Bravissima! The ultimate party

Enjoying a well-earned glass of wine after entertaining at the “Bel Canto Opera Dinner,” are, from left, pianist and singer Linda Mack Berven, soprano Gemma Kavanagh and hostess Diane Welle. Welle created all of the gowns the women are wearing. A group of talented cooks and a support cast including their husbands prepared a six-course meal at the dinner Feb. 4, which was donated to Music in the Mountains in 2011. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Gary Treat

Enjoying a well-earned glass of wine after entertaining at the “Bel Canto Opera Dinner,” are, from left, pianist and singer Linda Mack Berven, soprano Gemma Kavanagh and hostess Diane Welle. Welle created all of the gowns the women are wearing. A group of talented cooks and a support cast including their husbands prepared a six-course meal at the dinner Feb. 4, which was donated to Music in the Mountains in 2011.

Every so often, I go to an auction for a nonprofit where something really cool is on the block. That was certainly the case at Music in the Mountains Pops Night last summer, when a group of talented cooks and entertainers came together to offer a “Bel Canto Opera Dinner.”

To get an idea how special this was, they actually had a rehearsal for the dinner on Jan. 13. Or in other words, my colleague Robert Whitson had an extraordinary treat for his birthday Feb. 4, when he and his guests arrived at the home of Diane and Bernie Welle for an extravaganza of an evening.

Guests included his wife, Nancy, in-laws Stuart and Barbara Shore, Mike and Terri Wise, Bill and Betsy Adams and Christy Pollard and Greg Hoch. The guests took the hosts at their word and dressed to the nines, and boy, were they glad they did.

Nancy Whitson actually asked me not to write about it, so they wouldn’t have competition in the bidding when the group offers another dinner for Pops Night 2012. But because the whole idea of writing about it is so Music in the Mountains can make even more money on the dinner next summer, I had to turn her down.

First, one needs to understand that Diane Welle spent a career in theater costuming, and she brought those talents to bear on the evening. Not only did she create a fantastic 19th century outfit for herself, she made serving “wench” costumes for volunteers Janice Martin and Cindy Cortese.

Oh, and did I mention the surprise entertainment? The group recruited Durango’s favorite songbird, Gemma Kavanagh, to sing three arias, which set the tone for the whole evening. Welle made Kavanagh a separate gown for each aria: “Una voce poco fa” from “The Barber of Seville” by Rossini; “Quando m’en vo” from “La Bohème” by Puccini; and “Oh, luce di quest anima” from “Linda di Chamonix” by Donizetti. Linda Mack Berven, her accompanist on the piano, had a splendid outfit of her own.

Marilee White found a cookbook that contained recipes for favorite dishes of renowned early 19th century Italian opera composers Gioachino Antonio Rossini, who hailed from Pesaro, Bologna; Gaetano Donizetti, originally from Bergamo, Lombardy; and Vincenzo Bellini from Catania, Sicily, three diverse regions, all with delicious cuisines of their own. It served as great inspiration.

Rossini apparently delighted in foie gras and truffles, and chefs of his day created dozens of dishes with the ingredients in his honor, including perhaps the most famous, tournedos Rossini, filet mignon topped with both rich ingredients and a Madeira wine sauce. The tournedos, which were the main course at the Bel Canto dinner, were served with spiced frozen grapes and accompanied by a fine Brunello Di Montalcino.

That was the main course in a meal of six courses, not counting the cocktails of a William Tell Apple Martini (prepared by Bernie Welle) and after-dinner drinks of crema di limoncello. (That’s limoncello, an Italian lemon liqueur, blended with whipped cream, a delight prepared by Diane Welle.)

The appetizers were dates with Gorgonzola dolce latte, arancini-truffled risotto balls and Taleggio cheese with strawberries in saba, a syrup made from freshly squeezed grape juice. A Santa Margherita prosecco was partnered with those goodies.

Golden Marsala broth was prepared by White and served with an incredible lemon panettone bread that Diane Welle ordered from Italy and paired with a Toscana Vermentino Bianco for the first course.

Next up was penne a la Norma, a baked pasta with egglant, which was lovingly prepared by Carol Bruno and accompanied by Roero Arneis.

Called an intermezzo, the next course was a showstopper. Carol Treat designed a chocolate butterfly that was bigger than the plate, served with raspberry sorbet and several flavors of fruit coulis making the presentation look like colorful butterfly wings.

After the tournedos, it was time for a colorful salad of autumn hues served with Rossini’s truffle dressing.

Treat outdid herself on the dessert, if that was possible after the butterflies. She created a chocolate cigar and served it with vanilla-Armagnac ice cream and berries. Rosa Regale was the perfect pairing with the decadent dessert.

Husbands are automatically volunteered when their wives sign up, so Niles Bruno, Wynn Berven, Larry Monghelli (Kavanagh’s husband) and Gary Treat served as wine stewards, looking quite suave in tuxedos.

Nancy Whitson called it the most amazing culinary experience she ever had, and the guests were all considering dressing to match next year’s theme – if they win the bid.

Diane Welle and her cohorts are plotting and planning their dinner donation for this year. On the list of possibilities are themes such as Verdi’s “Aida,” a celebration of Russian composers, a love affair with Puccini ... or maybe a visit to the Moulin Rouge. (I’d love to see the French menu and costumes for that one.)

Start putting together your bidding groups for that one, folks.

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Clear weather will continue for almost the last of the February birthdays – Fausto Miranda, Katie Maxted, Brian Govreau, Jeff Thulson, Reggie Benally, Nikki Bergdale, Maddox Bryant, Braden Chambers, Ted Cooper, William Gustavson, Steve Pye, Thomas Ridings, Tim Smith, Jack Benner, Brooke Ellis, GordonGreve, Connie Mahan, Peter Larsen, Rachel Priest, Betty Perry, Nik Stransky, Trent Pansze and Ken Seay.

Belated greetings go out to Connie Trautmann, Dave Trautmann and BevGraham.

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Having watched more than a few young women navigate through the treacherous years of middle and high school, I was thrilled to see a couple of programs arrive via cyberspace in the last couple of weeks.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Fort Lewis College Ballroom in the Student Union, the film “Miss Representation” will be screened sans admission fee thanks to the Women’s Resource Center, the college, the American Association of University Women and the Girl Scouts of Colorado.

It takes a hard look at the images our media project to young men and women – images that value only beauty and sexuality. It also examines the impact of those values and how they played a part in the U.S. ranking 90th in the world for women in national legislatures. I have to admit, when I saw the macho-cultures countries of Chile and Argentina elect women to the presidency when we’re not close to breaking that glass ceiling here, I kind of got my dander up.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion of people from the media and community members. If you have a teenaged daughter or son, attending the film with them could – and should – provoke some interesting conversations when you get home.

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The other item that came my way was a call for applications to a weekly support group for girls aged 12-18, at the Medicine Horse Center.

While learning horsemanship skills, team games and riding, the girls also learn to build healthy relationships, deal with peer pressure, establish healthy body images and build self esteem and leadership skills.

Students need to be recommended by a counselor, social worker or therapist and then apply through the center. New programs are starting in March and run through the year.

To learn more, visit www.medicinehorsecenter.org or call 533-7403.

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Too late for Poinsettias and too early for tulips, these husbands will be buying roses for their anniversaries this week – David and Sharon Mantor, Reid and Sari Ross, Ollie and Jan Mallett and John and Patti Sandhaus.

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neighbors@durangoherald.com

Cindy Cortese, center, also known as a “serving wench,” serves Robert Whitson, while his mother-in-law, Barbara Shore watches, at an extravagant dining experience that was donated to Music in the Mountains. The dinner was held at the home of Bernie and Diane Welle on Feb. 4. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Gary Treat

Cindy Cortese, center, also known as a “serving wench,” serves Robert Whitson, while his mother-in-law, Barbara Shore watches, at an extravagant dining experience that was donated to Music in the Mountains. The dinner was held at the home of Bernie and Diane Welle on Feb. 4.