On Stage at the Met Gala

On a Sunday evening to remember, the Metropolitan Opera honored the elegant, talented, inimitable, and very philanthropic Jacqueline Desmarais with a dinner dance on the Met stage. Jackie’s admirers gathered from many corners, including Montreal, Palm Beach, New York, Tel Aviv, Toronto, and Philadelphia.

At the cocktail reception overlooking a picture-perfect spring evening on the Lincoln Center Plaza, Met Board Chairman Ann Ziff welcomed the distinguished guests and announced that in Mrs. Desmarais’ honor, the event had raised $2.3 million for the opera company. Guests then moved through the auditorium and up onto the stage, which was stunningly decorated with set pieces from the company’s current productions of Un Ballo in Maschera and The Merry Widow—a truly spectacular setting.

Jacqueline Desmarais has been deservedly honored in the past for her tremendous philanthropic work, but the focus of this lively evening was her devotion, support and love of music—opera in particular. She founded the Montreal Opera Guild and created a foundation which supports the careers of young Canadian opera singers, and she serves on the Met’s Board of Directors. She sponsors the Met’s Live in HD cinema transmissions across Canada in memory of her husband, Paul G. Desmarais Sr., the visionary businessman and philanthropist who created the Power Corporation of Canada.

The Met’s General Manager, Peter Gelb, began with a warm and glowing tribute to Jackie, then over the course of the evening, stellar artists in the Met’s roster literally sang her praises. Jackie, her family and friends were treated to very personal performances. Baritone Rod Gilfry and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham shared a duet from The Merry Widow, and then Susan encouraged the guests to join her in singing the chorus of the famous “Vilja-Lied,” so that everyone would be able to honestly brag that they had sung on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera! Finally, Renée Fleming took the stage to offer a medley including Jackie’s sentimental favorite “The Folks Who Live on the Hill.”

Throughout the night, Jackie’s friends came up to her to offer their congratulations: Mercedes Bass, who chaired the gala together with Richard and Carolyn Renaud; Christine and Stephen Schwarzman; Tommy Quick; Emilia and Pepe Fanjul; Cynthia and Thomas Sculco; Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin (who had led a Philadelphia Orchestra concert just hours before); Lesley Smith; Leonard and Judith Lauder; to name but a few.

It was one of those rare evenings that was simultaneously grand and intimate; formal but joyful; public but deeply personal, and all in honor of a remarkable lady. In great character and true form, Jackie Desmarais was the last to leave the dance floor.