All right, the conglomerate revue that launched Wolf Trap's ninth season qualifies as a gala, at least in what has come to be the Conventional sense. But there is nothing particularly galactic about these three hours of ad hoc entertainment.
The master of ceremonies, New York City Ballet's Edward Villella, noted at the beginning that he was not yet sure about all of the details, and as the evening unfolded - and sometimes stumbled - one wondered if it was not still being put together as Villella spoke.
To begin with, the three most publicized performers - pop singer Neil Sedaka, opera star Shirley Verrett and Broadway performer Ben Vereen - failed to show up.
One sought, in their absence, beauty in between the cracks. There was a particularly finely phrased version of Delilah's aria commonly translated as "My Heart at Thou Sweet Voice," sung by mezzo-soprano Mignon Dunn. And despite Wolf Trap's somewhat blurred acoustics, conductor Sarah Caldwell focused on eloquent, subtle nuances in the woodwin accompaniment that one almost never hears.
Then there was the sensational bravado in the woodwind accompaniment that one almost never hears.
Then there was the sensational bravado of American Ballet Theater's Fernando Bujones in that old choreographic chestnut, the Corsair pas de deux. He partnered Kristine Elliott, who showed splendid elevation and precision despite a feeling of inhibition.
There was little that could be done to overcome the fact that the voice of Anna Moffo, chairman of the gala, no longer has its reliable resonance. But while this hurt in Musetta's Waltz from "La Boheme," the veiled huskiness of her voice seemed an advantage in "Summertime," that poetic lullaby to life as dusk moves over the Charleston waterfront. And her touching inflection of phrases like "Hush, little baby don't you cry" reassured one that her artistry is intact.
Also splendid was the unpretentious, understated singing of Nashville country star Larry Gatlin. He sang his simple poetic songs about life's crises with impeccable diction, despite the large spaces.
There were other acts that were simply beneath the standards of Wolf Trap, and they should never have been programmed. At the bottom of the heap were the Schmaltzy, self-pitying excuses for gospel music by Doug Oldham, whose seemingly endless prayer became increasingly embarrassing as he praised God for bringing him back to his family.
The kaleidoscopic Brazilian costume parade seemed an appropriate end, if not a climax. It was at the same time flamboyant and largely static.