Metropolitan Opera House Salutes Patron Barbara Tober

Dinner – photo by Lieba Nesis

On Monday, May 20, 2024, with cocktails beginning at 6 PM, I had the once-in-a-lifetime privilege of sitting on the Metropolitan Opera House’s stage to toast one of the great cultural philanthropists, Barbara Tober, and celebrate her 90th birthday.

Allan Pollack, Barbara Tober, Yue-Sai Kan – photo by Lieba Nesis

The Met is one of the most technologically advanced stages in the world, and it can house grand operas such as La Boheme, Aida, and War and Peace. It is the gold standard for music. Upon the conclusion of the opera season, it becomes home to the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) and hosts esteemed guest companies such as the Kirov and Bolshoi.

Photographer Harry Benson “reaching out” and Soprano Angel Blue – photo by Lieba Nesis

Its venerable history dates back to 1966 when its exquisite doors opened to house the greats. Historic performances include July 8, 1986, when the ABT and Paris Opera Ballet directors Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev joined for one night only—an evening etched in the archives for years to come.

Honoree Barbara Tober with General Manager of Met Opera Peter Gelb – photo by Lieba Nesis

Another phenom, maestro James Levine, debuted on June 5, 1971, at the Opera House at the age of 28 and was named its principal conductor less than a year later. That palpable energy could be felt in the room tonight where more than 400 art lovers who paid $2,500 per ticket for the sold-out evening raised over $1.5 million.

Margo Langenberg, Ann Van Ness – photo by Lieba Nesis

Barbara Tober’s vast patronages include the Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic, New York City Ballet, Central Park Conservancy, Citymeals on Wheels, and the American Austrian Foundation. A former bigwig at Condé Nast who served as Editor-in-Chief of Brides magazine for 30 years and wrote over a dozen books, Tober’s speech betrayed her persona as she exclaimed, “Love can move mountains while hate separates oceans.”

Daisy and Thomas Soros, Ann Ziff – photo by Lieba Nesis

Her fairytale 49-year marriage to Donald Gibbs Tober, Chairman and owner of Sugar Foods Corporation, who tragically passed away in 2021, was the stuff of legend; watching their mutual admiration was a sight to behold. In 2023, Barbara named the Metropolitan Opera’s seven iconic lobby chandeliers in tribute to her husband, so as Barbara recounted this evening, “his spirit could soar with the music he loves.”

She waxed nostalgic as she spoke of attending the Opera at the tender age of 8, unaware of its significance as a medium to move the world.

John Sellars, Peter Gelb – photo by Lieba Nesis

Another icon, Peter Gelb, the 18-year General Manager of the Met, spoke of Barbara’s generous support for the Opera. He said she was the first and only choice to receive this coveted honor due to her enormously impactful contributions. Gelb is not prone to exaggeration.

Jacqueline Weld Drake, Sylvia Hemingway – photo by Lieba Nesis

As of late, I have noticed women dominating as supporters of the arts. Tonight, powerhouses Elizabeth Segerstrom, Ann Ziff, and Sana Sabbagh engaged in animated conversation with each other. These are the “it girls” of philanthropy.

Elizabeth Segerstrom, Sana Sabbagh and Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia – photo by Lieba Nesis

Segerstrom, one of the evening’s underwriters, whose shiny blonde locks and beaming smile graced the evening, has emerged as one of the foremost philanthropists in New York society after funding California’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Clad in Oscar de la Renta, Segerstrom joined Tober in Valentino as they greeted guests and patiently posed for dozens of photographers, including the star photographer Patrick McMullan.

Monique Lhuillier pink dress and cape – photo by Marilyn Kirschner

The evening began with cocktails on the second-floor terrace, where socialites such as Prince Dimitri, Ann Van Ness, Grace Meigher, Marc Rosen, Kip Forbes, Margo Langenberg, Dennis Basso, Nurit Kahane, Daisy Soros, Douglas Thomas, Tina Beriro, Tony Bechera, Patricia Shiah, Cece Cord, and Yue Sai Kan joined cultural icons Renee Fleming, Bob Colacello, Harry Benson, and Peter Marino.

Cece Cord – photo by Marilyn Kirschner

Yue-Sai Kan, referred to by People Magazine, The Observer, and ABC News as “the most famous woman in China,” greeted admirers as excited guests made their way to the Met stage. The stage was deeper and wider than I expected, with keen visibility – note to concertgoers picking their noses and yawning: yes, the performers can see you.

Afsaneh Akhtari, Angela Chen and Nurit Kahane – photo by LIeba Nesis

The menu of short ribs and lobster rolls began with countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo nearly bringing me to tears with his moving back-and-forth rapprochement with his trumpet player, along with pianist and harpsichordist accompaniment by the Met’s John Kelly.

Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo – photo by Lieba Nesis

The night’s entertainment, accompanied by scenery from Zeffirelli’s production of Puccini’s “Turandot,” continued to astound with arias by the Met’s Ryan Speedo Green, Ailyn Perez, Elena Villalon, Clementine Margaine, and SeokJong Baek.

Cynthia Manocherian, Renee Fleming, Jeffrey Manocherian – photo by Lieba Nesis

The evening concluded with a rousing Happy Birthday Met Opera style for Barbara Tober, along with the lavish tunes of Bob Hardwick Sound. Guests, including the 90-year-old Tober, danced with abandon.

At 11 PM, the crowd began to exit—leaving the legendary halls of Lincoln Center is never easy, as I savored one last glimpse at this oasis of grandeur.

Latest Comments:

  1. Thank you for that RF….yes..it’s an ongoing complaint..and it is NOT about looking young..it’s about looking and feeling great and…

  2. So refreshing to see you aging gracefully and looking fabulous! Too many people fixated on looking young instead of appreciating…

  3. Hi Marilyn..”ABOUT TURNING 75″….You can add me to your almost 75 llist…Oct 29th of this year. I am so glad…

Lieba Nesis

My love of fashion, writing and photography were something that always dominated my lifestyle however it wasn't until I was approached by the editor of Lookonline that I realized I could utilize these three skills in combination.

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