[image-1]How do you go about setting the stage, so to speak, when aiming to replicate a scene from an opera you’ve never seen as the backdrop for a $350-a-ticket party thrown in honor of that opera? And not just any party: A ball. A black tie, who’s-who of Spoleto patronage, better-learn-to-waltz, honest to god ball.

Well, when that opera is Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, set to the backdrop of Russia’s aristocratic St. Petersburg ca 1820, you go lavish.

Walking into the Exhibit Hall at the Galliard was like finding myself suddenly encased in a Faberge egg. Shimmering panels of floor-to-ceiling drapery, alternating gold, cream, and red covered every inch of wall. Crystal chandeliers hung from silk ropes, casting a pleasant glow upon the revelers below. Undulating lengths of fabric woven like ribbon through the rafters softened the room, lending to the overall effect of feeling cozily muffled inside of a jewel box.

According to party organizers, this sumptuous interpretation of what they thought the ballroom scene from the opera might look like ended up completely off base. Director Chen Shi-Zheng employed a slightly more modern, spartan approach to his set, as is apparently the trend in many opera companies today. That didn’t matter in the least, however. Every attendee entered the room spellbound and on high from the performance, ready to recreate a Tatyana moment of their own.

The theme of the affair, decidedly “Imperial Russia,” echoed throughout the entire evening and influenced everything from music to food. Cru Catering treated guests to duck confit stuffed canapes, shot glasses of borscht, a traditional soup in Eastern European culture, rounds of black bread dotted with chopped, hard boiled egg salad and more. Trays of High Noon distillery vodka shots circulated the foyer — a thoughtful trick which supplied a little liquid courage to help fill the dance floor later.

Happily, word got out to go true black tie or go home. Tuxedos and gowns outnumbered suits and cocktail dresses, and the end result was breathtaking. After the full sit-down dinner, Michelle Rotrano finally stepped on stage to conduct the 50-piece Spoleto Festival Orchestra in various waltz-worthy compositions. Charleston’s own Anita Zucker was among the first to take to the floor with her ballroom dance instructor from the Oxygen Ball, and dozens of other couples quickly followed until there was room only to sway with your partner, carefully trying to avoid bumping elbows with your neighbors.

[image-3]Regular patrons mixed with local newcomers, out-of-towners like Nancy and David Paige of Baltimore, Maryland, and festival performers like Peter Volpe, who portrayed Prince Gremin in the evening’s performance. After an hour or so of ballroom dance, the orchestra took their bows, and DJ Moo Moo reassumed his position as master of ceremonies.

A final glimpse into the room before departing met eyes with a bunch of deliriously happy gentlefolk, Funky Chicken-ing their way into the midnight hour.