One of New York society’s special talents is the ability to spot and appreciate a subtle face-lift. Hence the abundant kudos for the updates to Lincoln Center overseen by the firms Diller Scofidio + Renfro and FxFowle Architects, recently completed after nearly six years of work. The lauded changes include a redesign of the iconic fountain at the center of the plaza, the new LED displays embedded on the face of the plaza steps, major renovations at Alice Tully Hall and Julliard School rehearsal studios, and the addition of Lincoln restaurant, with its sloped grass roof that doubles as a picnic spot. So when the New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theater held their annual spring galas just days apart at Lincoln Center, we talked to some of the prominent guests to get their thoughts on the changes to the campus. While we spoke, we also asked them if they had other favorite performing-arts spaces around the globe.
“It’s fabulous, so well conceived,” Carol Mack, wife of real-estate developer and investor Earle Mack, said of the revamped Lincoln Center during the New York City Ballet gala at the David H. Koch Theater (an event sponsored by Christian Dior and Swarovski). “When it was originally built, it was bunkerlike to prevent it from being a part of the neighborhood, which was different then. Now it’s welcoming and accessible. And I love the restaurant with the grass on top of it. Don’t you love it?”
Mack’s second-favorite performing-arts venue? “The Paris Opera—for its grandeur and opulence.”
“It’s a gift to all of us,” added Coco Kopelman, whose son Will’s date that evening was fiancée Drew Barrymore. “If the renovation can be compared to giving birth, it was worth the labor pains, because we have had a gorgeous, gorgeous result. It’s become a place where people congregate. Fashion Week is wonderful. From the access from the sidewalk to the sloped steps to the wonderful LED lights that announce what’s going on behind in the structures, it really invites people in.”
“Structurally and cosmetically, the whole is so much more than the sum of the parts,” said Arie Kopelman, Coco’s husband and the former head of Chanel, who also gave a quick nod to the Paris Opera. “It’s just a magical experience, and it’s done incredible things for the whole area. Look at all these apartment buildings around it, the housing, the restaurants.”
Designer Gilles Mendel of J. Mendel, who created the costumes for that evening’s world premiere of a ballet choreographed by Peter Martins to a score by Marc-André Dalbavie, explained that devising costumes for the New York City Ballet was like “going on vacation to another world—one where the performers are athletes. It starts with the music and the characters. The choreographer tells you about his ideas of the characters, and you have the freedom to create your own momentum.”
Vogue creative director Grace Coddington’s favorite performing-arts venue anywhere? “The theater at Stratford-upon-Avon,” said the former model. “I used to go there all the time in my youth. And you can arrive by punt on the river—it’s the most beautiful way to arrive at the theater.”
Fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte had worked with choreographer and New York City Ballet principal dancer Benjamin Millepied (whose wife, Natalie Portman, served as the evening’s honorary chairperson) to create costumes for a piece scored by Nico Muhly that debuted at the gala. “We were just talking about how excited we were being here at Lincoln Center,” Laura said. “It seems like something out of a dream about what one might do in New York,” added Kate.
And an alternate venue they adore? “Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles,” Laura said. “We’re doing an opera there next week—Don Giovanni, with sets by Frank Gehry.” Kate added: “One of the best moments I’ve had in my career so far was sitting inside the concert hall with Frank Gehry and Laura and having him explain the ceiling to us, his inspiration for it, the boats and sails, and how it works, the wood—it’s so beautiful.”
On her way into the American Ballet Theater gala at the Metropolitan Opera house a few nights later, Bebe Neuwirth confided that she had been concerned about how the planned renovations would impact the center’s historic buildings by Philip Johnson, Wallace Harrison, Eero Saarinen, and others. “Before they made the changes in the plaza, I was terrified. I used to come here as a little girl to these palaces, but I really think it’s lovely. Sometimes change is bad, but I think this is okay.”
Neuwirth also mentioned the Paris Opera as a favorite. “I broke into tears when I walked inside for the first time,” she said. “I looked up. I get chills thinking about it. It’s the energy of the place, the Chagalls on the ceiling, the little vestibules, the anterooms, the paintings, the murals, the inlays and marquetry. Just breathtaking. But my dream is to go to the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg.”
“Lincoln Center looks incredible,” said Olympic skating gold medalist Johnny Weir, who wore tails with a long white shirt to the event—which was sponsored by Valentino, with Michelle Obama, Caroline Kennedy, and Blaine Trump serving as honorary chairs. “It’s always such a happy moment when you arrive here and see the fountain, the lights, the energy in this little area.”
Weir admires the Bolshoi as well. “I train and perform in Moscow,” he said. “I’ve been to the ballet at the Bolshoi many times. It’s so steeped in history, and they’ve just reopened one of the new stages. I saw many shows there—it’s just gold and gilt and rich.”
“The square here at Lincoln Center has so much life,” offered philanthropist Fe Fendi. “I love the fountain.” And in her native Italy, she adores Venice’s La Fenice. “When reopened again recently, it was unbelievable—restored to the original. Usually in Italy everything is very old and falling down a little bit. So when you see something completely restored, it’s breathtaking.”
June Ambrose, stylist to the stars, said she is obsessed with another New York landmark, Carnegie Hall. “Being in those rooms backstage—it has such history,” she said. “It was incredible when Jay-Z played there. He was playing Frank Sinatra in the back.”
Broadcast journalist Deborah Norville and her husband, Karl Wellner, a wealth manager, also love the Lincoln Center revamp. “Now it’s a neighborhood,” Norville announced. Wellner, meanwhile, spoke of his admiration for La Scala in Milan. “The Italians really know their opera,” he said. “And they don’t hesitate to scream, ‘Old cow, get off the stage!’ You’d never hear that in New York.”