Lyric Opera of Chicago's Gala Fund Raiser-Wine Auction 2006

Dressed in style

The historic Civic Opera House in Chicago was dressed in style February 24, 2006, when the Women's Board of Lyric Opera of Chicago sponsored its eighth Wine Auction, 'Espirit'. Lyric, one of the pioneers of charitable wine auctions nationally, held its first wine auction in 1988 and every three years since. Seven previous auction's netted proceeds totaling more than $3 million which went directly to Lyric Opera of Chicago's annual campaign, supporting the opera company's activities. This is Lyric's 51st season, with more than 80 performances of eight operas offered from September 24, 2005 through March 26, 2006. In 2003 the auction netted $768,000 while the 2006 set an unprecedented record of $1,022,000.

Lyric is one of the first charity wine auctions offering online bidding, with 130+web-exclusive auction lots and bidding from as far away as Japan, Mexico and all over the U.S. It is the first time that aficionados of fine wines, luxury items, travel and fine dining could bid online before the beginning of the event

The silent auction

Entering the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice foyer, one could hardly believe it was the Civic Opera House in winter as the scene was tropical with palms all around. Champagne, wine, and hors d'oeuvres including grapes with blue cheese in pistachio crust, Moroccan spiced lamb served in cracker cup, herb roasted shrimp on rosemary skewer were continually offered. Tables filled with wines of every description were decoratively placed for viewing both for the silent and live auctions. The silent auction offered 110 lots.

Barbara Kalnes, development manager of Lyric Opera of Chicago, was our 'silent auction expert'. She helped locate our favorite wines and answered questions. We bid on two lots, hoping to take wine home, but were out bid. This is the first time Prince Robert of Luxembourg has been the guest of honor at the Wine Auction, Barbara told us. His donations were very generous and the strength of his wine's reputation attracted lovers of fine wine. Fund-raisers are critical to the financial health of the Lyric. The opera couldn't be as good as it is without them.

Left to right: Woman's Board President Maxine Farrell, Princess Julie of Luxembourg, Prince Robert of Luxembourg, Wine Auction Chairman Nancy Milliken and Lyric Opera General Director William Mason

Their Royal Highnesses, Prince and Princess Robert of Luxembourg were honored guests for the event. They were available to be greeted and to answer questions during the reception. Prince Robert, born in Luxembourg in his grandmother's castle, schooled in England and Luxembourg frequent traveler to the family's homes in Europe and America, was also a scriptwriter in Hollywood. . He is currently Vice-President and Managing Director, Domaine Clarence Dillon, producer of Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion. Clarendelle, red and white were developed recently, as a tribute to Clarence Dillon, Prince Robert's great-grandfather and was offered at the reception. Haut- Brion dates back to 1423 and was purchased by Clarence Dillion, Robert's great-grandfather in 1935. Robert and his wife, Julie sold their first screenplay shortly before he took over the family business.

Susan Graham,left, after signing

Special Guest, Susan Graham, mezzo soprano, starring in the title role of Der Rosenkavalier at Lyric Opera of Chicago through March 11, signed a magnum of 1996 Chateau d'Yquem and bottles signed by Byrn Terfel, Renee Fleming and Placido Domingo were also available. To end the silent auction, and begin dinner, Susan Graham struck a large gong.

The stage is set for dinner

Entering the Ardis Krainik Theater, the tropical backdrop from the Magic Flute, 14-foot-tall palm trees and tables with centerpieces of protea, orchids and roses in orange, hot pink and lime green set the stage for dinner. Seating capacity for dinner was increased when the orchestra pit was covered. Preparing the wines required three sommeliers, gentlemen with rare skills, to spend hours decanting countless bottles of wine. Dinner, catered by Calihan Catering, began with a pillow of smoked salmon filled with fresh goat's cheese accompanied by Chateau Laville Haut-Brion 2001, an exceptional wine. The roasted tenderloin of beef set on a cushion of braised short ribs of beef with parsnip puree, green and white asparagus and tricolor heirloom carrots was accompanied by the Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion 1995, an earthy complex wine. The hazelnut chocolate pave with roasted apricots and frangelico creme Anglaise and chocolate sauce was accompanied by Clarendelle Amber Wine 2003, and was followed by chocolates, assorted cookies and truffled popcorn.

Greeting the dinner guests, Prince Robert thanked the Women's Board of Lyric Opera of Chicago for the job they do. He then spoke about leaving the Chateau for boarding school at age 10, thinking he could sing but was, sadly, laughed at. His revenge is his current contribution to the Lyric Opera. He compared his role as warden of his wineries to that of the Women's Board, warden of the Lyric Opera in keeping its high place in the world of music. He said that the balance, elegance and complexity of wine are comparable to the complexity of opera minus the sound, which we create when we clink our glasses.

Chateau Haut-Brion

Seated in comfort with wine glasses frequently refilled, the live auction of 85 lots began. It was great after dinner entertainment with each lot shown on three large screens, the items and donors displayed. The bids began and paddles were held high. Spotters around the room assured no one's bid went unnoticed. Phone bids from other parts of the world occasionally raised the bids. A bid for dinner and wine to be served in a private home for ten people became the most exciting of the evening when mezzo-soprano, Susan Graham added a mini-recital to the highest bidder, followed by an additional case of Chateau Haut-Brion 1982 contributed by Their Royal Highnesses. The highest bid brought $36,000.

Lead Auctioneer: Michael Davis, President and CEO, Hart Davis Hart Wine Co., a Chicago company recently formed by John Hart, Michael Davis and Paul Hart, specializing in fine and rare wine. He has been an important part of the seven previous Lyric Wine Auctions offering his leadership skills. He noted that many charity wine auctions are held in hotels, clubs and other locations separate from their beneficiaries but that 'you should never underestimate the power of having Lyric's event onstage, looking out into the Ardis Krainik Theater. No other auction has such a sense of place.'

J. Michael Broadbent wrote VINTAGE WINE

Honorary Auctioneer: J. Michael Broadbent, Master of Wine, Christie's of London. As head of Christie's Wine Department from the mid-1960's through the 1980's, he expanded and strengthened Christie's presence in the worldwide wine market. He has published several books and contributes to high-profile publications. The Wall Street Journal says his book, VINTAGE WINE is 'a terrific book ' because of Mr. Broadbent's great wit and use of descriptive language'. His tasting notes are legendary and his wine master classes are unique events and very popular among wine enthusiasts. He was lead auctioneer for Lyric's first wine auction in 1988.

Auctioneer: Leslie Hindman, President, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers founded in 1982. It is one of the Midwest's largest auction houses and is fifth largest nationally. She returns after her debut in 1994 wielding her gavel at the 'Remains of the Stage' auction when opera memorabilia was auctioned to the public.

Wine Auction Chairman: Mrs. Christopher C. Milliken (Nancy)
Wine Auction Vice -Chairman: Mrs. Paul W. Oliver, Jr. (Susan)
Women's Board President: Mrs. W. James Farrell (Maxine)
General Director: William Mason

Enjoying the auction, the author and husband

Presenting Sponsor: Northern Trust

Further information regarding sponsors and special aspects of the Lyric Opera of Chicago's wine auction can be found in LASplash's previous article on this topic, entitled, 'Lyric Opera of Chicago Holds 2006 Wine Auction '.

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