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’Twas the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera, a social and a — please don’t forget — cultural event considered by many the epitome of all that is grand and glittering left in the city. Yes, it’s the opening salvo of what is known as “the season.” Loyal music lovers turned out in their best, fashionably filling the boxes and lighting up the auditorium. They were there to hear Giuseppe Verdi’s “Otello,” that ever-thrilling saga of operatic love, hate, jealousy and murder. Not a lot of laughs, of course, but a superb performance by all with Ben Heppner gloriously singing the title role, Barbara Frittoli trilling the long-suffering Desdemona and Carlo Guelfi the essence of evil as the fiendish Iago.

You will be pleased to hear that the most enthusiastic listener in the audience was the great tenor Placido Domingo, whose iconic performances long ago secured his place in opera lore as the ultimate Otello. He applauded mightily from the center box, as no one knows better than he how taxing that particular role is. It is not to say that he did not appreciate Heppner’s performance. Heppner has a fan in Domingo. This I know as I was sitting right next to him.

This story first appeared in the September 22, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“Opening night is always and forever a big emotional night for me. I cannot really describe how deeply it affects me,” Placido said. He was also delighted with maestro James Levine’s conducting and congratulated him during dinner.

After the performance, 500 guests swept up to the Grand Tier for a festive supper prepared by Glorious Foods — smoked salmon napoleon, mint-crusted rack of lamb and trifle with three ice creams accompanied with an awful lot of chardonnay, pinot noir and pink champagne. The supper tables, created by Bill Tansey, were laid with white organza embroidered with tiny moss green leaves and ribbons and centered with really towering glass vases filled with tropical foliage and white orchids surrounded by white freesia, sweet peas and white garden roses.

Looking up at the lofty centerpieces, Marta (Mrs. Placido) Domingo, resplendent in black chiffon and white diamonds, said, “I first saw vases like that in Argentina. I thought there were no others like them anywhere. I was so excited I bought two and carried them home on the plane in my arms like a baby. When I got here, they were everywhere.” Dear Marta.

All the social figures you probably know and maybe love were there, led by Mrs. Ezra (Cecile) Zilkha, the Met’s vice chairman, looking like a little doll in clouds of off-the-shoulder midnight blue chiffon and diamond earrings dropping to her waist. (Okay, her shoulders.) Cecile is responsible for all the galas the Met presents and nobody does it better. Her fan club rivals that of some of the Met’s stars, and that’s the truth.

The guest list was stellar and if stellar is what stellar does fashion-wise, black is the new black is the new black. And pearls are the new pearls are the new pearls. On some too chic to mention, pearls oozed from every pore. Mercedes Bass, Annette de la Renta, Nancy Kissinger, Marie-Josée Kravis, Chris Crawford, BeBe Neuwirth, Dixie Carter and Barbara Cook all wore black. Nancy was in Chanel’s towering quilted opera coat that sprouted a 16-inch stand-up collar and jeweled buttons. She was with her husband, Henry, in black tie and with four robust security guards, two of whom were wearing earpieces. Marie-Josée Kravis’ chiffon confection was designed by Chanel and Mercedes Bass’ drop-dead illusion top with embroidered flowers and a ruffle collar was accented by pearls the size of gum balls. Annette de la Renta’s voluminous satin cape-dress was by Oscar, of course, with a long rope of Art Deco diamonds looped around her long neck. But Mrs. Walter (Lee) Annenberg chose a red de la Renta dress and stole from two years ago because, she says, she loves it. (With those pearls, she could wear sack cloth and ashes and who would care?)

Judy Ney, a classic beauty, also chose deep, dark red and Nan Kempner wore maybe the most beautiful jacket in the world, a lush rust-and-mustard-colored velvet Valentino with tassel openings, jeweled appliqués and a little sable collar. It has to be seen to be believed.

Beverly Sills’ dress was the color of autumn leaves and Elaine Sargent wore a gold column by Marc Bouwer. Other opera devotees dining on the Grand Tier were Judy and Rudy Giuliani, Elaine and James Wolfensohn, Rise Stevens, Maestro Valery Gergiev, Governor Thomas Kean, Anna Moffo Sarnoff, the William Morrises, John Richardson, Mrs. Leon Hess, the Joseph Volpes and last, but never least, Lord Rothschild, known to his friends as Jacob and surely the U.K.’s czar of culture.

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The royal family of Greece is ecstatic over the news that Crown Prince Pavlos’ beautiful wife, Crown Princess Marie-Chantal, gave birth to a 7.5-pound baby boy last Friday at London’s Portland Hospital. He is Marie-Chantal’s fourth child. The blessed event was the reason for many a happy toast in Athens on Saturday night, where his grandparents, King Constantine and Queen Anne-Marie, had their 40th anniversary party on the gorgeous Benaki Museum roof garden. Among those raising their glasses were Queen Anne-Marie’s sister, Princess Benedikte of Denmark, King Constantine’s sister, Princess Irene of Greece and Queen Sylvia of Sweden with her daughter, Crown Princess Victoria, toothsome heiress to the throne.

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People who care deeply about that sort of thing are still raving about Patricia Heaton’s chartreuse, red, yellow, black and purple striped gown by Elie Saab, the one she wore to the Emmys Sunday night. You should know it took Lana Marks three months and $25,000 worth of alligator skins to match the chartreuse for the Cleopatra Clutch bag she made for Patricia to carry with the gown. Lana also made a black alligator number to match Jane Kaczmarek’s cream-and-black dress. Lana’s everywhere.

<p>Mercedes Bass</p>

Photo By: WWD Staff

<p>Nan Kempner</p>

Photo By: Dan D'errico

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