The Birmingham Botanical Gardens came alive with the tastes and sounds of Italy for Opera Birmingham’s largest fundraiser of the season, Viva Italia! presented by Dorothy McDaniel’s Flower Market and United-Johnson Brothers of Alabama on March 2.
The gala event was coordinated by longtime Opera Birmingham volunteers Amy Johnstone, chairman, and Kathy Emison, co-chairman.
Dorothy McDaniel, who was also in attendance, created the decor to reflect the Italian theme, with tables adorned with gold overlays atop chocolate satin cloths and candelabra centerpieces embellished with red roses, white hydrangeas and accents of greenery.
The evening began as guests enjoyed cocktails and a spread of hors d’oeuvres and antipasto. At a silent auction, guests placed bids on items such as fine jewelry, dining gift certificates and spa and fitness packages, all donated by local businesses and opera supporters.
Those who mingled around the tables included Jim Emison, John Smith, Janis Zeanah, Jane Paris and Chandler Smith, Fay Hart, Mimi Jackson, Annette and Robert Brady, Sue Watkins, Corinne Greer, Donna Reddinger, Charles Rountree, Ruth Beenken, Diane and Scott Selman, Andy Duxbury and Tommy Thompson, Susan and Lee Reeves, Marsha and John Markus and Lynn Ault.
General Director John D. Jones and Board President Dorinda Smith welcomed guests as they were seated to a dinner featuring roasted Cornish hens served with spinach and mushroom risotto with gorgonzola, baked parmesan-stuffed tomatoes and a salad of radicchio, tomato, feta cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. Desserts included tiramisu, cannoli and Italian cookies.
As dinner was served by Imperial Catering, local celebrity auctioneer Ken Jackson conducted a live auction featuring jewels, including a sapphire and diamond necklace, excursion packages such as brunch and exhibit tickets for four at the Birmingham Museum of Art, a Kate Spade purse and private “Sip ’n’ Shop” party at the Summit, and artwork.
Some of the winning bidders were Karyn and Brent Uptain, who won “Dinner with the Diva,” a party for six at an Over the Mountain estate with acclaimed soprano Leah Partridge; Kim and Corbin Day, who won a rare package of collectible books from Alabama Booksmith that included signed works by Harper Lee and J.K. Rowling; and Martha Pezrow and Cleve Kinney, who each won an original Frank Fleming sculpture.
The evening concluded with special entertainment of Italian arias performed by the casts of I Pagliacci and Suor Angelica. The performances featured Inna Los, Corey McKern, Jennifer Bryant, Philippe Pierce, Stephen Mark Brown, Christopher Clayton and accompanist Elden Little.
Maestro Giovanni Reggioli and Kathleen Clawson, stage director, were also among the honored guests.
In attendance were Betty Healey, Jane Hinds, Robert Raiford and Zane Rhoades, Betty Ratliff, Christine Clark, Elizabeth and John Steiner, Mike White and Alex Boles, Julius Linn Jr., Sandra Gianturco and Bill Bradley, Jan and Jim Briley, Amy Carr, Pat Scofield, Patrick Cather, Joyce and Bill Billingsley, Antoinette and John Cipriano, Gerry Dunham, Mike and MaryAnne Freeman, Tallulah Hargrove, Bill Williams, Barbara Buchanan, Holly Massey, Lida Hill, Betty Loeb, Mary Wills and Tom LeCroy and Andrea and Goodloe White.
Other supporters at the event were Emily Omura, Tonie Bone, Virginia Cobb, Carleen Morin, Susanne and Josh Myers, Leslie and Lance Voytanovsky, Dr. and Mrs. Doug Clark, John Wideman, Karen and Brant Sanders, Tommie and Lewis Cummings, Elizabeth and Mike Goodrich, Elizabeth Holt and David Bowsher, Marjorie and Jim White, Marie and Art Freeman, Ellen and Houston Gillespy, Mary Steiner, Carol Anne Smith, Jean Shanks, Caroline and Steve Reich, Vivian and Kelvin Terry, Diana Turnipseed, Kirke Cater, Rosemary Gregory, Celia Houston, Graham Boettcher, Ray Floyd, Joan Parker, Libby Cochrane, Turner Benoist and Sandy Burglund.