NOTHING IS AS grand as attending the opera in Vienna, unless you are invited to attend a Vienna Court Ball.
Thanks to the hard work and imagination of Opera Ball chairmen Mary and Nick Mangione, Baltimoreans attended their own version of a Vienna Court Ball Saturday evening. "Tonight is a dream come true for me," Mrs. Mangione exclaimed. Her dream to have a Viennese Ball to benefit the Baltimore Opera Company began several years ago while she and her husband were visiting Vienna.
And she got her wish. Stouffer's ballroom was as Viennese as you can get outside of Austria. Large, lovely paintings by the talented Holly Highfell adorned the walls; there was a grand promenade of opera company hierarchy before the waltzing began; every table had wonderful topiary tree centerpieces created by Bob and Alex Jones; the menu was Viennese, and the entertainment by the Maryland Ballet and the international operatic tenor Chris Merritt was magnificent.
The Mangiones held forth at several family tables, which were filled with their children -- Mr. and Mrs. Louis Mangione, Mr. and Mrs. John Mangione, Mr. and Mrs. Nick Mangione Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Peter Mangione, Sam Mangione and Katie Hart, Joseph and Rosemary Juras, Robert and Linda Licotta, John and Joanne Hock, Jerry and Frances O'Keefe, and Michele Mangione.
I had the pleasure of sitting with Merritt and his wife, Joan, who is also a singer. The Merritts, who live in Pikesville, were chatting about his upcoming debut in ''Semiramide'' at the Metropolitan and about his appearances all over the world. Whether you love operatic music or not, you would love Merritt's voice. He reminds me of Pavarotti, and I really believe he will be as famous as Pavarotti some day.
Others with whom we sat were Patricia and Michael Harrison, he's the talented general director of the Baltimore Opera company, and Lelia Barton, who owns a costume designing business, Casta Diva Inc., in Fairfax, Va., and her escort, Kirk Oberfeld, managing editor of Insight, a weekly newsmagazine in Washington.
The great sounds of the Alex Donner Orchestra, a popular New York City group, kept the dance floor packed all evening. Barbara Manekin, who looked smashing in a divine golden gown, was dancing some old time rock 'n' roll with Alexander Baer, a fellow member of the opera's President's Circle. The music was so good that many, like Emma and Frank Favazza, didn't want to leave the dance floor. Several ladies removed their high heels so they could dance longer. (I'm not sure that would happen in Vienna.)
Channel 2's Beverly Burke was a splendid choice to emcee the different little activities that took place throughout the evening. Maybe part of the reason she looked so good was that she had a very attractive escort, Noah Nelson, who works for NBC in New York. Nelson will be one of the anchors of a new show, "Expose," scheduled to air in January. Its format will be similar to "60 Minutes" and "20/20."
Other guests were Mr. and Mrs. Carl Hecht, she co-chaired the ball; Mr. and Mrs. James Vitale, he's president of Jayson Pharmaceuticals, the physician-supervised Medifast diet folks; Mr. and Mrs. Harry Robinson, Bank of Baltimore; Mary Bell Grempler of realty fame, and Brian Raimondi; Brenda and Al Auer, he's an electrical contractor; Naz and Stephanie Velleggia, he owns the popular Towson restaurant, Dici Naz Velleggia's; Dr. Toni Wiegand and her husband, Tom; Barbara and Jim Stevens, who have their own consulting business; Hammond and Bunny Dugan, he's a pediatrician and Bunny's a decorator. The Dugans have been living on the Eastern Shore but have decided they want to move back to Baltimore.
It was nice to see Sally and Tom McDavid. I worked with her many moons ago on Santa Claus Anonymous. Sally's into crafts now and will be one of the exhibitors at the upcoming Festival of Trees. Nearby were Bill and Gail Daiger, he's president of Maryland National Bank; Bruce and Mary Katherine Alderman, he's an attorney; Ann Noble, who bought a lovely painting; David and Susan Brune, he's chief counsel for BG&E; and Nancy Hoffner and Tom Steuhler, he founded La Fontaine Bleu Caterers. Even if I hadn't seen Tom, I would have known he was there, because you could not miss his glitzy Excaliber, sporting vanity tags of course, sitting in front of the hotel.