NEW YORK — A parade of taffeta ballgowns floated through the unseasonably warm late-September evening across Lincoln Plaza on Monday. Throngs of ticket holders crowded the entrance to the Metropolitan Opera House for the 132nd annual opening night gala with Vincenzo Bellini’s “Norma” as the main draw.
“This is about as far as I dress up, but it’s nice clothing,” remarked Patti Smith, who opted for a simple black suit over a white T-shirt, her long gray locks freely draped over each shoulder. “I dress as I dress, but I love to see everyone. I can’t really pull off the gowns, but I like to look at it all.”
The 70-year-old rocker, who is taking a break from touring to write new material, made clear she came for her love of the music and would be on the stage of the opera house if she had been blessed with the vocal capability like that of soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, who plays the tragedy’s titular role.
“It’s the music that I gravitated toward as a child, I just have no talent for it,” she continued. “I love being part of an evening like this because it was so [financially] out of grasp when I was younger. Believe me, if I could sing like Maria Callas I would be up there doing ‘La Traviata.’ I think I would be great. I know that sounds so conceited, but I just know I would know what to do.”
Not so for Cynthia Rowley. “You definitely do not want to hear me sing,” she cautioned at intermission. The designer, who was joined by husband Bill Powers, will often hear an opera singer practicing from the backyard of her Manhattan home.
“It’s nice to have this beautiful experience after [fashion week] and we can have something so civilized,” she said. Rowley stopped suddenly to point out a man bedecked in a towering black feather headpiece. “I’m glad I’m not sitting behind him.”
Soaking in the temperate weather, Marchesa founders Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig waited for the performance at a table on the second floor balcony overlooking the plaza. “We were just commenting on how beautiful it is here,” Craig said. “We love people watching, obviously, for our business.”
The pair spotted a dress from their pre-fall collection on another partygoer, but she “suddenly disappeared” before they could say hello. “I just love opera and always wanted to be a costume and set designer — maybe one day [I’ll do it],” revealed Chapman, who attended the affair without husband Harvey Weinstein.
“I’m an opera geek,” admitted Anna Chlumsky at a seated post-performance dinner. The “Veep” actress, who begins filming the series’ seventh season next month, noted how her art on-screen is similar to that of the operatic players. “It’s our job to explore the human condition — hang on.”
Chlumsky broke away to embrace Rowley, who had just entered the tented dining space. “Wasn’t that crazy? It was like a Yeezus show at the end with everyone in black,” added Rowley of the three-hour performance’s ensemble finale.
Mayor Bill de Blasio made a rare gala appearance as plates of seared poussin were delivered to guests including Sandra Brant, Jamie Tisch and Jemima Kirke.
Addressing the crowd, the mayor observed how important it is for young people to keep cultural institutions like those at Lincoln Center alive. “We know that in the modern age people’s attention spans are a little different,” he said. “They’re the length of a Twitter message nowadays for many.”
De Blasio, who is up for reelection in November, segued to Amazon’s current search for a second headquarters, arguing that culturally rich institutions make New York a top contender.
“There are many great cities in the country, but there is nowhere that has this Metropolitan Opera and everything in Lincoln Center,” opined the 56-year-old.