With spring breakers returning to North Texas on Monday, March 19, they brought some powerful gusts of wind with them. But those breezes didn’t sway the opera-loving Women’s Board of The Dallas Opera from heading to the Crescent Court Hotel for the 26th annual Juanita and Henry S. Miller Jr. Founders Award Luncheon.
It was back in 1995 that the late Margot and Bill Winspear received the award with Juanita and Henry in the audience. Now fast forward to this year’s presentation. The recipients were Margot’s and Bill’s son, Don Winspear and his wife Ellen Winspear. In the audience was the Millers’ daughter Patsy Donosky.
But before the generational presentation took place, the reception filled the lobby of the Crescent’s ballroom with Luncheon Co-Chairs Tiffany Divis in white, Kara Goss in blue and Rhonda Marcus in red laughing over the fact that standing together they looked like they were chairing an Independence Day event… Women’s Board Chair Anne Stodghill was joined by her 2017 Cattle Baron’s Ball Co-Chair Sunie Solomon, as well as husband Steve Stodghill… TDO Interim General Director and President/past Founders Awardee Kern Wildenthal arrived with TDO Music Director Emmanuel Villaume. Seems Kern’s co-awardee/wife Marnie Wildenthal was MIA due to teaching a class at the Vickery Meadows Learning Center… Dianne Laroe claiming one of the fabulous white centerpieces created by Gro Designs that were going for just $40. One guests whispered, “I would have paid $100.”… Speaking of Gro, its masterminds Krisi and Nathan Johnson were proudly introducing their four-month-old Pearl Johnson to guests before having their staffers pick her up. BTW, Pearl is one of the most beautiful babies, since Gerber started making baby food… Others in the gathering included Kaki Hopkins, Diane Brierley, Sara and David Martineau, Joyce and Harvey Mitchell, Lynn and Allan McBee, Michael Faircloth, Cooley sis-in-laws (Bela and Ciara), Fraser Marcus, Jennifer Swift, Nick Evan, Holly Mayer, Carol and Don Glendenning and Gail Sachson.
But all were not as healthy as they appeared. Stubbs Davis was moving gingerly due to his sciatica nerve… Despite having run-in with a mogul on the last run of the day over the weekend in Colorado resulting in her right knees ligament pulled every which way, Lisa Cooley was wearing heels. Her doctor had told her that since she has always been in heels, it shouldn’t be a problem… On the other foot was Mark LaRoe, who looked perfectly professional and dapper until he stood up. There on his left foot was a sizable boot achieved from an off swing at the second hole of the Dallas Country Club. His doctor wasn’t as open minded as Lisa’s telling Mark that he and boot would be together for three months.
Just minutes before the presentation started, Ellen Winspear tried her best to get a family photo together with Laura and Tom Leppert. The two families are related since Winspear son, Frank Winspear, married Leppert daughter, Catherine. Alas, Tom was connected to his phone, so the family photo was an all-girl picture. When asked if Tom slept with his phone, Laura laughed saying, “It’s not far away.”… And speaking of Dallas first families, Micki and current Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings were tableside with the Winspears.
Following a seated luncheon, 2017 Founders Awardee Betty and Steve Suellentrop presented the Winspears with the Tiffany box containing the award. In accepting the award, Ellen said, “God made man before a woman, but you know you always make a rough draft before a final.” She then thank all for being present and their support of the opera and the Hart Institute for Women Conductors. Don followed up saying, “There’s nothing that I can add to Ellen sentiments, except that whole first draft thing.” He then recognized the luncheon co-chairs and Anne Stodghill.
At 12:50 p.m. Kern then invited Lee Cullum and Nicole Paiement to the stage for a conversation. In addition to being TDO Principal Guest Conductor, Nicole has been a “mentor for the Hart Institute for Women Conductors.”
According to Nicole, the Institute involves women conductors who are not just starting out in the world of music. Rather they are “mid-career.” Not only does the Institute provide them the opportunity to network, it also is “a plus for their resumes.”
Regarding her having just conducted the American premiere of “Sunken Garden” Saturday at the Winspear, she laughed that thanks to the integrated video and 3D technology, “We were snapping. We were having fun.”
In addition to her position at TDO, Nicole is also Artistic Director of Opera Parallèle that is preparing “Today It Rains,” an opera on the late artist George O’Keeffe. Having been commissioned by the San Francisco’s opera company in 2015, it’s due to premiere on March 27, 2019. Nicole told how it will deal with O’Keeffe’s traveling by train from New York to Albuquerque via Chicago and wondering if she would stay in New Mexico or return to NY. On the trip, O’Keeffe meets African American train conductor, who tells her that “even as a woman in the 1920s, she has more capacity to make a decision in changing her life than him as an African American man.”
Reaching out to get a brochure from a guest, Nicole held the paper up showing how four moving panels would serve as backdrops for the production. It will also include a classic Greek quartet chorus.
Nicole reported that the piece was “a lot more intimate than we had expected.” She then added, “Not all opera needs to be in a grand place like the Winspear.”
As she spoke with her slight French Canadian accent, Emmanuel sat back with arms folded smiling and Ellen Winspear smiled and nodded in agreement throughout Nicole’s talk.
Prior to the premiere of the O’Keeffe production, Nicole will be in Seattle for “The (R)evoltion of Steve Jobs” that debuted this past summer at the Santa Fe Opera. When asked by Lee about her opinion of the opera, Nicole responded, “I need to be politically correct.” Lee countered with, “Why?”
Apple product owner Nicole explained that in the current state, Jobs appears a little too sweet. “I do want a little darker side…It appeals to people who are more operatic lovers… The score is extremely difficult.”
Regarding her routine, Nicole said, “I like to be along and have quiet time.” She occasionally goes on a “musical retreat” that is the family home in the mountains, where there are no telephones or internet.
Despite having talked for more than 30 minutes, Nicole’s charm and contagious enthusiasm only built as she talked about the possibility of combining short operas with a common theme. For instance, Jake Heggie’s 45-minute opera — “At the Statue of Venus” — about a woman on a blind date meeting the possible man of her dreams that could be combined with another short opera about newlyweds who have settled into the reality of marriage.
Following the talk, it was obvious that thanks to such programs as the Hart Institute and people like Nicole, opera is embracing today’s technologies, storylines and talents.