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Updated Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 01:46 AM

Oh là là: Opera fans raise a glass or 2 at auction

By Nicole Brodeur
Seattle Times staff columnist

Turns out the Seattle Opera crowd has a fair share of rebels.

At Saturday’s “Soiree des Etoiles” gala at Seattle’s Four Seasons Hotel, women wore their fur without a care. Men swilled Hennessy cognac long before dinner. There were lip trills in the ladies room. And one older woman looked up at the ceiling-skimming juggler and scoffed: “I could do that, but I don’t like to show off.”

The event had a French theme, in honor of the opera’s upcoming production of “La Boheme,” so there were Eiffel Towers and cafe awnings and lots and lots of wine on the tables, and in the auction catalog. The night raised $227,543 for the opera’s Young Artists Program.

David Gannett stood with his assistant, Lana Cissell — she keeping track of her son’s basketball game on her phone, he telling me the story of his black-and-white MacFarlane tartan dinner jacket (from a bespoke tailor in Salt Lake City, since you asked).

Gannett saw his first opera at 6, when his grandfather, Wendell Endicott, took him to see “Tosca.”

“I hated it,” he recalled fondly. “I stomped my foot and said I was never going to go to one of these again.”

Years later, after his first wife died, Gannett started going back “as a way to reconnect with my late grandfather.”

Executive director Kelly Tweeddale’s first opera was “The Daughter of the Regiment” with her husband and in-laws.

“It wasn’t like anything I had been to before,” she said. “The thing about opera, it isn’t age specific. It’s like Jane Austen; you either love it or you don’t.”

It’s an interesting time for the opera, Tweeddale noted. Artistic director Speight Jenkins is leaving in 2014. There’s another “Ring” cycle coming up. And the opera continues to work to draw new audiences.

Part of that is the “Our Earth” program, which is three, 30-minute operas performed by four singers and a piano accompanist in area schools. (One of them, “Heron and the Salmon Girl,” will be performed Sunday at Town Hall.)

“People have this perception that opera isn’t something they would like,” Tweeddale said. “But they’re wrong.”

Indeed, anyone who didn’t grip their wineglass near to breaking when Jennifer Black (who looks more like Adele than Adele) and Michael Fabiano performed arias from the upcoming “La Boheme” should have checked their pulse.

Jenkins also recalled his first opera — “Aida,” with one of his schoolteachers — and how not long after, he was outside his Texas home, watering flowers, thinking of the opera and realizing, “This is my life.”

As Jenkins prepares to step down next year, he trusts more young people will find their way to opera, just as he did.

“There’s nothing more tiresome than the story of the graying audience,” Jenkins said. “Our doom has been predicted since the 18th century.”

The heart of baseball

“You a big baseball fan?” one guy asks the other.

“Not really.”

You may want to turn around, then, fellas. You’re about to lunch in the left field of Safeco Field, where the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center was awarding San Francisco Giants southpaw Barry Zito the 48th annual Hutch Award, and former Mariners manager Lou Piniella was delivering the keynote address.

Just beyond the field entrance last Wednesday, the Mariner Moose posed for photos and directed people to a row of tables, where silent-auction items were spread out like a buffet: Signed baseballs, game bats, cards and even a statue of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

I bid on a ball signed by Stan “The Man” Musial, who died Jan. 19 at age 92, God rest his soul. It went for $900, considerably north of my offer.

At my lunch table, Andrea Jones of the Hutch’s Innovator’s Network was still wearing two “Live Strong” bracelets, despite Lance Armstrong’s recent coming out as a lying, doping fraud.

“Oh, yes, ‘Live Wrong,’ ” joked her friend, David Kruse.

“The jury is still out for me,” Jones said. “Not on him. But I think his foundation is still a worthy cause.”

We took a look around Safeco, where the fences have been moved in, and where there has been much talk about a mammoth new digital screen that will show every play, sure, but could also very well block the sun.

Emcee Bill Wixey of Q13 Fox News, who was successfully treated for Hodgkin lymphoma in 2009, urged every attendee who had been touched by cancer to stand up. Everyone did — except two people at the table next to mine. Lucky them.

At the front tables, grown men who have spent their working lives in numbered jerseys and cleats looked out of place in suits and ties. Even a pretty boy like Zito looked a little rumpled off the mound.

But he was all grace as he accepted the Hutch award, which was a Dale Chihuly-designed piece that looked like, well ...

“It looks like macaroni and cheese to me,” said Mariners announcer Rick Rizzs. (I had to agree.)

Zito spoke of his mother, who had a cancerous tumor behind her eye and died in 2008. What the Hutch does for patients like her, he said, “Is something so beyond anything we do in our little sports world.”

Piniella spoke of the players he managed here in Seattle. Edgar Martinez. Jay Buhner. Ichiro.

“I was really blessed,” he said.

As for his reputation as an argument waiting to happen? That goes back to his time with the New York Yankees, working for George Steinbrenner.

“When you get kicked out of the ballgame,” the famed owner told him, “put on a show and I’ll pay your fine.”

The winner of the official Safeco base signed by Piniella? Susan Dolbert, head of development for the Hutch, who had to be cajoled into admitting she had the winning ticket.

“I always say ‘Here’s a donation,’ when I buy a raffle ticket, because I never win anything,” she said. “But, my husband is a rabid baseball fan, so I’ll use it as a chit.”

Former Mariners pitcher Jamie Moyer and his wife, Karen, came up from their home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., she in her leather and Louis Vuitton (after eight kids and 20 years of major-league life, give her whatever she wants), and Jamie signing anything fans put in front of him. You’ve got to love that.

I asked him if he missed Philadelphia, where he finally won one of those door-knob-sized World Series rings.

“I miss everywhere,” he said.

But he likes California, he said, and plans to start a garden in the spring. Really.

“Herbs, vegetables, fruit trees,” he said. “Live off the land a little bit.”

A gentleman farmer? That might work for a major-league pitcher who turned 50 in November, and who is not only the oldest player in MLB history to record a win but also the oldest to get an RBI.

But this is Jamie Moyer. The man can’t keep his hand out of his glove.

“We’ll see if anybody wants my services,” he said.

The Hutch shouldn’t want for much, for now: The event raised $485,000 for early cancer-detection research — $50,000 of it from Zito and his wife, Amber — and set a fundraising record in the offseason.

More ways to spend money

So let me get this straight: There will be no clothes, no racks, no frenzy. But women are snatching up winterwear right here in this room?

“Kind of random, right?” asked Joanna Lord as we walked into the Poshmark “Winter Essentials” party put on last Thursday by Poshmark.com, a site and app where women buy and sell their stuff to one another. An estrogen-enhanced eBay, if you will.

These parties are a way for users to mix with their “salemates,” “stylemates,” or “sizemates,” drink (not eat), and take pictures of each other.

Company founder Manish Chandra, who started and sold the shopping site Kaboodle.com a few years back, said that the average woman buys 80 to 100 items a year, and that women upload a half-million items onto Poshmark.com every day.

“Fashion is about love,” he said. “And we are making it easy to share that love,” she beamed.

Almost too easy for Kendra Tyler, who came to the party with her friend, Rachelle Hunter, and downloaded the Poshmark app on her phone right there, and started scrolling.

“Riding the bus, as I am? It’s gonna be a problem.”

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.


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