 1, 2015 8:59 p.m. ET

1-6-2015 5-49-54 AM

Broadway came uptown on New Year’s Eve, showering the Metropolitan Opera House with showbiz glitz at the premiere of Susan Stroman’s new production of “The Merry Widow.”

The opera world offered its own share of glamour with popular American soprano Renée Fleming singing the title role in this version of Franz Lehár ’s comic operetta.

Stars of stage and screen turned out in force at the gala.

Among them: Bette Midler, David Hyde Pierce and legendary song-and-dance man Tommy Tune, as leggy as ever.

“I thought it was a perfect New Year’s Eve confection,” said Ms. Midler, demure in black Christian Dior .

It was the Met Opera debut for Ms. Stroman, a director and choreographer who won Tony Awards in both categories for her work on “The Producers” and whose recent musicals include “Bullets Over Broadway” and “The Scottsboro Boys.”

Creating a show for the opera company was an exciting challenge, she said.

“You have to remember that the vocals are the most important part,” said Ms. Stroman. She wore a black Zac Posen dress and, of course, her dancing shoes–red-soled Christian Louboutins.

The gala, led by chairwoman Ann Ziff and honorary chairwoman Adrienne Arsht, raised $1.48 million.

After the curtain fell, the lead performers joined guests as they tucked into foie gras mousse and trout meunière on the Mercedes T. Bass Grand Tier of the opera house.

The dinner décor echoed the operetta’s dazzling costumes and Julian Crouch ’s colorful sets. Tables were swathed in bright satin. Feathers like those worn by the third act’s Maxim’s dancing girls crowned towering fern centerpieces.

As the titular widow, Ms. Fleming appeared onstage in a succession of elaborate wigs and gleaming gowns by costume designer William Ivey Long. Afterward, she swept in to the gala wearing midnight-blue sequined lace, her hair in a carefully tousled bob.

The role of Hanna Glawari–a wealthy widow who is eventually reunited with her old flame, a dashing but dissipated Balkan diplomat–is Ms. Fleming’s 22nd at the Met.

Between courses Sigourney Weaver, statuesque in black velvet Lanvin, chatted with fellow actor Patrick Stewart. Both expressed interest in dancing that night, though they said neither of their spouses would.

Mr. Stewart said one of his biggest thrills was dancing down 54th Street with Leslie Caron while filming the movie “Let It Be Me.”

“I was absolutely terrified,” he said.

Also in attendance at the gala: comedian and actor Mario Cantone and a bevy of Broadway performers including Brian Stokes Mitchell, Marin Mazzie and Greg Naughton.

Mr. Naughton is one-half of a theatrical power couple–his wife, Kelli O’Hara, made her Met debut that evening in the comic role of Valencienne, the wayward wife of Baron Zeta.

“I’m relieved!” said Ms. O’Hara, a classically trained singer and actress, after the performance, during which she sang, swooned and kicked up her heels in a series of pink frocks. “It’s something I’ve dreamed about for so long.”

In recent years the Met, under general manager Peter Gelb, has unveiled new productions on New Year’s Eve–many on the fizzier side. In this version of “The Merry Widow,” an operetta with speaking parts, Ms. Stroman imported a fleet of lithe Broadway hoofers to the Met’s cavernous stage.

Other years featured crowd-pleasers such as “Carmen,” “La Traviata” and, of course, “Die Fledermaus,” which is set on New Year’s Eve.

Speaking just before midnight, Mr. Gelb cracked that he was “very glad” the Met put on “The Merry Widow” for New Year’s Eve instead of “The Death of Klinghoffer,” the controversial John Adams opera that drew crowds of protesters to its opening night in October.

Moments later, fireworks erupted outside in Lincoln Center’s plaza. The guests formed an energetic scrum on the dance floor as the chandeliers blinked like strobe lights.

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