If one ever wonders what happens when a bunch of opera singers meet well dressed donors under a themed evening of glamor, drinks, dinner/dancing, and a cabaret performance where anything BUT opera is performed; they need go no further than the Lyric Opera of Chicago to find out. Once a year, Chicago’s finest and ‘fun-est’ attend the company’s famed “Fantasy of the Opera” Gala, which held it’s annual fete this past Friday (January 27, 2012).
For 28 years the opera company–but more specifically, it’s Guild Board of Directors–has put on this Gala as it’s most highly anticipated fund-raising event of the season. It is, in my estimation, even more coveted an occasion than the celebrated Opera Ball that I have written about just recently (see my posting: “When Life Interrupts”). There are three reasons for this: fun, Fun, and FUN.
Sure there are gowns and tuxedos, photographers and media; food, food, and more food; as well as the finest champagne and spirits money can buy. There are also valuable raffle prizes, a variety of silent auction offerings which are bid on via a state-of-the-art electronic bidding process, and a great society band/orchestra that allows revelers to dance the night away. The Lyric usually makes about $500,000 on the event, but the actual tally is always posted as a result of local newspaper and/or society page coverage the following week. But what sets this party apart is the now legendary “Cabaret” performance that is given by the Stars of the Lyric Opera–this is where the FUN part of ‘fun, FUN, FUN’ comes in!!
As a result of having performed on this event some 16 years out of 28 (yes, I hold the record for the most appearances by any one artist), as well as hosting it twice, I can tell you that we singers look forward to it as much as any of the guests. (I flew in from Toronto this year, especially for the occasion.) There is no ‘pressure’ at these performances; the management wants us to have as relaxed a time as the attendees. And over the years, I have seen the biggest stars of our industry just let their hair down and sing the great standards, show-pieces, country music favorites, national specialties, Broadway show tunes, jazz classics, torch songs, barber shop quartets, and even some rock-n-roll. What the heck…it’s all about FUN, right???
I’ve watched gowned operatic super-stars fall flat on their face (literally) when their shoe heel catches their hemline, while others have taken to the stage to hoe-down when the timing seemed right; some have tripped or slipped as they entered or exited, some told jokes that bombed (like me) or left them howling (like me); high notes are blown, while others are spectacularly executed. None of it matters really…because we are there just to enjoy…whether we sing a ballad/love song, or just a silly rendition of Don’t Fence Me In.
It is good to blow off some steam, not take ourselves too seriously, and assist in raising desperately needed funds for what I have always termed the art-form of all art-forms. But it must also be noted that so many of our Guild Board members work for an entire year to make this one-night-extravaganza as important as any full-run opera production. This year may have been one of the best, although they are always spectacular! And as far as variety of cabaret performances go; there were no less than 14 performers that included Nathan Gunn, Amber Wagner, Emily Fons, James Kryshak, Jamie Barton, Philip Kraus, Susanna Philips, Morris Robinson, Alyson Cambridge, Rene Barbera, Elza van den Heever, and others still–including ‘yours truly’. Maestro Craig Terry provided spirited accompaniment for all, while Lyric’s new General Director, Anthony Freud donned a cowboy hat and hosted as the Master of Ceremonies.
For the record, I rewrote the lyrics to Billy Joel’s Piano Man specifically for the event to honor “All things Lyric”. I even got the audience to sing along, as I coolly sipped a “scotch on the rocks” on-stage!! You see; after 16 years I know the temperature of our Chicago audiences pretty well, and see many a regular in the crowd each season. If only I hadn’t needed to fly out the very next day…well, let’s just say the party may have continued at my home, which it has in years past! Maybe we will do it next year–if I am invited back…although I am running out of party pieces!!!