An aria for the New Year

by Sheri Boggs & amp; Kris Dinnison

The Davenport Hotel returns to the glory days of its youth Saturday night when the Spokane Opera presents its holiday gala, "Diamonds & amp; Divas." The event, a glittering spectacle to highlight the artistic endeavors of the Spokane Opera, includes a full sit-down dinner, black-tie optional dress code, fine wines, a 32-piece orchestra and no less than six singers waxing operatic throughout the evening.

"It's such an exciting evening, and I think it will really bring people back to the Davenport's original age of elegance," says Pam Comstock, one of the event's organizers. "Walt Worthy is doing such an incredible job over there, and we're delighted to be a part of that."

In addition to all the evening's festivities, it will also be an evening to honor one of Spokane's most ardent arts supporters, Katherine Gellhorn. Before her death a few years ago, Gellhorn was a tireless supporter -- in terms of both money and action -- of Spokane arts organizations. Her thick Austrian accent could be heard on regular KPBX pledge drive spots. She often urged participation in any one of the many arts committees to which she belonged.

The inspiration for the program came about after Dean Williamson, the Spokane Opera's conductor, suggested a New Year's event. "When we did our Daughter of the Regiment in this spring, Dean said, 'Has Spokane Opera ever wanted to do something at New Year's?' " explains Bill Graham, co-artistic director of Spokane Opera. They had, but the right venue and proper inspiration had not presented itself. Then they remembered Gellhorn's commitment both to the Opera and to the Davenport. "Katherine was such a supporter. She had been on our board, and she loved opera," adds Graham.

Her presence will no doubt be felt at the gathering, but her legacy will be honored in a presentation by Allegro's Beverly Biggs. "There will be a point in the evening where Beverly Biggs will come up and say a few words about Katherine and her devotion to the arts," says Comstock.

No tribute to Spokane Opera would be complete without music. Soprano Heather Steckler-Parker, who sang in last year's The Daughter of the Regiment and most recently, La Boheme, returns with her husband, bass baritone Derrick Parker. Mezzo-soprano Heather Peterson (Madama Butterfly), soprano Susan Windham, baritone Rob Newman and tenor Mark Branscom round out the sextet. They will perform a selection of opera favorites, including music from The Merry Widow, Die Fledermaus and Der Rosenkavalier.

Thirty-two members of the Spokane Symphony will be offering their orchestral maneuvers in the dark, and with so many people in black ties and cocktail gowns, there will no doubt be some serious temptation to dance. Dr. Robert and Tonia Wilder will dance the Blue Danube Waltz (choreographed by Marianna Seney), after which the floor will be open to all. Comstock points out that sometimes even the most graceful dancer is left without a partner, and in these cases it's always nice to have a few backup partners on hand.

"Dance City Spokane is sending over four gentlemen to dance with those ladies who might be wanting to dance but are attending with unwilling partners," says Comstock. "It's really a lovely gesture, and I think it will be so much fun."

The dancing element of the evening is turning out to be a big draw, in fact.

"A lot of people are looking forward to a chance to dance in the Davenport again," she says. "The event appeals to all ages, but I've had some older people who used to go dancing in the Davenport back in the 1930s who have called me up about this event -- some as far away as Montana. They're very excited to get to dance in the Davenport again."

"Diamonds and Divas" is the first time the Spokane Opera has ever hosted a New Year's Eve bash, but they're hoping it won't be the last.

"We're hoping to make it an annual event," says Comstock. "It's going to be very elegant, which I think Spokane will like, and it will showcase all the wonderful things the Spokane Opera has achieved."

"Diamonds and Divas," a Spokane Opera holiday gala,

takes place at the Davenport Hotel on Saturday,

Dec. 29. Cocktails: 6:30-7:30 pm. Dinner and

Dancing: 8 pm-midnight. Tickets: $125. Call: 327-5779.

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