A Swashbuckling Good Time

Santa Barbara Maritime Museum’s fourth annual “Passport” sent us this year to the “Caribbean.” Guests “boarded” for Captain Blackbeard’s reception and there were several pirates attending along with their wenches. “Pirate” Jack Byers even sported a gold tooth. Rum abounded, but the more modern pirates drank martinis. There was a reggae steel drum band for dancing.

While checking out all the costumes, guests participated in a Treasure Hunt Silent Auction. Sarah and Roger Chrisman’s gorgeous twin-engine Beech King was ready to fly you off on a mini-vacation to the MGM Grand or Yo, ho, ho and a magnum of Rusack Vineyards wine with lunch for six. There were cruises on sailing vessels and much more.

Gala co-chairs Meg DiNapoli and Trisha Davis were beaming along with Executive Director Julie Anne McDonald amid the “palm trees” and exotic birds. Bird Lady Jamie McLeod, who owns Menagerie in Summerland, was there with all kinds of exotic friends for guests to talk to and pet. McLeod is also founder and director of Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary, which rescues, trains and finds homes for abandoned birds that sometimes live as long as 80 years. (If you’d like to visit call 565-1807.)

Seated by me during dinner was Betty Weisman, who is sometimes known as Gary Weisman’s mother because of his America’s Cup fame. When I asked about her life, she explained, “I was originally from New Zealand and worked for the Americans during World War II on the island of Caledonia. I knew Admiral Halsey very well and dated James Michener, who patterned his South Pacific Nellie Forbush character after me.”

After the Caribbean buffet, Board President Ken Clements told us we were here “to honor the people who had the vision of the Maritime Museum.” Barry and Jean Schuyler introduced the founding board members: Leon Fleischer, Miriam Polne-Fuller, Tom Fuller, Leslie Leaney, Bob Kieding, Clyde Kirkpatrick, John Poucher and Fred Rice. The “dreamers” of the museum was Kirkpatrick, who approached Kieding with the idea. Kieding earned a spot at the helm and brought many others aboard.

The Maritime Museum opened in July 2000 and is now a fixture on the city waterfront, where more than 186,000 people have walked through the doors. Pretty good for what started out 12 years ago as sketches on the back of a napkin. All ages of “kids” are welcome. Stop in next time you’re at the harbor.

The Allure of Opera

My first opera was a few decades ago when I lived in Naples, Italy, before English subtitles. My husband and I had a book and before we went to each opera, we would read the story so we could follow the singing. The San Carlos opera house was old world elegant and rococo with gilded gold, red plush wallpaper and red seats. As a local I knew a secret – during the week, if you went to a certain side door and knocked, they would let you in. You could sit in the Queen’s box and pretend.

During Opera Santa Barbara’s recent Verdi Festival, no one in the Lobero audience seemed to mind that there was no Queen’s box as they watched “A Masked Ball.” Every seat was taken. There were loud cheers of “Bravo,” lots of applause and a standing ovation for the production.

After the opera there was a reception in the tent that filled the Lobero Courtyard. Guests mingled with cast members sipping champagne to celebrate the second year of the festival. In order to make Santa Barbara an opera destination (soon to be in the Granada Theatre), 10 patrons gave $50,000 each in 2006. Thanks go to Marlyn Bernstein, Peter and Deborah Bertling, Roger and Sarah Chrisman, Edward and Louise Gaylord, Patricia Gregory, Sara Miller McCune, Duncan and Suzanne Mellichamp, Parker and Carolina Montgomery, Michael and Anne Towbes and Robert and Sandra Urquhart.

“We are very proud of the strides we have made in creating an opera ‘buzz’ around town during our festival,” said Peter Bertling, president of the board of directors. Bertling also told us about the new Kid’s Day at the Opera, which was well received, and there’ll be more in the future. Another innovation is the Young Artists program, which features eight young opera singers who come from places like New York, Chicago and Hawaii.

General Director Steven Sharpe told me about a new fundraising campaign where production patrons each contributed $15,000 for direct production costs for the Verdi Festival. These generous souls included: James and Deanna Dehlsen, Sarah Jane Lind, Bruce and Ida Rickborn, Keith and Kay Schofield, Fred and Diane Sidon and the Gaylords and Chrismans.

Conductor Valery Ryvkin was at the reception with his wife, Victoria Hart, who played the fortuneteller that evening. Ryvkin told us about how his family left Russia when he was 19 because of persecution. He came to New York, went to Julliard, met his wife and his whole life changed.