Byline: Aileen Mehle
CULTURE TIME: They don’t call Cecile Zilkha “the First Lady of the Metropolitan Opera” for nothing. The opera company’s vice chairman and director of special events, she’s the one who masterminds all those gala parties, openings, fancy dinners with the opera’s stellar casts, concerts and, of course, the annual celebration “On Stage At The Met,” the big festive dinner-dance that draws the most generous of corporate donors and, not to be crass, their lovely money. The millions in funds Cecile has raised through the years help the curtain go up, the musicians, costumers and carpenters get paid and fills the tummies of such musical geniuses as Luciano Pavarotti and James Levine. And, if you’ve looked lately, those are tummies.
When I say corporate donors, I mean BIG BUSINESS. This year’s “On Stage At The Met” honored Ralph Laursen, the chairman and ceo of Johnson & Johnson and was a special tribute to Rudy Giuliani. Both Ralph and Rudy, opera lover sine qua non were there in person, but I’m sure Ralph won’t mind if I mention that Rudy, as ever, stole the show. How his hands don’t drop off from all the shaking and his back doesn’t break from all the patting is one of those mysteries only a politician can fathom. Rudy was with his lady friend, Judi Nathan, fetching in black, sitting at the same table as Luciano Pavarotti and his lady friend, Nicoletta Padovani.
Speaking of big business, the chairmen of the dinner were Dr. Josef Ackermann, who becomes the new chairman of Deutsche Bank next month, and Glenn Tilton, the vice chairman of Chevron Texaco Corp. You will be thrilled to hear that these two gentlemen along with Rudy and Joe Volpe, the general director of the Met, saved the day — or the night. When the tenor Frank Lopardo, who was to have sung at the dinner along with soprano Ruth Ann Swenson, called in sick, these four tenors (?), baritones (?) bassos (?) sprang to their feet to take his place, belting out a rousing chorus of “New York, New York” to thunderous applause. Of course, Ruth Ann helped the barbershop quartet along a little with the high notes. And, yes, they’re keeping their day jobs.
“On Stage At The Met” means just that. Guests have dinner and dance — Mike Carney’s orchestra played — right on the Met’s vast stage surrounded by sets from the company grand operas. This year’s stage scenery was taken from its production of “Parade” designed by David Hockney in the vivid colors he is famous for. Bill Tansey centered the hot pink satin covered tables embroidered in a chartreuse harlequin pattern with masses of daffodils and floated pink, lime green and fuchsia balloons over them. Glorious Food served artichoke hearts filled with lobster, beef tournedos and ginger ice cream with chocolate sauce. The whole evening was enough to make even the most staid ceo giggle with pleasure.
In the crowd: Mrs. Josef Ackermann, Ambassador and Mrs. Richard Murphy, Princess Firyal of Jordan with Lionel Pincus, Ezra Zilkha and the Zilkhas’ darling daughter Bettina, who gave her own dinner the following night at Doubles, the Brazilian Ambassador and Mrs. Rubens Barbosa, the Met’s President Paul Montrone and Mrs. Montrone, NASDAQ chairman Hardwick Simmons and Mrs. Simmons, Met chairman James Kinnear and Mrs. Kinnear, Mercedes and Sid Bass, New York Stock Exchange chairman Richard Grasso and Mrs. Grasso, Jan Cowles, the Hon. and Mrs. Edward Ney, Emily Fisher Landau and Sheldon Landau, Mr. and Mrs. Noel Levine, Katherine and David Hamilton, Mr. and Mrs. Tony Randall, Mr. and Mrs. Roger Mehle, CIGNA chairman H. Edward Hanway and Mrs. Hanway, Anna Moffo, Mr. and Mrs. James Burke of the Johnson & Johnson Burkes, Joe Armstrong, Pierre Durand and last but not least NYPD commissioner Bernard Kerik and Mrs. Kerik and former FDNY commissioner Tom Van Essen and Mrs. Van Essen. All together now — New York, New York
After the showing, everyone tripped off to dine on grilled lobster and lemon mousse served on green silk embroidered linens, everyone being Marie and Peter Embiricos, Doda Voridis, Sophie and George Coumantaros, Maria and George Covas, who flew from Greece for the evening, Baroness Didi d’Anglejan, the Earl and Countess of Dudley, Liz Fondaras, Karen and Peter Goulandris, Princess Marina of Greece, Lily Safra, Carlos Picon, who presides over the new galleries of Greek and Roman Art at the Metropolitan Museum, Estelle and Ambassador Michael Sotirhos, eminent collectors Judy and Michael Steinhardt, renowned collectors Shelby White and Leon Levy, Allison and Leonard Stern, Alexis Gregory, one of the evening’s four chairmen (the others being Doda, Shelby and Estelle), and others too Hellenic to mention.
There are so many fun things you can do if you have a 200-foot ocean-going yacht. Especially if it’s called the Mania and speeds along at 40 miles per hour, never mind knots. That’s what Dolly Goulandris and her late husband, Nikko, heir to a great shipping fortune, hopped on to cruise among the Greek Islands from May through September. It’s tough at the top.
After he dropped Dolly off on a sun swept island, Nikko went fishing the Aegean while Dolly went looking for antiquities. She decided to specialize in Cycladic art, became a world expert and created her own beautiful museum in downtown Athens. It has now become a must for every culitvated visitor to Greece. (That means you, dearie).
Every year, Dolly comes to New York with half the Greek Cultural Ministry in her wake to organize a fund-raising gala in support of her museum’s American program promoting appreciation of Greek art and culture in the U.S. including a lecture series honoring the late Aleco Paparmakou. This year, as part of the event, there was an exhibition of antiquities, including superb Cycladic examples belonging to Dolly, at the galleries in her old friend Ari Onassis’s Olympic Tower. Every golden Greek in town was there plus any number of intelligent locals who drink in this sort of thing.
Ari, who certainly had it to leave, left several billion dollars in a charitable foundation in the name of his son Alexander who died in a plane crash at a young age. Ari’s foundation here is run by Greek Ambassador Loucas Tsilas and the exhibition is open to the public.