Filling the Stage with Love for Barbara Tober

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Barbara Tober serves as a beacon for so many of us. As she turns 90, she remains vital, relevant, beautiful — and generous. For this milestone birthday, the Metropolitan Opera honored her at their annual On Stage at the Met Gala, And what a night it was! Against the backdrop of Franco Zeffirelli’s sumptuous Turandot set, 400 friends, old and new, important and interesting, filled the stage with love.

Barbara has lived a rich New York life in every sense of the word. A fashionable working woman ahead of her time, a storied love, a glamorous life, inimitable style. She lives large and gives large: to cultural institutions and creatives.

The set of Turandot served as the backdrop for the On Stage at the Met Gala.

For her birthday, she raised more than $1.6 million for the Met, spoke like a poet to the gathering, and kicked up her heels on the dance floor. “I loved every minute of it,” she told me.

Barbara Tober and Peter Gelb.

Met General Manager Peter Gelb said: “Tonight we’re honoring a legend in her own time and one of the Met’s most loyal patrons. We’re honored to be honoring her for her amazing array of achievement, from serving as Chairman of the Museum of Arts and Design to her presidency of the Acronym Fund to her patronage of the New York Philharmonic the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York City Ballet, the Central Park Conservancy, the American Austrian foundation, the Duchess Land Conservancy, City Meals on Wheels, the Culinary Institute of America, and of course, the Metropolitan Opera. Barbara is a true Renaissance woman, not to mention her earlier life as Editor-in chief of Brides Magazine for 30 years … (which) included publishing more than a dozen books.”

“I have been going to the Opera since I was eight years old,” Barbara told the room, “not knowing exactly what was going on. There were no helpful translations then. But, I certainly began to appreciate the music and the power of the stories as I grew older. That power and life’s soaring passions of love, hate and longing began to influence my world as it probably has done for all of you.

“Then, sad reality came crashing in a few years ago. And I dedicated those seven glorious lobby chandeliers to my beloved husband Donald after he passed away in January 2021, so his spirit could forever soar with the music he loved so much …”

Barbara embracing her late husband Donald Tober. “He was my partner, my friend and my lover for 49 years.”
Barbara On Stage sharing her message of LOVE.

“Opera is about the blood and guts of life and the essence of humanity’s passions, emotions and exhilarations … It is where reality and fantasy blend dramatically to move the soul as well as one’s aesthetic senses. Thirty years as Editor in Chief of Brides magazine convinced me that love does indeed ‘move mountains’ and hate can separate the very oceans of humanity.”

Throughout the night, opera stars Soek Jong Back, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Ryan Speedo Green, Clémentine Margaine, Ailyn Pérez, and Elena Villalón performed, accompanied by Jonathan Kelly.

Ailyn Pérez
Elena Villalón
Anthony Roth Costanzo.

Opera Chair Ann Ziff, Elizabeth Segerstrom and Tober were underwriters.

Benefit Chairman was Peter Marino, Co-Chairman was Frank Sciame, with Leadership Committee members Deborah Borda, Joel Ehrenkranz, Isabelle Harnoncourt Feigen, Carole Bailey French and John French III, Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, Judy and Leonard Lauder, Daisy M. Soros, and Henry Timms.

Daisy Soros, Thomas Soros, Ann Ziff; Betty Eveillard, Jean-Marie Eveillard
L. to r.: Daisy Soros, Thomas Soros, and Ann Ziff; Betty Eveillard and Jean-Marie Eveillard.
Carole Bailey French, Barbara Tober, and John French.
Barbara and Frank Sciame; Alexandra Bauman, Mitch Mitchell, Joseph Tinari
L. to r.: Barbara and Frank Sciame; Alexandra Bauman, Mitch Mitchell, and Joseph Tinari.
L. to r.: Nurit Kahane, Sylvia Hemingway, and Rosann Gutman; Oscar Tang and Agnes Hsu-Tang.
Peter Marino and Cora Cahan.
Harry and Gigi Benson; Dr. Malin Hultcrantz, Henry Timms.
L. to r.: Harry and Gigi Benson; Dr. Malin Hultcrantz and Henry Timms.
Yue-Sai Kan, Barbara Tober, Elizabeth Segerstrom, Christopher Forbes
Yue-Sai Kan, Barbara Tober, Elizabeth Segerstrom, and Christopher Forbes.

Also there, in spirit: her late husband of almost 50 years, Donald Tober. The light in Barbara’s life shines symbolically from the lobby chandeliers she named in his honor. “He played piano,” Barbara said. “He love, love, loved music. He knew everything about it, from jazz to symphonies. On our first date, he took me to the ballet. ‘Oh, this is a man of culture and finesse,’ I thought. ‘Here’s a civilized man.’

Barbara and Donald Tober doing what they loved best.

“Donald’s death was just excruciating. But, somehow, I made it. I wanted something I could wrap my arms around because I miss him so.”

And so, every time she enters the grand lynchpin of Lincoln Center, she told me, “I sit in the little round table under the biggest chandelier and just glow. Because it’s my honey.”

Yes, their spirits remain intertwined. She feels him with her always: lights that flicker in response to things she says, ideas that come into her mind. She keeps a memory room dedicated to him: “every paper, every award, every diploma, everything we have dedicated to him. It’s a place of calm and peace I go every night, sit and contemplate. And, oh boy, he’s there.”

The “Bro Brooch” Barbara gifted to Peter Marino.

Longtime friend Peter Marino, chaired the evening. They met 40 years ago, he told me.

“She was editor of Brides and I was doing the Kleinfeld bridal palace in Brooklyn, right out of Barney’s. She came to the opening. And we’ve been friends ever since. We’re born within a week of each other in August. If you know astrology, it’s obvious I’m a Leo.

“Every year she comes to the Hamptons and we celebrate our birthdays together. She always gives me incredibly wonderful gifts. Last year, a Versace belt from the late 1970s that’s totally up my alley. This year, what we call a Bro Brooch that was fun.”

She had Machine Dazzle — one of the artists she champions — make the brooch. “It’s a black leather corsage with little pearls, skulls, things like that, and a chain,” she said, “really terrific looking.”

Barbara likes people who are hard to categorize. Philippe Petit, who walked a tightrope across the twin towers is another friend. “He’s going to walk across the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine,” she told me, excitedly. He’s 74, I thought, what a nail biter!

Barbara Tober, Philippe Petit
Barbara Tober and Philippe Petit.

She met Dazzle when the Museum of Arts and Design (Barbara is President Emeritus) gave him a one man show of his over-the-top, collaged costumes. She put him together with Opera Lafayette, to the benefit of each, hosted his performance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Temple of Dendur and is currently supporting his first site specific installation at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, “And,” she promised, “we’re going to do more for him.”

Steven Tacopino, Machine Dazzle, and Giancarlo Facci
Steven Tacopino, Machine Dazzle, and Giancarlo Facci

And for others.

“I have 11 projects going on right now with my business partner,” she said. “I won’t ever quit!”

There’s a grand scale art project that comes to fruition in 2027-8, in Houston, Texas, with longtime friend Toni Sikes (who founded the CODAworx public art network). Earlier this year, Barbara thew a press luncheon for Sikes’ new book, The Economic Power of Public Art.

Toni Sikes, Thomas Knapp, and Linda and Joe Ienuso.

Another longtime friend, Ariane Batterberry (cofounder, Food Arts and Food & Wine magazines) remembers Tober dinner parties when they were all newlyweds. “Barbara cooked!”

Cooking for a food editor? “I went to cooking school in France,” Barbara told me. “My first dinner party when I met Donald was beef bourguignon. He brought the red wine. When we got married, I cooked for him all the time. After a few years he said ‘You know Barbara, a lot of my product (including Sweet & Low) was bought by restaurants and the owners want us to come there.’ That was fine with me.”

Jean Golden, Joan Hardy Clark, Marc Rosen, Susan Gutfreund, David Beer, and Ariane Batterberry.

Marcia Stein.
Marcia Stein.

“I always looked up to Barbara,” Marcia Stein (Citymeals on Wheels Founding Director, who helmed the organization for 40 years) told me. Her husband, Myron was Donald’s Exec VP, General Counsel and close friend. Barbara planned their wedding.

“Everything around her was beautiful: every dinner party she made, even in the early days when she was the chef — the way the farm looks, the way she looks. But nothing, nothing was like tonight. It was as encompassing as an opera is and as her life has been. We appreciate everything she brought to Donald Tober’s life. She deserved everything he gave to her — including tonight.”


Photographs by Jared Siskin/PMC & Yvonne Tnt/BFA

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