Society / Featured Parties

Houston Grand Opera’s Lavish $1.4 Million Night Pays Homage to a World Class City — Its Own

An H-Town Theme Brings an Intimate Supper Club, a Powerful UH Mariachi Show and a Thrilling Tenor

BY // 04.18.23

In years past, the Houston Grand Opera Ball has roamed the globe for its theme, at various times creating a Marrakesh casbah, a Mexican fiesta, a lavish Venice carnival and a tribute to Hollywood’s golden era as some of its more exotic locales.

But for this year’s edition of the Bayou City’s most glamorous gala, organizers decided there’s no place like home.

Highlighting the theme of “A City of Bold Voices,” the gala focused on the unique qualities of Houston as a world-class center for arts and culture. Having navigated the trials of the COVID epidemic that decimated the city’s arts scene but is now roaring back, it seemed the right time for the opera to highlight the hometown spirit that makes H-Town so special.

“This is a city that embraces big dreams and bold voices,” HGO general director and CEO Khori Dastoor explained to an overflow crowd of 500. “Houstonians are warm. They are open. They are generous. And their appreciation for and investment in world class art makes this city the very best place to call home.”

Albert & Ann Chao, Carolyn & Jake Sabat at the Houston Grand Opera Ball. (Photo by Michelle Watson/CatchLight Group)
Albert & Anne Chao, Carolyn & Jake Sabat at the Houston Grand Opera Ball. (Photo by Michelle Watson/CatchLight Group)

The gala raised more than $1.4 million — the second highest total since the Houston Grand Opera launched its first such event 63 years ago. That thrilled Opera Ball chairs Anne and Albert Chao, who are longtime HGO supporters as well as major contributors to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), the Asia Society Texas, Houston Ballet and the Houston Symphony.

The Houston-themed celebration began as soon as guests exited their cars at the valet stand, where the Texas Southern University Ocean of Soul marching band greeted arrivals with high-energy sounds to a staccato drum beat that ricocheted under the protected entryway on Prairie street. (Due to threats of severe thunderstorms, the red carpet entrance at Fish Plaza on Texas Avenue — an HGO gala tradition — was scrapped at the last moment and guests instead entered the Wortham Center via the back side of the building.)

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The Grand Foyer of the cavernous arts center was transformed into an intimate supper club by The Events Company, with a black and gold theme highlighted by gigantic chandeliers, banners of Houston arts landmarks, and massive displays of red roses and tiered candles as table centerpieces.

The Houston-themed entertainment continued with a high-energy performance from the University of Houston Mariachi Pumas, which drew sustained applause from the audience, including UH president Renu Khator and husband Suresh. In a salute to HGO’s groundbreaking 1976 production of Porgy and Bess — Dastoor reminded the audience that the production “established HGO as a major player on the world scene ” — Kim Cruse, familiar to fans of The Voice, gave a soulful rendition of  the Gershwin classic “Summertime.”

The University of Houston Mariachi Pumas performed at the Houston Grand Opera Ball. (Photo by Michelle Watson/CatchLight Group)
The University of Houston Mariachi Pumas performed at the Houston Grand Opera Ball. (Photo by Michelle Watson/CatchLight Group)

The dinner, catered by City Kitchen, also emphasized the “Houston Proud” theme by highlighting the city’s culinary prowess and diversity of its residents. The menu included seared breast of duck with mole poblano, spinach, mushroom and caramelized onion; enchilandas with guajillo salsa and queso fresco: and chocolate pecan tart with cinnamon whipped mascarpone and espresso caramel sauce.

After dinner, tenor Jonathan Tetelman, joined by members of the HGO Orchestra and Chorus, thrilled the crowd with the aria “Nessun dorma” from the final act of Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot —  one of the best-known tenor arias in all opera. The goosebump-inducing performance drew a prolonged standing ovation for the singer, who is starring in the upcoming HGO production of Tosca.

Afterwards, the dance floor filled up quickly as guests boogied the night away to music by the Richard Brown Orchestra.

Throughout the evening, guests greeted each other like long lost friends, as if they were continuing to make up for time lost during the COVID years. Lynn Wyatt added her usual touch of glamour, accompanied by her daughter-in-law Mervin Wyatt-Ras, who is a member of Parliament in Aruba. In a poignant moment, Wyatt was greeted by her brother Robert Sakowitz, who was in in formal white tie attire — and she reflectively adjusted his bow tie.

PC Seen: Betty and Jess Tutor, Houston Grand Opera artistic director Patrick Summers, Matthew Healey, Daniel Irion and Kirk Kveton, Cindi and Franklin Rose, Marguerite Swartz, Donna Josey Chapman, Marcia and Alfreo Vilas, Teresa and José Ivo, Lulu Tan and Hugh Zhang, Elizabeth and Richard Husseini, Myrtle Jones, Dina Alsowayel and Tony Chase, Claire Liu and Joe Greenberg, Jana and Scotty Arnoldy, Oksana and Vitalii Tarasiuk, Kiran and Shiv Verma, Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, Rebecca Rabinow and Matt Ringel, Molly and Jim Crownover, Cynthia and Tony Petrello, Gracie and Bob Cavnar, Linda and Willie Chiang, Kelley and Stephen Lubanko, Leigh and Reggie Smith, Ileanaa and Michael Treviño, Theresa and Peter Chang, Karen Payne, Julia and Jason Wang, and Shahin and Brooke Naghavi.

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