Story by Kenneth Carrion de los Condes
Photography by Claire Barrett
My father introduced me to opera at a young age when he played his collection on Sundays. He kept his prized vinyl records in several beautiful, black-velvet lined boxes—his favorite record being Carmen. On Sundays, when my mother took my two younger brothers and me to church, my father listened to opera with the stereo volume turned up so loudly that he had to remove paintings from the walls because of the strong vibrations. It wasn’t until I went to my first live opera—Puccini’s Turandot—at the Met that I started to have a greater appreciation for the music. Even though I listened to a variety of opera songs for years, the full magnificence of the opera did not hit home until I experienced the dramatic sets and costume designs. For almost 20 years, I have attended the Los Angeles Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Once I met my husband, I began purchasing my season tickets for two instead of one, keeping the same two seats in the Founders Circle, alongside many of the long-time patrons and donors. I have always been fascinated by the Founder’s Room here at the Los Angeles Opera. Not because of its history or beauty; rather, I am obsessed with its exclusivity.
The Chandler’s original palette of emerald green and burgundy remains the same. A French tapestry from the 18th century, depicting an equestrian scene, looms over the bar, but my favorite pieces are the Venetian glass chandeliers. The Founders Room has hosted many famous figures, including Grace Kelly and Emperor Hirohito of Japan. In 1983, it even entertained Queen Elizabeth II. As they entered the reception, legend has it that Chandler turned to the queen and said, “Welcome to my palace.” Founder’s Room membership privileges even extend to the Founder’s Rooms at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and Ahmanson Theatre. Happily, I have been able to repay my parents for introducing me to the opera and the arts. Since they retired to California from Connecticut a few years ago, they accompany me once opera season begins and always to the splendor of opening night. I especially enjoy surprising my mother each year by presenting her with a beautiful evening gown and all the accessories. We like to have a pre-show martini at the black marble bar. With its original 1964 decor and elegant, hip-again Mad Men-esque style, it is always a welcoming feeling when the bartender, after so many years, can greet you by your surname. But, for me, it is very much about the fashion when I attend opening night. Los Angeles is a casual city. So, even though a formal dress code is not enforced (I have even witnessed a gentleman wearing a tank top, flip flops and shorts), it is wonderful to see many taking pride and showing respect when attending the opera in more suitable attire. It is honestly one of my favorite evenings of the year, the one legitimate excuse for me to don a tuxedo, walk the red carpet, and enjoy an elegant and cultured evening with other like-minded guests. I love to see passionate red, jewel-colored taffeta, metallic drapery, and other equally elegant materials often reserved for the catwalk. The drama of the opera and couture seem to be a perfect match. In the past couple of decades, it has been amazing to see world-renowned operas costumed by well-known designers like Prada, Ford, Armani, and Lacroix, to name a few. “It’s called creative tension, and it is what happens when the worlds of opera and fashion collide!” UK Sunday Times 1995