Byline: Aileen Mehle
A Night at the Opera With Suzy Doing Her Stream-of-Consciousness Thing: Denyce Graves, a wild and sexy Carmen, spitting fire, gave the opening night audience at the Met a taste of just what that legendary Spanish wanton should be about at her best — great singing, an incredible command of the stage and that same almost carnal connection with the audience that made Maria Callas a great star…”Denyce is wonderful to direct,” said the famed producer/director Franco Zeffirelli, whose opening-night production it was. “She listens when you throw out ideas and zeros in on, almost inhales, the ones she knows will work for her.” Indeed…the President and Mrs. Clinton, guests of honor at the opening, set off a giant traffic gridlock, which forced — forced — some of the local swells to abandon their limousines blocks away from the Met and resort to shank’s mare…If anyone knows how to work a crowd better than Bill Clinton, he hasn’t been born. The eye lock. The firm grip. The back slap. The little hug for the ladies. The momentary resting of the head on some close friend’s shoulder. He could even give Denyce Graves lessons. If you don’t come to him, he comes to you — and he missed nobody in the center box or on the Parterre. Brooke Astor, New York City’s leading lady, got a lot of his undivided attention. The President said he was so glad to finally meet her and hoped to have his picture taken with her. How about them charming apples?…
Hillary Clinton may have just returned from hasty trips to such faraway places as Calcutta and Stanford University, but she was looking fresh and blooming, her makeup perfect. When she stops smiling, let me know…The audience gave the Clintons a rousing welcome, and even the largely (very) Republican gang occupying the Presidential and surrounding boxes on the Parterre managed to be effusive…It is to laugh to read that the President slighted or snubbed our opera-devouring mayor Rudy Giuliani. I don’t think slighted or snubbed are in the Clinton vocabulary. I was seated directly behind the mayor during the entire performance (“Carmen” is Rudy’s favorite opera), and he and the President, both in the front row of the box, greeted each other warmly. So there.
Lee and Walter Annenberg, who underwrote the opening-night performance — just one generous act in their incredible philanthropic endeavors — were lionized themselves at the cast supper, which the Clintons did not attend. Every star and semi-star was brought over to the table to meet Walter, who, if you want to call the fettle he was in fine, you’d be on the mark. He was seated at Cecile Zilkha’s table, profusely admiring Cecile’s red chiffon Pilar Rossi bare-shouldered dress. Ambassador Annenberg rarely misses a trick…It was Cecile, a vice president of the Met and the director of its special events, who pulled off the evening so successfully. “She’s nothing but a marvel,” said Mr. Hard-to-Please, Bill Blass, who’s known for years just who is a marvel and just who isn’t.
Cecile’s scarlet dress stood out in the usual sea of New York black, which we will all have the pleasure of seeing on almost every woman at almost every evening throughout the entire fall and winter. There is nothing wrong with black, except there is so much of it. “I wouldn’t dream of wearing black to the opening night of ‘Carmen,”‘ said the beautiful Mrs. Conrad Black, who is also the London columnist Barbara Amiel. She was seductive in strapless red satin by a not-really-famous British designer, who certainly knows her stuff, forget not-so-famous. Mercedes Bass wouldn’t dream of wearing black, either. She wore midnight blue with midnight blue feathers.
Let’s not give the impression here that the women who wore black didn’t look great, because most of them — that’s most of them — did. Annette de la Renta wore strapless black embroidered with black paillettes with a big, black tulle scarf on her shoulders, and Marie-Josee Kravis wore clinging black. Others mad for black: Nancy Kissinger, Patty Cisneros, Tiffany Dubin, (her mother, Judy Taubman, was in cream-colored silk), Lee Annenberg, Nada Kirdar, Lucky Roosevelt (she of belle poitrine), Brooke Astor in black lace, Barbara Walters — even the gorgeous supermodel Christy Turlington. Re Miss Turlington: The Met organizers got their information a little mixed up, and not being experts on supermodels, thought it was Cindy Crawford who would be illuminating opening night, only to discover that it was Christy, there with Robert M. Zarem, as a guest of the William Rollnicks. All’s well that ends well, or something like that.
Also holding court on the Parterre and at the cast supper on the Grand Tier Promenade, amongst the big shots, were former secretary general of the United Nations Javier Perez de Cuellar and his fashionable wife, Marcella, in vivid green satin. They had just come from a gathering at the United Nations, where Javier Perez de Cuellar was celebrating the publication of his new book (more about that in another column). They, as everyone else that evening, were thrilled to see the wonderful Rise Stevens, the Met’s very first “Carmen,” receive a citation from Mayor Giuliani extolling her magnificent career. “She was born in the Bronx,” said the mayor, proud that this diva is one of our own. Oh, and when Denyce Graves finally made her eagerly awaited appearance at the cast supper, this talented hot number was wearing baby blue! Will wonders never cease!
Also in the Met crowd were the Librarian of Congress, James Billington, and Mrs. Billington. You should know that on Oct. 7 in Washington at the Library of Congress, “Creative American: A Celebration in Reading and Song,” the Library’s very first fund-raising event, will take place in black-tie splendor. Benefiting its Bicentennial Fund, the celebration will be in the newly renovated Thomas Jefferson Building, with such worthies onstage in the Coolidge Auditorium as James Earl Jones, Zoe Caldwell, Jerry Hadley and Marilyn Horne. Mrs. William (Buffy) Cafritz and Mrs. Jack (Alyne) Massey are the co-chairs, and the Clintons are the patrons. There will be cocktails, dinner and dancing to Lester Lanin in the Main Reading Room, where you will encounter such vice chairs as Mrs. John F. Cooke, Mrs. Charles A. Dana, Kay Graham and Gen. Colin Powell. The throng will be 400 strong, and if you don’t wish to stand out, don’t forget to wear your black dress.
(On Friday, read all about Nancy Reagan, who has been in New York on her way to Washington going to lunches and dinners and lunches and dinners and lunches and dinners…in her honor).