Asheville Lyric Opera’s Winter Gala was attended by a crowd of more than 200 on Saturday, Jan. 25, at the Crowne Plaza Resort Expo Center. The event provided a bountiful feast of both food and music to all who partook. In his welcoming comments, ALO general and artistic director David Starkey announced that the evening’s musical entertainment would be performed in three acts, and feature mostly arias and songs from upcoming productions of Don Giovanni, South Pacific and Die Fledermaus.
The opening number was an ensemble performance of “What a Joy to Be Here” from Die Fledermaus. Following this was the drinking song from Ravel’s Don Quichotte, and “All I Ask of You” from Phantom of the Opera. Pianist Vance Reese accompanied all the evening’s selections. The Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen was especially well received by an enthusiastic audience, as were additional selections from the upcoming shows and “Vecchia Zimarra” from Puccini’s La Boheme.
The four chefs that provided entrees took turns describing what they prepared. In each case, the food was served in what was described as the dim sum style of dining, brought to the table in dishes on carts and passed around family style.
For the first entrée, Dwight Butner of Vincenzo’s Ristorante and Bistro provided penne pasta with puttanesca sauce or penne alla boscaiola, a cream-based sauce with proscuitto, peas, roasted peppers, mushrooms and sundried tomato. Butner revealed that anchovies were the secret ingredient in the tomato-based puttanesca made with kalamata olives and capers.
Wine glasses were continually refreshed throughout the evening courtesy of Santé Wine Bar and Table Wine. Posana executive chef and owner Peter Pollay presented the second entrée, roasted Hickory Nut Gap Farm pork loin with a sorghum molasses glaze, Lusty Monk Mustard, brussels sprouts and a reduction of red wine with cumin. Mark Sternal, Frankie Bones director of catering and special events, presented their signature coffee-marinated rib eye with a horseradish and sour cream sauce, garnished with fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil.
Executive Chef Adam Hayes from the Grand Bohemian Hotel Red Stag Grill prepared hickory-smoked beef short ribs braised in Hi-Wire Brewing’s IPA, served with a vegetable ragout. Maria Papanastasiou from Filo Pastry and Coffee Shop brought gâteau opéra or opera cake, said to have been created by the Paris Opera circa 1890. “It’s layers of almond sponge cake, coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache,” she said. Each petit four was dusted with specks of 24 karat gold.
Audience member Anne Bonnyman said she likes going to the symphony and other musical venues, but “the lyric opera is a particular kind of music that brings a lot to this community.” Heidi Bell said her favorite selection was “Younger Than Springtime” from South Pacific because she once played the character that sings it in an all girls’ production at summer camp.
Marilyn Brown said she was thrilled she could come. “I grew up in Florida where I was exposed to opera as a high school student in a group called Junior Opera Guild. We ushered for the Greater Miami Opera. I’m glad we have David Starkey at Asheville Lyric Opera because it’s going to take time before we can have live elephants on stage for Aida,” she said. Derin Togar said she sang with ALO while in high school. “Then I went to Indiana University because David Craig Starkey encouraged me to go there for a degree in vocal performance.”
Dasha Morgan played a leading role in the Winter Gala’s first silent auction. Offerings included gift baskets, opera books, apparel and gift certificates for everything from spa treatments to a weekend getaway at the Crowne Plaza Resort. “We’re happy to say the community has been extremely receptive to giving us gifts to raise money for the opera.” Morgan said the auction alone raised more than $2,000. She commented that admission proceeds pay for only half the cost of any given production — between $70,000 and $90,000. The balance has to be raised with donations, outreach programs, sponsors and fundraising efforts.
ALO board of directors vice president Clive Possinger says there are a number of writers who have said you can judge a culture by how they treat their artists. “Asheville has been very kind and supportive to its artists, and particularly to us,” says Possinger. “Opera is a culmination of every single form of communication we’ve ever has as human beings, telling some of the greatest stories ever told, told by some of the best storytellers on the planet. For this reason it puts us in the unique position to be leaders of the performing arts.”
Photo: Cast members Mary Luna and Alison Young stroll through the audience between acts.