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NEW YORK — Life is short and opera is long, goes the saying. But if life is short, then the place to be on Monday was certainly at the opening night gala of The Metropolitan Opera, where a crowd the likes of which has rarely been seen at Lincoln Center turned out to watch Anthony Minghella‘s production of “Madama Butterfly.” Besides the expected doyennes of New York society such as Mercedes Bass, Annette de la Renta, Jayne Wrightsman and Lee Radziwill, there was an unusual cavalcade of Hollywood stars. Sienna Miller arrived hand-in-hand with her on-again beau, Jude Law, and her mother, Jo, and Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins; Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber; Sigourney Weaver, and Meg Ryan all traipsed down the red carpet as well. Even rocker David Bowie showed up to listen to a little Puccini.

“I had no idea how big this was going to be,” marveled Liv Tyler, who came as Zac Posen‘s date to the affair. The intermissions were eventful, as well — Bass was honored for her work for the Opera (not to mention the $25 million donation to the Met from her and her husband, Sid) with the unveiling of the Mercedes T. Bass Grand Tier and a Champagne toast.

Three hours of music later (which brought the house to its feet with many shouts of “Brava!”), the guests were ushered to a pavilion in nearby Damrosch Park for dinner. Rufus Wainwright escorted Renée Fleming into the tent, which was decorated with candles, shoots of bamboo and hundreds of white paper lanterns, under which newly converted opera buffs toasted the Met’s new general manager, Peter Gelb, and the performers.

“It was my first time ever going to the opera,” admitted Miller. “I loved it so much — it was amazing.”

This story first appeared in the September 27, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“The Met is Jurassic,” joked Jimmy Fallon, another first-timer.

Even Sean Connery gushed, “I don’t want to keep repeating myself, but it was fantastic.”

For Minghella, it was the culmination of much work. “We started on this two-and-a-half years ago,” he said as he surveyed the room containing heavyweights such as Harvey Weinstein, Barry Diller, Bryan Lourd, Barbara Walters and even Michael Eisner. “I am here as a fan of Anthony’s,” concurred Law, who barely let his blonde girlfriend out of his clutches.

Costume designer Han Feng, for one, was pleased to see stars at the Met. “It was amazing — it brought another quality to the event,” she said. “I was sitting with Lou Reed and he said, ‘I’ve never seen this at a classical opera. It’s like a rock concert.'”

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