A Royal Time at Rockwood Abbey – Gala 2017


Rockwood Abbey – Gala 2017

Royal Revival
Review by Richard Mineards, Montecito Journal May 2017


Downton Abbey, the delightful series about an English aristocratic family and their servants, may have ended on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater more than a year ago, but it was delight- fully resurrected at the Rockwood Woman’s Club by the Santa Barbara Choral Society for their annual fund- raiser, with yours truly as emcee.

To add to the majestic splendor of the occasion, former royal chef Darren McGrady, who worked in the cavernous kitchens of Buckingham Palace for Queen Elizabeth and Kensington Palace for Princess Diana, flew in from his Dallas, Texas, home to regale the 175 guests with a torrent of royal anecdotes in a question and answer session I conducted, which went well over its allotted time so enthralling were the tales from both of us.


Veteran conductor JoAnne Wasserman, with David Potter on keyboard, took the talented singers through their paces with works from Gilbert and Sullivan, Handel, Bizet, and Verdi sung by soloists Naomi Merer, soprano; Sally Rose Bates, mezzo-soprano; James Kirkland, tenor; Tyler Reese, baritone; and Jeffrey Warlick, bass, as I narrated the musical journey to a script written by Mary Dan Eades.


The boffo beano, co-hosted by Brooks Firestone, dashingly attired in his hunting pinks, and his wife, Kate, costumed in a lady’s riding habit from the Edwardian era, was catered by local culinary wizard Michael Hutchings, while Darren, who also cooked for five U.S. presidents, curat- ed the special menu loved by the inhabitants of the royal residences.
Brooks, in the absence of his ubiq- uitous son Andrew Firestone – who had erroneously double-booked the date – put his auctioning skills to work with a five-night stay in London and a visit to Downton Abbey – Highclere Castle – going for $4,300; a week’s stay in Ansouis, Provence, going under the hammer for $4,000; a trip to New York with tickets for the Tony Award-winning show Hamilton selling for $4,600; and the chance to conduct Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus this Christmas snapped up for $1,200.

Among the royally costumed fans at the gala, which raised more than $25,000, were Debra Stewart, Marylove Thralls, Marilyn Gilbert, Jim and Lurleen Benzian, Peter and Karen Brill, Barbara Burger and Paul Munch, and Gary and Kate Rees, Fred and Nancy Golden, Ross and Karen Williams.
An evening of high note.