Chicago Opera Theater "Carnivale" Review- A Gala Honoring COT for Teens

Chicago Opera Theater’s 2011 gala Carnivale: A Party Less Ordinary honoring COT for Teens was a night of lavishness, good food and drink, and conviviality. The event was held on Sunday evening March 6th at the hip nuevo latino restaurant Carnivale in the Fulton River District of downtown Chicago. The uplifting and bright restaurant environment provided a prime setting for the celebratory night for Chicago Opera Theater and its successful youth program.

Chicago Opera Theater timely chose Jerry Kleiner’s restaurant Carnivale for the event the week of actual Carnivale in Brazil, which was a clever and creative idea. The dining room where the dinner, performances, and dancing was held had a modern Latina flare, filled everywhere with bright pinks, greens, blues, and yellows, from the glass kaleidoscope on the ceiling to the hanging lampshades and artistically painted walls. The various modern square mirrors throughout the hall gave the already large room an even grander, open feeling, and the enormous wall mounted wine racks were a spectacle to look at, replete with various wines.

The evening was highly organized and had a variety of exciting activities going on, serving both a more mature, adult audience as well as a younger, 20’s and 30’s crowd. The event offered two ticketing options, one which included a formal dinner, “Habanero,” and one excluding dinner but including everything else---cocktail reception, silent auction, performances, and dancing---“Serrano.” During the formal introductory portion of the evening, Phil Ponce, WGN Reporter/Anchor served as the Master of Ceremonies and Henry Fogel, former longtime president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association gracefully headed the live auction.

The purpose of the gala was to honor Chicago Opera Theater’s COT for Teens program, which is an after school program partnered with the City of Chicago’s After School Matters program, training students from a wide variety of backgrounds to develop a classical style of singing. The program has existed in partnership with After School Matters for 5 years and from the brief performance attendees were able to experience, the program seems to be very successful. Shortly after the formal welcome to the event, all attendees observed several members of COT for Teens perform selections from The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan, which is what the students are currently working on. The young teens, about 10-15 of them, were dressed in bright solid colors that matched the brightness of the room and sang comedic songs with much animation and character, staying true to the comedic nature of this well-received two-act opera. At times the boys and girls split up and sang within their own gender clan. Being able to observe the development of these teens was exciting and fitting for the evening, and their personalities expressed in their vocal selections were a delight to watch.

Shortly thereafter, all attendees were treated to Madore (baritone), and Micaela Oeste (soprano), accompanied by pianist Scott Gilmore. Madore, a member of the renown Metropolitan Opera Lindemann Young Artist Program and had an incredibly strong voice, projecting loudly across the large dining area. Armed with a canny personality, big brown eyes and an overall handsomeness, his operatic voice in Mozart’s Figaro was music to the ears, no pun intended. His suaveness, verging on the side of cockiness in the seductive love songs with Micaela Oeste was entertaining and gave the Italian songs he sang meaning and intention, especially for those of us who could not actually understand the words. Oeste, who has been highly praised for her role as Ophelie in Washington National Opera’s Hamlet, and who will appear in Medea in COT’s Spring Festival Season, had a sweet demeanor and sang brilliantly with her light and feminine voice. Because of her charm and delicate demeanor, I could not believe the depth and strength of voice that emanated from her mouth---something one wouldn’t expect from an elegant beauty who was supposed to play the more passive, womanly part as the prey of an aggressive lover. Overall, from the look on everyone’s faces as well as the energetic rounds of applause, I did not seem to be the only one to be highly impressed by the professional operatic performances.

In addition to the amusing performances going on that evening, I must remark on the food, because it was delicious! Though I was not part of the formal “Habanero” dinner, the small bites I did get were so incredibly savory I am ready to list Carnivale my favorite restaurant in Chicago. The chorizo with manchega cheese was the perfect bite of contrasts---the sweet, meaty chorizo combined well with the sharp, dry manchega that had a smooth finish as it made its way down my throat. The chicken empanadas with cheese literally melted in my mouth, I could have eaten a plateful! Additionally, the freshly fried and oily chips with refreshing and smooth guacamole was delicious. My only remark is that I wish I was able to taste more food---there didn’t seem to be enough going around. The cocktails were also delicious! I enjoyed my two favorite drinks---minty mojitos and sangria. The mojitos had fresh mint in them and had just the perfect amount of sweetness and kick to them. The sangrias, of red wine, were very fruity and sweet and not too strong. In addition, margaritas were served throughout the evening. In sum, the food and cocktails dutifully matched the rest of the successes of the gala.

The silent auction, which took place in a side room adjacent to the large dining area, was full of an exciting array of services and goodies, all laid out according to subject in a creative, well designed fashion. From trips to London, Dublin, and San Francisco, to date nights at the Steppenwolf and Chicago Symphony Orchestra, to tours of Chicago to autographed Chicago sports baseballs, footballs, basketballs, to coffee table photography books, and gym memberships, the silent auction was incredibly far-reaching and well-done. The starting prices for each of the items was very reasonable, and it seemed that many people partook of the variety of items present.

In addition to the silent auction, there was a Tiffany-themed raffle that offered beautiful stainless steel watches, a sterling silver charm bracelet, and a crystal decanter.

The evening ended with lively Latino music from the band Willie Gomez Con Cache, which included two singers, a drummer, a guitarist, and an electric keyboard pianist. I thoroughly enjoyed topping off the formal evening with some more informal dancing, and I was grateful that the friend that I brought to the gala was totally down. We salsa’d and tangoe’d along with several other couples. I felt the dancing portion of the evening brought just the perfect amount of informality and comfort to an otherwise more professional and formal evening.

Overall, I found the evening to be an opulent spectacle to the eye---from the atmosphere of the restaurant to the performances to the delectable food and the grandiose silent auction items. The evening artfully mixed formality with personal pleasure, and all for a great cause.

Photo courtesy: Rosa Saunders

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