Proving that a fun and fabulous gala doesn't have to be big affair, the Fort Worth Opera welcomed 140 guests to its intimate Southern Soiree on May 4.
This year's benefit took place in a new locale, Stonegate Mansion, which had been outfitted for the occasion with towering floral arrangements by TCU Florist, twinkling candles, and mini bottles of Moet & Chandon Champagne at each place setting.
Even before guests sat down to dinner, though, they were in for more than a few treats masterminded by FWO special events coordinator Paulina Magdaleno, gala chair Barbara Jordan, and their event committee.
As they sipped craft cocktails and nibbled passed hors d'oeuvres, FWO patrons, supporters, and singers — including Megan Bowdon Wilkinson, Joey Wilkinson, Matt Wilkinson, Mary Pencis, Jill Fischer, Rita O'Farrell, Amanda Malone, Kate Tombaugh, Cassandra Zoe Velasco, and Abigail Santos Villalobos — enjoyed a cocktail-hour opera recital. Notably, soprano Maren Weinberger and tenor Daniel Montenegro performed a new piece called "Steve" by composer-librettist Rachel J. Peters, who was in attendance.
Inside the dining room, before the first course was served, guests got to enjoy the evening's featured performance by renowned Met soprano Jennifer Rowley (who'd just flown in from South Korea). FWO artistic director Joe Illick accompanied on piano.
Between pieces — selections from Tosca, Hamilton, and more — eager guests couldn't contain themselves. They simply had to open those mini bottles of Champagne placed before them. "Pop!" "Pop!" "Pop!"
Rowley and Illick were joined by three singers who are part of the FWO-TCU Lesley apprentice program — Janani Sridhar, Jonathan Walker-VanKuren, and Erik Earl Larson — for a stirring performance from La Boheme. (It was a tease, of sorts, as the famous Puccini opera will be part of the 2020 Fort Worth Opera Festival.)
Like any good Southern-style gathering, the cuisine got a starring role. Well-known Fort Worth chef Juan Rodriguez of Magdalena's created a dinner menu with wine pairings especially for the event. Rodriguez was fresh off his win as Fort Worth Chef of the Year in CultureMap's prestigious Tastemaker Awards.
The chef told the crowd that his Southern-cuisine menu was inspired by a babymoon that he and wife Paige took to Charleston, South Carolina, before their son was born. Each course was exquisitely prepared and artfully presented by polished servers.
Courses included She-crab soup and salad (paired with Man Family Wines Chenin Blanc from South Africa); roasted quail pie with Creole mustard sauce (paired with Mohua Pinot Noir from New Zealand); orange brined pork loin with roasted poblano grits and Benton's ham green beans (paired with Honoro Vera Red Blend from Spain); and for dessert, sweet potato empanadas with vanilla whipped cream and sorghum glaze (paired with Charles Roux Rosé Demi-Sec from France).
Remarks and acknowledgments were kept short and sweet by Jordan, FWO general director Tuomas Hiltunen, board of trustees chairman Mike Martinez, and board president Nelson Claytor.
And just one item went up for grabs in what auctioneer Illick promised would be "the shortest live auction known to man." It was for a trip to New York City to attend the Met Opera and have all kinds of other fun. Bidding got so competitive that two trips were sold in the end, each for $3,000.
Spotted in the crowd, having a great time throughout the night, were FWO supporters and staff, including Cassie Dunn, Nicole Duvall, Brian Smith, Hilary Ginther, Gina Browning, Damon Clyde, Ryan Lathan, Kyle Jordan, and many more.
After one last trip to the bar for a nightcap and some cheek-kisses goodbye, guests went home happy and full — the hallmarks of great Southern hospitality.