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Rosa Feola and Stephen Costello Offer Arresting Performances at Salzburg Festival Society Gala
Spoiling a crowd that is already well familiar with the highest levels of human creativity and talent, soprano Rosa Feola and tenor Stephen Costello still offered their very best with an intimate recital including excerpts from Rigoletto by Verdi and L’Elisir d’Amore by Donizetti. The recital, punctuating a joyous dinner, was rife with deft humor, astounding vocal power, and charming actions. Even without translation, the story was easy to follow thanks to the rich animation of the performers.
These performers, coming straight from the Metropolitan Opera, managed to create a rich atmosphere out of nearly nothing and defined setting and story by voice and a single prop: a bottle of wine from The Duckhorn Portfolio, the wine choice of the evening. It felt spontaneous and deeply engaging, it was a performance that revealed the diverse talents of today’s opera stars. Pianist Katelan Tran Terrell accompanied on the piano.
Within the dining room of New York City’s legendary Union Club, an air of charm and optimism pervaded. The Salzburg Festival is, without a doubt, the most important performing arts festival in the world. It is unique for combining all types of performance works such as opera, drama and concerts as well offering innovative and refreshing interpretations of a enormous selection of works. Tickets to performances are cherished and go quickly.
“Since its founding more than 100 years ago, the great American tradition of supporting the arts through private philanthropy has enabled the Salzburg Festival to implement artistic projects and other major initiatives which would have otherwise been impossible,” said Dr. Kristina Hammer, the new president of the Salzburg Festival and keynote speaker at the New York Gala.
As part of the celebrations, the evening co-chairs Carole Bailey French and John French III, welcomed their guest of honor, Peter Gelb, the general manager of The Metropolitan Opera. This was an important point of recognition because The Met and Salzburg Festival have had a long and fruitful engagement together.
“The Met and Salzburg [Festival] have a healthy symbiotic relationship,” opined Gelb, “in those months during fall, winter, and spring when the Salzburg Festival is not in session, The Met is there to help fill the gap. My personal history with the Salzburg Festival goes back to the time when it was still being ruled imperiously by Herbert von Karajan.
John French III presented both Kristina Hammer, the newly installed as the president of the festival, and Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, with a hand-blown engraved decanter by artisan Simon Pearce.
The uniting factor in the room was the overwhelming appreciation for the traditions of the Salzburg Festival, along with the curiosity of what is to come under Dr. Hammer’s direction. Dr. Hammer expressed particular enthusiasm for supporting younger members of the public who wish to fund or participate in the festival, including through programs like the Young Singers Project as well as other programs strictly for young people.
For those in the US, the Salzburg Festival Society is an appropriate point of entry to the festivities. The Society is the liaison between the Salzburg Festival and its American friends and patrons, providing members with exclusive access to events and services related to the Festival. Support starts at $1,500 and grants, among many other benefits, two tickets to up to 15 performances at the festival, typically held in July and August.
Guests at the Gala included Salzburg Festival Society president Nabil Chartouni and his wife Samantha, as well as board members Isabelle Harnoncourt-Feigen, Maria Hernandez with Joel Bell, Alexandra Kauka-Hamill, Isabella Ponta, and Sana H. Sabbagh, as well as Afsaneh Akhtari, Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, Elizabeth Stribling, Barbara Tober and more.
The evening’s generous sponsor was Bank of America Private Bank. Rolex was a Gala Benefactor and Global Sponsor of the Salzburg Festival.
The Never-ending Renaissance of Barbara Tober
The first thing you’ll notice about Barbara Tober is that she’s a sharp observer, picking up on the slightest of details and reacting to them. During a speech to a roomful of guests at the St. Bartholomew’s Conservancy Gala Organ Concert (an event which she chaired), Mrs. Tober vocalized her observations in real time, from the heft of the award she was giving to the decor of the space, to the size of the paper her speech was written on.
During my interview in her private office at her uptown home, she was at it again. As she told a story about growing up near New Jersey’s “Pre-DDT” Kittatinny Mountain, Mrs. Tober watched my eyes drift toward a plate of cookies. Instantly, Mrs. Tober interrupted her own line of thinking with a remark on how delicious they were. “Try those chocolate ones. You must take some home.” I do, then we’re back on track: “Anyway, that’s my childhood.”
I soon learned that this was partially Mrs. Tober’s wry sense of humor at play. Mrs. Tober isn’t constantly cracking jokes, but by sharing her thoughts- big and small- she is inviting you to enjoy the world with her. When telling a story, she sometimes speaks in what sounds like vocal italics, imbuing a certain amusement by the very thing she’s thinking before she ever finishes the thought. Pair that with a penchant for incidental pauses and whole sentences effortlessly shift meaning, gaining humor or becoming grounded in seriousness. She is a master of the language, running the full gamut of its tricks and tools.
Mrs. Tober’s love affair with details and language has defined her career, beginning with a copywriter job at Vogue Magazine which eventually led her to the role of editor-in-chief at Conde Nast’s Bride’s magazine. Along the way, she’s written two books, The Bride: A Celebration, featuring fascinating lore as well as facts about courtship, engagements, weddings, and honeymoons, as well as ABCs of Beauty, from when she was a beauty editor.
Mrs. Tober speaks candidly about how important language is to her, remarking, “I like to put everything in words in a way that is graceful, gracious, charming… interesting. You use interesting words. I love the language. I love being involved in a language.”
Mrs. Tober isn’t hesitant to verbalize how impactful her time at Bride’s was on the broader culture, where she was the editor-in-chief for 30 years. “We changed the way America married!” She smiled. “We asked so many questions. ‘Why is the bride the only person in the picture? Why is he over there? Why don’t they write their own vows?’ We just kept saying, ‘Why is this the way it is?’” It wasn’t about solving anything, but a matter of knowing something else was possible, if you wanted it.
“In those days, they had these huge weddings in Vietnam and in Russia where they’d have 50 couples getting married at the same time. It wasn’t personal at all. A lot of these people escaped and came to the United States. They wanted to have a wedding for themselves. We started there. It was really a matter of anthropology.” Indeed, Mrs. Tober surrounded herself with people who wanted to observe the condition first, heavily influenced by the theories of Margaret Mead, the foremost anthropologist of the time. “One of my best friends is Helen Fisher. She’s an anthropologist and both of us sat at the feet of Margaret Mead. Together we explored so much. It was only the tip of the iceberg.”
Under Mrs. Tober’s bold leadership, the content of Bride’s magazine expanded as Barbara’s interests did. Eventually, Bride’s magazine went so far as to change its name to Brides & Your New Home. “That was done for one simple reason. Everyone knows we have fashion because we have a bridal dress on the cover. But not everyone realized we talk about decorating and entertainment as well. Marriage is a lot more than the ceremony.”
One of Mrs. Tober’s most prescient quotes captures the scope: “When people marry, other people work. A wedding brings economic health… It is a great banquet from which everyone can derive a living. It makes enormous economic sense to me.”
Indeed, in her personal life, marriage has had a near-perpetual presence. Tober has been married three times, but it’s impossible to chat with Mrs. Tober without a mention of her late husband of 49 years, Donald Tober, who died in early 2021 amid a challenging diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. Over the course of their long marriage, while Donald found success leading Sugar Foods Corporation, the couple rose to the top of the New York City philanthropic scene; becoming increasingly involved in the intersection of craftsmanship and art.
It’s on this topic that Mrs. Tober becomes particularly enthusiastic, demonstrating her passion for craft in real time. She tells me about a few details of the office we’re sitting in. A pair of columns: “Those are tribute to the Isabel O’Neil school. That’s not pore-free concrete. They’re painted.”
They’re truly remarkable, impressing a sense of heft and realism that feels increasingly rare. The walls and molding: “It’s paint behind you. It’s not Cinnabar. That’s paint. The artist was here for six months painting and sanding and painting and sanding and painting until he had it the way he wanted.” She finishes it off with a charming bonus, the classic extra detail: “Polish guy; a fabulous guy.” Without missing a beat, “Come to the living room”. The living room is vast and painted, of course, with commentary on every detail. She describes everything with a juvenile sense of giddy. “We took everything out and started over. We redid it.”
A some point, Mrs. Tober becomes a bit woeful. “You see how they decorate now. I know whoever buys this will paint it white. People shouldn’t do that!”
After his passing, Mrs. Tober turned Mr. Tobers’s bedroom into a well-preserved memorial space, packed with notes of appreciation, condolences, and a variety of ephemera and photos of the loved man. “I still visit him. I still talk to him. We did everything together.”
Mrs. Tober, now 87, hasn’t slowed down by any measure. If anything, she’s more active than ever, having treated her staff to a holiday in Abu Dhabi (“I’ve never seen anything like it.”) and returning to New York City in the middle of the crowded Spring social season. “Mrs. Tober does have an engagement this evening, we’re going to have to get ready.”
An early woman in the male-dominated world of advertising and magazine editing, Mrs. Tober has served on the Boards of a number of women’s oriented organizations including the Women’s Forum and the Women’s Leadership Initiative at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Just recently, Play for Pink, the Breast Cancer research initiative founded by Evelyn Lauder (herself a breast cancer patient), is honored the philanthropist for her contributions to the cause.
Her all-female staff supports the efforts of her venture capital fund, Acronym, Inc., which focus on art-related projects including The Guild Publishing Company, Inc., publishers of The Sourcebook for Architectural and Interior, and CODAworx, a global online hub for commissioned artwork where Mrs. Tober serves on the Advisory Board.
A true patron of the arts, Mrs. Tober has collected works by established as well as emerging artists such as Dale Chihuly, Bernar Venet, Boaz Vaadia, Michelle Oka Doner, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Otterness, Olga de Amaral, William Morris, Betty Woodman, Lino Tagliapietra, and more. Her collection is defined by the practice and technique of the creation itself; an obsession with the how of the work.
Currently, Barbara Tober serves as Chairman Emerita at the Museum of Arts and Design, where she was Chairman of the Board of Trustees for 15 years, critically seeing the completion of the new museum building, now sited at the southern curve of Columbus Circle. Mrs. Tober now heads the Museum’s International Council and Education Committee and remains an active member of the Amati group at the Metropolitan Museum, New York City Ballet, Lincoln Center, The Metropolitan Opera, and New York Philharmonic.
Her enthusiasm for the beauty of the natural world, first instilled as a young girl in the hills and farms of New Jersey, continues with her support of the Central Park Conservancy, Friends of Wethersfield organization, and the Duchess Land Conservancy. She maintains Yellow Frame Farm in Millbrook, New York, a working farm where she’s able to indulge her green thumb.
Purchase Barbara Tober’s book, The Bride: A Celebration here. Read Ron Alexander’s 1992 New York Times story on Barbara Tober here.
Barbara Tober Bestowed with Inaugural Millbrook Humanitarian Award by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation
Now in its seventh year, Play for P.I.N.K. Millbrook is all but a tradition in this tight-knit community. Millbrook, located some two hours from New York City, is a serene seasonal escape noted for its undulating hilly terrain and longtime ties to equestrian life. It also happens to be where the Play for P.I.N.K. organization has laid roots, raises funds for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation through sporting and lifestyle events.
To speed advances in breast cancer detection, treatment and survivorship, Play for P.I.N.K. (Prevention, Immediate diagnosis, New technology, Knowledge) supports thousands of volunteers nationwide as they raise funds for research. Their efforts raise $4 million annually, and 100% of that goes to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, founded by Evelyn Lauder of The Estée Lauder Companies in 1993.
For the Play for P.I.N.K. Millbrook event, supporters arrived at the bucolic Mashomack Fish & Game Preserve; the backdrop of the event being the impressionistic Halcyon Lake and spring green and pink flowers decorating the luncheon tables for a standing room-only audience. The co-chairs of this event were Cathy Franklin, Karen Klopp, Beth Ledy, and Alexandra Traber McNamara.
Myra Biblowit, the longtime President and CEO of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation conveyed the fact that Evelyn Lauder’s vision of an organization has stood the test of time. The organic development of Play For P.I.N.K. is evidence of that. “Evelyn would be overjoyed to see you all here today.”
Lorna Graev had the honor of presenting the inaugural Millbrook Humanitarian Award to the illustrious Barbara Tober, longtime editor of Brides Magazine, proud Millbrook resident, and supporter a vast range of charitable organizations. Loran Graev spoke on the intent of the award saying, “She and her beloved husband Donald have lived a life of philanthropy that have impacted so many people.”
In a letter, Leonard Lauder praised Mrs. Tober: “You have helped so many people through your impactful philanthropy. Where there is art and design, there is you, Barbara. Where there is fashion, there is you, Barbara. Where there is a zest for life, there is you, Barbara. Where there is Barbara, there is hope for a better world. I can think of no individual more deserving of this award. Barbara dear, you are a true humanitarian, and I am humbled by your friendship.”
Guests at the luncheon were able to take home a small token in the form of a series of “Thoughts to Live By”, written by Barbara herself.
- Surround yourself with Beauty
- Laugh first, Problems are meant to be solved
- Open your eyes, then your Heart to new ideas
- Stay with the Happy People
- Help those who aren’t
- Nurture your inner child; Fun is healthy
- Inspire those around you
- Do something Constructive every day
- Accept that Challenges are “growing pains”
- Take charge of your own Health
- Be responsible for Yourself
Barbara was greeted with a standing ovation as she received the inaugural Millbrook Humanitarian Award. She closed the luncheon with a reflection on the progress made as an organization. “There are thousands of women proudly walking forward because of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. YOU are all Philanthropists and should be proud of YOUR efforts to make this disease disappear!”
Learn more about Play for P.I.N.K. here. Learn more about the Breast Cancer Research Foundation here.
Massimo Bottura Celebrates International Friends of Festival Verdi with an Explosive Five Course Meal
Like the now-celebrated opera composer Giuseppe Verdi, chef Massimo Bottura was, for some time, the most misunderstood man in Italy. Verdi’s first operas were met with verbal jeers and remarks of negativity. Bottura’s interpretation of signature Italian dishes earned him expressions of concern at best and warrants for his excommunication at worst. For the both of them, it took some time for the reception to turn in their favor.
To this end, to enjoy the lavish successes of both men in one night was a true pleasure. Taking place in one of the nicest rooms at one of the most revered of the New York City private clubs, guests joined The Mayor of Parma, Federico Pizzarotti, The Scientific Director of Teatro Regio, Francesco Izzo, and Teatro Regio di Parma‘s General Director, Anna Maria Meo at the Metropolitan Club for an evening of Italian indulgence- a multimodal sampling of Italian culture, including speeches from the leadership, a lavish meal by the world’s finest chef, a top soprano’s performance, a silent auction, and an explanation of this season’s festival lineup.
About that: in line with the principle of immersion, the program for the 22nd season (September 22 through October 16th) offers the opportunity of, “seeing Verdi in the land of Verdi; to live where he lived; performed in theaters where he worked (with the sound as he knew it), and having the food and wine he knew grown in his own terroir”.
In 2022, the performances include three staged operas La Forza del Destino, Il Trovatore, and Simon Boccanegra, each based on a contemporary Spanish play that Verdi admired. These seminal works were brought to his attention through the talented actress, mistress, and then wife of Verdi, Margherita Barezzi, who spoke fluent Spanish.
As a tantalizing demonstration of what is to come in Parma later this year, soprano Eleonora Buratto performed Verdi’s tragic aria, Morrò, ma prima in grazia from Un Ballo in Maschera followed by Un bel di from Puccini’s Madam Butterfly. Burrato may be particularly familiar with this piece as its found in the role she just finished performing at The Met Opera. This performance was a very intense moment for the entire room. I was standing by a giant window, just by chance, surveying the crowd. It was a small miracle for Buratto to hold the room; even the curtains and chandeliers seemed to be listening.
Now, the meal. It is exceedingly rare for a chef to even reveal himself at these types of marathon meals. It is wholly Italian to care about the food. It is only Massimo Bottura who can make the meal seem so overwhelmingly emotional. The French maintain that 70% of your enjoyment of something is how it looks. Some reasonable portion can be applied to how it was described.
Bottura, as an orator, uses every inch of cultural leverage he has to sell you on whatever it is. His formation of story is expert. That is, exhaustive explanations with many words you’d never use to describe food, from deeply abstract to immediately apparent, infused with timing that is refreshing to the American ear. Courses included “Beautiful, Psychedelic Spin Painted Veal”, which was a tribute to Damien Hirst and a deconstructed “Crunchy Part of the Lasagna,” a tribute to the chef’s mother. It could be disregarded as marketing. But on my way to the bathroom, I found Bottura and his brow wilted in worry, peeking around from behind the entrance to the kitchen. I asked if all was alright. “The risotto just went out.”
The evening’s guest of honor was conductor Ricardo Frizza who has been thrilling audiences with The Met’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Other guests included author Bill Buford and wine writer Jessica Green, chef Francois Payard, critic and documentarian Ruth Reichl, patron Barbara Tober, and chef Laurent Tourondel.
Find more information, accommodation, tickets for the Festival Verdi here. Learn more about the International Friends of the Festival Verdi here.