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Scene Last Night: African Queen, Eve Queler’s Farewell, Mogul Agnes Varis

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Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Sopranos Ellie Dehn and Chiara Taigi applaud Opera Orchestra of New York Music Director Eve Queler.

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Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Sopranos Ellie Dehn and Chiara Taigi applaud Opera Orchestra of New York Music Director Eve Queler. Close

Sopranos Ellie Dehn and Chiara Taigi applaud Opera Orchestra of New York Music Director Eve Queler.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Tenor Marcelle Giordani signs an autograph after his performance as Vasco de Gama in Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera "L'Africaine." Close

Tenor Marcelle Giordani signs an autograph after his performance as Vasco de Gama in Giacomo Meyerbeer's opera "L'Africaine."

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Eve Queler, music director of the Opera Orchestra of New York, and Agnes Varis, president and founder of Agvar Chemicals. Varis passed away on Friday at age 81. Close

Eve Queler, music director of the Opera Orchestra of New York, and Agnes Varis, president and founder of Agvar... Read More

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Michele Oka Doner, artist, Mickey Wolfson, founder of the Wolfsonian museum in Miami, and Brooke Hayward, writer. Close

Michele Oka Doner, artist, Mickey Wolfson, founder of the Wolfsonian museum in Miami, and Brooke Hayward, writer.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The cast of "L'Africaine," an opera by Giacomo Meyerbeer, following a performance at Avery Fisher Hall with the Opera Orchestra of New York. Close

The cast of "L'Africaine," an opera by Giacomo Meyerbeer, following a performance at Avery Fisher Hall with the Opera... Read More

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Soprano Chiara Taigi with the Opera Orchestra of New York's Music Director Designate, Alberto Veronesi. Close

Soprano Chiara Taigi with the Opera Orchestra of New York's Music Director Designate, Alberto Veronesi.

Two sopranos -- an elegant brunette in red and a seductive blonde with a dress for every occasion (prison, beach, suicide) -- battled over a tenor last night at Lincoln Center, where Eve Queler presented Giacomo Meyerbeer’s “L’Africaine.”

The once-chic composer, who died in 1864, would have enjoyed the fashion parade as a cast of 11 joined a large orchestra and chorus on the stage of Avery Fisher Hall.

This was Queler’s farewell from the Opera Orchestra of New York, which she founded 40 years ago to showcase forgotten works like this old thing about Vasco de Gama. “L’Africaine” has one really great tune, “O Paradis,” an ode to India.

A wacky sense of geography (the African slave is really an Indian queen), and unexpected meetings between the two ardent sopranos add to the delight of the piece.

Marcello Giordani delivered the showstopper with spellbinding power and seemed ready to settle down on the Hindu beach with Chiara Taigi, the blonde queen. But then the other soprano, Ellie Dehn, reappeared and off he went.

The opera closes with Taigi expiring under a toxic tree. The fashion-conscious soprano seems a real find, one of many young stars cultivated by Queler during her tenure at the Opera Orchestra.

By then many hours had passed and we all shared the dying queen’s visions of a chariot with white swans taking us home with our memories.

Everyone sang splendidly. Taigi and Dehn were elegant, expressive. Fikile Mvinjelwa made major baritone sounds as the homicidal Nelusko. And Queler, as so often before, controlled her huge forces with a clear beat and a big heart.

In the Green Room after the performance, she spent a good deal of time hugging Agnes Varis, the pharmaceutical tycoon who recently awarded the orchestra a $250,000 grant and further underwrote 500 $20 tickets.

Agnes, 81, and Eve, 80, proved to be the true heroines of the night.

(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the art and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the writer on this story: Amanda Gordon in New York at agordon01@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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