A constellation of New York City’s influential, rich, and generous gathered in Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s official residence, on November 16 to support and raise money for the namesake conservancy by honoring the Metropolitan Opera General Manager Peter Gelb and the late Gracie Mansion conservancy co-founder Joan K. Davidson. The city-owned property has been branded as the “People’s House” since 2002 due to its accessibility to the public and its role in hosting members from across the city’s diverse communities.
Ticket prices ranged from a single ticket costing $2,750 to a VIP Gold Sponsor 10-ticket bundle costing $50,000.
The evening began with cocktails and appetizers provided by Lagos, a West African fusion restaurant in Times Square named after the largest city in Nigeria. Adams came for dinner to introduce Gelb. Former Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, UES Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright, Queens Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, and PIX11 anchor Jay Dow, the evening’s emcee, also attended.
Dinner was served on round tables in the mansion’s grandiose blue foyer, accessed through a set of heavy wooden doors. As the event took place during the week of Diwali, Indian cuisine featured heavily. The menu included dishes like Shahi Tukda, a dessert invented in the Mughal palace kitchens that features slices of bread topped with reduced milk. “In the theme of celebrating diversity and keeping the standard in years past, we invited the first Michelin-starred Indian chef in America [Hemant Mathur] to create tonight’s menu,” said Rhonda Binda, the Gracie Mansion Conservatory Executive Director and former Queens Deputy Borough President.
As executive director, Binda oversees all fundraising, preservation, events, and community outreach related to the Gracie Mansion Conservancy. She, Adams, and a lineup of city officials speaking at the event all emphasized the mansion’s importance as a link between New Yorkers and the city’s heritage and a place where New York’s cultures are celebrated. “We want to allow people to feel the energy and symbolism of Gracie Mansion,” said Eric Adams in his remarks. “It is life-changing to see the places that were once considered off-limits but are now accessible.” He proceeded to name some of the communities that Gracie Mansion hosted during his tenure as mayor, including celebrations for Arab Americans, Polish Americans, Jewish Americans, and others.
“The place of these events is significant, because their heritage is being acknowledged in the official residence of the person who makes decisions every day for 12 million New Yorkers,” said Binda, finally sitting down to enjoy dinner after attending to some urgent stage management. “If you care about New York City, you should care about this house because it represents the best of New York’s civic and cultural history.”
Gelb, who has led the Metropolitan Opera since 2006, emphasized his commitment to diversify operas on the stage and generate new excitement by featuring operas from active composers and librettists. “We are committed to making the Met a modern cultural institution, as exciting for people who live in the city as it can be,” he said.
The event was as much a celebration of opera and New York’s arts scene as it was of Gracie Mansion. Angel Blue, a Grammy-winning soprano, regaled attendees with Vissi d’Arte, an aria from Giacomo Puccini’s 1900 opera Tosca. “Vissi d’Arte is sung by the title character, herself an opera singer, about how she lives for art,” Angel explained. The context of the aria, however, is fraught with drama and bloodshed; Tosca sings it to earn sympathy from Scarpia, the vicious chief of police who has just consigned her lover Cavaradossi to a firing squad. When he names the price for saving Cavaradossi—her body for one night—she agrees, then stabs him to death and escapes with the pardon letter (which turns out to be a fake.)
Mezzo-soprano Kaitlyn McMonigle sang Climb Every Mountain from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The Sound of Music and a modern rendition of the Habanera from the Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen. She was followed by Kamal Sabri, an Indian classical musician who sang traditional Indian songs and played the sarangi, a short-necked three-stringed instrument from the Mughal era known for its resemblance to the human voice. He comes from a family that has mastered the instrument for seven generations.
Joan K. Davidson, a co-founder of the conservancy, was honored by her son Matthew. “She lived for 90 years not for herself but for the public good,” he said. “If you seek her monument, just look around you.” After dinner, attendees gathered in a grand staircase, where party favors (Estee Lauder products) in little paper bags awaited pickup.