Major patrons of the Metropolitan Opera Guild donned their finest on Sunday for the seventh annual Opera News Awards in the Plaza’s ballroom. The soirée honored some of the genre’s foremost contributors including: baritones Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Peter Mattei, sopranos Karita Mattila and Anja Silja, as well as iconic director Peter Sellars.
The likes of Enrica and Fabrizio Arengi Bentivoglio, H.R.H. Princess Madeleine of Sweden, Annaliese Soros, Mercedes Bassm, Ira Siff, Sarah and Howard Solomon, Karen and Kevin Kennedy and the venerable Ann Ziff sashayed and blew kisses at a cocktail reception, before feasting on chilled peekytoe crab and Meyer lemon salad, grilled prime beef entrecôte and fine wines. The awards (a crystal designed by Opera News’s art director Gregory Downer and produced by Tiffany & Co.) were presented by conductor James Conlon, Sherrill Milnes, Eric Owens and composer Kaija Saariaho, and esteemed mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe hosted the ceremony.
During his acceptance speech, Peter Mattei comically stumbled on exactly which organization was responsible for bestowing the award on him: “I’m not good with names anymore!” he laughed. Why has he stayed so dedicated to the opera? “It’s the people who come to listen to opera at the Met. They want to be a part of the opera house. They have the same curiosity and the confidence as the city of New York! It makes you perform better,” he confided on stage.
Verdian baritone Sherrill Milnes, who presented Mr. Hvorostovsky with his award, brought gusto, impeccable articulation and a spot of comedic relief: “I can appreciate a singer with a nice head of hair,” he said poking fun at Mr. Hvorostovsky dramatic white mane. (Mr. Milnes himself is known for his full head of hair.) “I grew up listening to great recordings from the Metropolitan Opera,” commented Mr. Hvorostovsky after accepting his prize. He stressed the significance of being a part of the Met community. “I felt like all my dreams came true,” he said. “You feel a great support from everyone at the theatre from the make-up room to the chorus.”
The booming buttery voice of bass-baritone Eric Owens was another delight, as he presented avant-garde director Peter Sellars with the Distinguished Achievement award. “There is no one else in the world like Peter Sellars,” he said with chuckle. Holding back tears as he accepted his award, Mr. Sellars stated: “Can you image a life where you get to be with these people? I love these singers because they have so much beauty. I get to work with people that are truly incredible.” Mr. Sellars, a champion of modernizing opera and expanding its audience for posterity, expressed his desire to keep opera relevant and how the Guild works to promote that initiative. “Opera is going to be here and now for a long time. It’s so important that opera speaks to as many people as possible,” he said.
Ms. Silja who shined in a white pantsuit and tiered pearls with gemstones, dedicated her award in a brief statement to her grandfather (her only singing coach) and a great love of her life, Wieland Wagner (grandson of the great composer).
But perhaps the best moment of the night came from diva Karita Mattila. After receiving her crystal she proclaimed simply, “I deserved this!” Getting an award doesn’t mean you “have to be humble,” she said.
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