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BravoBravo embraces its operatic heritage

By Greg Tasker
Special to The Detroit News

If you attend this year’s BravoBravo! on Friday and feel like you’ve stepped onto the elaborate, colorful set of a classic opera, there’s good reason.

For the first time the annual black-tie gala, a fundraiser for Michigan Opera Theatre, is embracing its heritage and raison d’etre by decorating spaces of the Detroit Opera House with props and costumes from various MOT productions, including “Hansel and Gretel,” “Carmen,” and “Don Giovanni,” among others.

BravoBravo! is one of Detroit’s premier parties and fundraisers.


“We wanted to honor our community, as we’ve always done, but also highlight what we do at the Opera House,” said Frankie M. Piccirilli, chief development officer for Michigan Opera Theatre. “We wanted to be very thoughtful about how we bring it together.”

The theatrical theme is among several changes to the annual event, one of Detroit’s premier parties and fundraisers, aimed at bolstering the BravoBravo! experience.

The theme of the main stage is inspired by “Don Giovanni,” the classic Mozart opera based on the adventures of the fictional Don Juan. From the MOT’s warehouse, designers have dusted off the Commendatore’s garden (typically the opening scene of the opera), statues, columns, trees and a giant disco ball moon. The opera, which takes places in an unnamed Spanish city, blends comedy, melodrama and supernatural elements. It was last performed as part of MOT’s 2009-2010 season.

“We are storytellers,” Piccirilli said. “We’re basing the theme on the premise that all year long we produce operas and present dance. We also have all kinds of other things at the opera house -- weddings, high school and college graduations. We wanted to play on the words of all these kinds of events -- imagine, innovate, inspire.”

 Appropriately, “Hansel and Gretel,” the beloved opera based on the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale, is the theme of the popular dessert room, where Dilla’s Delights donuts (just around the corner from the Opera House) will be served, along with alcoholic coffee drinks. DJs will be spinning J. Dilla (Dilla’s Delights is owned J. Dilla’s uncle). A gingerbread house serves as a backdrop, accented by a giant, round pink velvet banquette and donut pillows. “Hansel and Gretel” is part of the MOT’s 2018-2019 season.

“We wanted to theme each area around a classic opera scene to directly connect the event to MOT’s primary mission,” said Anne Wilczak, principal at AWE Production, who did the design and production for the event. “The company has so many interesting set pieces and props in storage that we were able to incorporate into the overall design.”

From other operas, look for a “Die Fledermaus” champagne bar. The Johann Strauss II operetta was last performed at the Detroit Opera House in 2002-2003; and a “Carmen” sangria bar, an ode to its Spanish setting. “Carmen,” the 19th-century opera by French composer Georges Bizet, has been an MOT staple over the years and was performed last season.

In keeping with ties to the venue, headlining this year’s event is a special performance by Kisma Jordan, an opera/soul singer, and Nuclassica, an electro-pop violin band, featuring contemporary dancers choreographed by Liz Schmidt.

“It’s another way to bring opera and dance to BravoBravo!,” Piccirilli said. “We’re trying to engage people with a very short snapshot of what happens at the opera house. It’s a pop song with a classical and opera twist. We’re trying to bring it all back into our space.”

Other musicians on tap include Midwest Dueling Pianos, Nicole New & The Woodward Horns, Omar Aragones and the Aston Neighborhood Pleasure Club.

As in previous years, BravoBravo! will encompass three floors of the opera house, with music, dancing and refreshments offered by some of Detroit’s most popular restaurant and entertainment venues.

In the past, the event has had liquor sponsors who ran their own bar stations. The Detroit Opera House now has an on-site caterer, Continental, which will run the bars. Continental has partnered with Detroit bartenders to serve special cocktails.

Among the participating restaurants are Small Plates, Cheli’s Chili Bar, Detroit Beer Co., Yum Village, Ruckus Taco Co. and TAP at MGM Grand Detroit.

This year marks the 19th annual BravoBravo! The event was launched as a fundraiser for Michigan Opera Theatre in 1999. Last year’s BravoBravo! was a limited event, held after the DiChiera Grand Salute, a fundraiser and tribute to David DiChiera, the founder and artistic director who retired in 2017.

“It was originally begun as a young professionals event,” Piccirilli said. “It has evolved over the years in terms of size and sheer capacity. In some years past, it felt too big.”

As a result, some changes have been made, including placing a limit on ticket sales. Sales are limited to 1,250 tickets, about half the number sold in 2016. In other changes, the surface parking lot will no longer become part of the event; all activities will take place inside the Detroit Opera House.

In addition, the Sky Deck will be open for the first time for VIP ticket purchases, with food and entertainment available for the first two hours; the deck will close at 9 p.m.

“We want everyone to have the experience they expect at BravoBravo!,” Piccirilli said, adding there is a renewed emphasis on maintaining the black-tie dress code.

“We are doing our best to push the black tie,” she added. “It is a black-tie event. We will honor a suit for gentlemen. We really need people to honor our request to keep it black tie.”

 Greg Tasker is a Michigan-based freelance writer.


8 p.m. Friday (until 12:30 a.m. Saturday)

Detroit Opera House

1526 Broadway St., Detroit

Admission $160; VIP $250 (includes 7 p.m. entry and VIP lounge)

(313) 237-7464