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Society / Featured Parties

Houston Grand Opera Ball Embraces Fiesta Magic, Rakes in $1.2 Million in One Beautiful Night

Mexico Theme Proves to be a Winner for Nation's Most Diverse City

BY // 04.16.19

When Alfredo and Marcia Vilas signed on to chair the Houston Grand Opera Ball, the couple decided to do something different. Instead of a traditional gala, they came up with the idea for a grand fiesta honoring the vibrant culture and creative contributions of Mexico and centered the white-tie ball around the Mexican song “Cielito Lindo,” a stirring national symbol sung in good times and bad.

“We’ve never had a Mexico theme. That’s part of my heritage. I was raised in Mexico City, so that was actually a pretty quick and simple decision,” Alfredo Villas, the founder and chairman of Novum Energy, tells PaperCity.  “Cielito Lindo’ just comes with the theme; it’s probably the most popular Mexican song. The rest sort of fell on its own weight.”

“We live in Houston and to not embrace the Latin heritage is almost a disservice,” Marcia Villas adds. “We said it’s time to do it — especially with everything that’s going on currently.”

The new idea for the storied gala turned out be a big success, raking in a whopping $1.2 million.

Immediately upon entering The Revaire event space in near northwest Houston, the 450 guests knew they were in for a special evening as they were greeted by a 12-foot-tall model swathed in a gown of monarch butterflies and by a floor-to-ceiling wall of sombreros, which served as a popular spot for Instagram moments throughout the evening. Guests also sipped a variety of Tequila Ley .925 cocktails while perusing an array of silent auction items in the foyer curated by auction chair Monica Fulton.

The ballroom featured a dance floor of patterned blue Mexican tiles, climbing bougainvillea on the walls, and a spectacular 60-foot-long “chandelier” of calla lilies that hung upside down above the tables, created by the Mexican-born, Austin-based designer Tiburzcio of Mandarin Design Lab.

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Before dinner, guests were entertained with a special performance of “Besame Mucho” by soprano Ailyn Pérez, who stars in HGO’s Don Giovanni opening April 20, as well as by Grammy Award-winning Mariachi Los Camperos featuring Houston native Vanessa Alonzo, who had starred in HGO’s world premiere mariachi opera, Cruzar la Cara de la Luna.

And what a dinner it was. A Fare Extraordinare chef Ryan Bouillet provided a feast of a Mexican-themed dinner that included huachinango (red snapper) and shrimp al la brasa, halibut al pastor and filet of beef tenderloin with black beans and charred pineapple and pickled cabbage slaw (with warm corn tortillas on request), and chocolate tamale with dulce de leche.

After dinner, Alonzo and the band brought down the house with renditions of mariachi favorites, including the signature “Cielito Lindo,” that had some guests singing along. Alfredo Vilas, the evening’s co-chair, even joined in with an unplanned spirited solo of “Si Nos Dejan” (If They Let Us)” that ended with an overhead explosion of confetti.

April 13, 2019

The celebration continued until well past midnight at the Encore After Party chaired by Lady Stephanie Kimbrell and Joshua Allison. It featured dancing to two bands — the Richard Brown Orchestra and salsa specialists Tumbaka — along with a taco station, frozen mangonadas and churros with chocolate sauce as two giant mojigangas (traditional Mexican puppets), hand-made by HGO wardrobe supervisor Judy Malone-Stein, hovered above the dance floor.

Sartorially speaking, the evening brought out the best in the crowd, many of whom went to great lengths to creatively match the theme. A number of gowns were fiery red and so many women wore roses in their hair that there surely was run on the floral stand at Central Market, where several guests revealed they had visited earlier in the day to go flower shopping.

Among the fashion standouts were Cynthia Petrello, who channeled Frida Kahlo in an embroidered Dior gown and floral headdress, Hallie Vanderhider in a striking floral Marchesa gown, Whitney Crane in an embroidered Oscar de la Renta gown, Rini Ziegler in a red Valentino lace gown, Vivian Wise in a vintage embroidered Oscar de la Renta gown with floral headband from San Miguel and earrings from Tulum, Becca Cason Thrash in an ensemble reflecting the colors of the Mexican flag (marigold Oscar de la Renta ball skirt, green shawl that her mother bought in Mexico in the ’50s, and a lace top she bought on sale at  Zara for $12) and Fady Armanious in a matador-like Alexander McQueen black tuxedo cape lined in red. (Check back later this week for a full PaperCity report on all the fabulous Opera Ball looks.)

Seen in the society crowd were Margaret Alkek Williams and Jim Daniel, Anne and Albert Chao, Brigitteand Bashar Kalai, Sofia Adrogué and Sten Gustafson, Kendall and Christopher Hanno, Myrtle Jones, Damon Chargois and Rebekka Peltzman, Joanne King Herring, Dian and Harlan Stai, Alejandra and Hector Torres, Leigh and Reggie Smith, Kelly and Steve Lubanko, Brigitte and Bashar Kalai, Diane Lokey Farb, Ceron, Melinda and Sam Stubbs, Drs. Ishwaria and Vivek Subbiah, Nicole and Christopher Rose, Jennifer and Ben Fink, Sara and Gabriel Loperena, Tony Bradfield, Valerie and Tracy Dieterich, Rebecca Rabinow and Matt Ringel, John Caird, Tami Hiraoka and Louis Borrego, Sallie Sargent, Tom Ajamie, Jose Ivo, Zane and Brady Carruth, and Betsy and Fred Griffin.

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