The indomitable Barbara Tober! In two days, she presided over three events. We showed up at Opera Lafayette’s Baroque Music Festival honoring Lincoln Center CEO & President Henry Timms and the Young Concert Artists 62nd Annual Gala, at Jazz at Lincoln Center, honoring CEO Deborah Borda. In between, Tober hosted a lunch and private tour of the Museum of Arts and Design’s Funk You Too ceramics exhibit. Who can keep up!
Neither surgery not tragedy fells her. Losing husband Donald broke her heart. But, she carries on, honoring him with plaques and scholarships. She supports others: lunching with new widows and old friends; championing talent. Her past propels her future.
The past also propels Opera Lafayette. The company faithfully recreates Baroque and Rococo operas that speak to the present, with original or replica instruments. “I like to say we’re the Avant Old Guard,” says Artistic Founder and Director Ryan Brown.
Their gala began with a two hour double bill, The Era of Madam de Pompadour, at El Museo del Barrio. It moved across the street to the Museum of the City of New York for dinner. All was propelled by the avant garde costumes and decoration of Matthew Flower, aka Machine Dazzle. Barbara, the evening Chair, put them together.
Barbara met Dazzle this fall when MAD Director Tim Rogers gave him a retrospective. Barbara wore butterflies both nights. Appropriate. She has truly taken Dazzle under her wing, unleashing him from a niche cocoon to a wider audience. He, in turn, inspires her flights of whimsical fashion.
“The MAD show changed my life,” Machine told me. “It changed the way others see me. It changed the way I see myself.” Eight months mainstreamed later, he had transformed his own presentation from outré to dapper artiste, taking his bow in a floral jacket and slacks he bought, not made.
But, he made practically everything else: covers for Spanish bagpipes, floral-faced rosed-colored mannequin centerpieces. “They are all named Susan,” he said. “Because they were originally conceived as Lazy Susans.”
“The Madame Pompadour rococo decorative and colorful style, the satire, humor and gender fluidity inherent in this piece cried out for someone like Machine Dazzle,” Ryan Brown told me.
“When we put on the costumes,” leading man Douglas Williams added, “the opera came to life.”
Opera Lafayette co-chairs Nizam Kettaneh and Dorsey Dunn, and Artistic Director Ryan Brown welcomed guests including H.R.H. Princess Chantal de France and The Baron François-Xavier de Sambucy de Sorgue, as well as Afsaneh Akhtari, Suzi Cordish, Layla Diba, Cornelius Escaravage, Christopher “Kip” Forbes, Michele Gerber Klein, Dr. Penny Grant, Susan Gutfreund, Maria Eugenia Maury and Bill Haseltine, Joan Hardy Clark, Margaret and Gregory Hedberg, Sylvia Hemingway, Helen Little, Andrew Martin-Weber, Ann Van Ness, Barbara de Portago, Daisy Soros and Prince Dmitri of Yugoslavia.
I sat between leading man Williams and Lafayette Board Vice Chair, Adrienne Jamieson, Director for Humanities and Sciences for Stanford University in their Washington School.
I asked her about all that “gender fluidity” talk. “If Louis the XIV were alive today, he would be engaging Machine Dazzle to do his costumes,” Jamieson replied.
“The courts of Louis XIV, XV, etc. were very much about gender fluidity. There were members of the royal family who, you would say in contemporary terms, were non-binary. They did not identify with one gender or the other. Louis XIV’s brother is described historically as gay. He moved in those circles, but, also married and had children. The kind of dance and aspects of the costuming you saw tonight are very reflective of the gender fluidity in the court from the late 1600s until the French Revolution.
“People say Baroque Opera is not their world. But, Opera Lafayette shows them something historic actually can reflect something very contemporary. I see what my students are engaged in. This can teach young people something very key and accurate about the experience.”
Here’s another taste …
The night before, I sat next to Tober, one of the evening’s Chairs — with board chairman Paul Sekhri, Peter W. May, Sarah Billinghurst Soloman, Oscar L. Tang, and Ann Ziff — at the Young Concert Artists 62nd Annual Gala, at Jazz at Lincoln Center. It began with a perfectly curated performance of chamber music pieces.
The grand finale: superstar Emanuel Ax, alumnus of the program. Other YCA alumni Carter Brey, Jeremy Denk, George Li, Anne-Marie McDermott, as well as current YCA artists Steven Banks, Joseph Parrish, Nina Shekhar and Zhu Wang also performed.
Guests included Colin Bailey, John Banta, Angela Chen, Joan Hardy Clark, Suzi Cordish, John Corigliano, Layla Diba, Judy and Tony Evnin, Dan Kellogg, Gary Ginstling, Mark Gude, Maria Eugenia Maury and Bill Haseltine, Margaret and Gregory Hedberg, Sharon and Lawrence Hite, Agnes Hsu-Tang, Paul Huang, Maureen and Sherman Katz, Elbrun and Peter Kimmelman, Noel V. Lateef, Leni and Peter May, Juliet and Ilse Melamid, Judith Pisar, Carol and Lawrence Schaefer, Annaliese Soros, Daisy Soros, Mary Tanner, Sandy and Stan Warshawsky, and Eugenia Zukerman.
For more than 60 years, YCA has been scouting, nurturing and feeding talent into the classical world. And so they honored, New York Philharmonic CEO Deborah Borda. She’s the force of nature who helped guide the company through the pandemic blackout while getting David Geffen Hall redone, on budget and ahead of schedule.
“It’s a momentous occasion,” the media maven behind the event, Jon Marder, told me. “Teutonic plates are shifting. Deborah Borda built Disney Hall. Deborah Borda almost single handedly rebuilt David Geffen Hall. She assembled the team to do it and made it great. She’s announced her retirement and will continue to consult. But, you wonder what she’s going to do next. I can’t imagine there’s not one more big project for her. It’s fantastic that she did this tonight.”
For two years, Borda organized zoom benefits and streaming performances. And the Bandwagon: pop up concerts from the back of a pickup truck. “Anthony Ross Constanzo, the tenor, and Deborah put their heads together and came up with the idea,” Tober told me. “We can’t get the people in the boroughs to come to the Philharmonic, they said, so let’s take the Philharmonic to them. A couple of times a week, they got into an open truck and stopped at residential corners, in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island and start playing. Then, they’d move to another corner and do it again. So they kept the Philharmonic going.”
“At first people would laugh,” Borda told the room. “Then they would be quiet. Sometimes people would dance and sometimes people would cry. We gave 81 concerts. We stood by the musicians of the orchestra financially during the crisis, and our musicians stood by us during the nomad season, the year we were out of David Geffen Hall, moving all over the city like a year long tour. It was tough, but they never relented.”
Some of those musicians got their start at YCA. “Our work is investing in the next generation of exceptional, classical musicians who are just at the cusp of a great career,” YCA President Daniel Kellogg told me. “We give them artist management, mentorship and performances all over the country and the world. Basically, we help launch their careers.”
At his side was artist manager Nick Herring. Audition winners get three-year management contracts, he explained, “which comes with an insane slew of opportunities. Manny Ax, Opera Singer Julia Bullock, Violinist Ray Chen, Kevin Puts (composer of “The Hours” at the Met), all started here.”
One of those opportunities: getting to play on a Stradivarius violin — insured for $10 million, on loan from the Nippon foundation. “So, a poor artist working in New York,” Kellogg recounted, “was performing some of the greatest repertoire on one of the greatest instruments in the world.
“Another one of our artists, saxophonist Steven Banks, never dreamed of an actual concert career. He just started a project that will take him to solo with ten orchestras across the country, expanding the scope of anything a saxophonist has ever done before.”
A few nights later, we called Tober. She was on her way to the Met. She’s a force in our artistic community and a jewel in our crown. Donald, still with her from above, was literally so that night. She has dedicated the seven lobby chandeliers at the Met in his honor, with this plaque:
MAY THESE JOYFUL LIGHTS SHINE FOREVER
IN MEMORY OF
DONALD GIBBS TOBER
THE METROPOLITAN OPERA’S CHANDELIERS,
A GIFT FROM THE AUSTRIAN GOVERNMENT
AND DESIGNED BY HANS HARALD RATH,
ARE AMONG THE BUILDING’S BEST-LOVED FEATURES.
HAS NAMED THE SEVEN LOBBY CHANDELIERS
AS A TRIBUTE TO HER HUSBAND
Shine on, Barbara Tober. We revel in your shadow.