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Originally published February 4, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 13, 2007 at 2:42 PM

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Opera, with a fairy-tale ending

My shoes were pinching my toes, and I was starting to feel hopelessly unsophisticated when a blond girl in a black cocktail dress sidled...

Seattle Times columnist

My shoes were pinching my toes, and I was starting to feel hopelessly unsophisticated when a blond girl in a black cocktail dress sidled up to me and confided that she's "not so much about the singing."

This was surprising, as we were at a fundraiser for the Seattle Opera's Bravo Club, where people were bidding hundreds of dollars to have a smoothie with Speight Jenkins. I will confess that I once had an entire conversation with Mr. Jenkins — the opera's general director — without having a clue who he was.

These people, the girl went on, are seriously into opera. It makes perfect sense to me that Seattle is home to one of the most successful under-40 opera clubs in the country. Of course we should get together and drink cocktails and support the arts.

The idea of a young opera crowd is alarming because, frankly, it makes people like me look bad. So it was refreshing to meet Kelsey Aanerud, who freely admits that she went to the opera once and hated it. And she's OK with that. She'll pay the $60 dues because she supports the arts and besides, it's as good an excuse as any to get dressed up and mingle.

"These are all young business professionals, people who are culturally aware. That guy, I've met him five times and every time he's like, 'No, I don't think we've met.' "

Yes, it is apparently that hard to meet people in Seattle.

Bravo would like you to know that for the majority of its 500 members, opera is the draw. Not the parties. Not the social networking.

But Marianna Veress recruited her roommate David, and that's how he met his girlfriend Sara. Two days after the fundraising event, Jiawen and Reham came over to help Sara get ready for a Saturday-night performance of "Don Giovanni." There was chocolate fondue and champagne, and hairspray and rhinestones, and lots of chatter and buzzy anticipation.

"It's always an anticipation, almost like having a date, even if you don't have a date," says Marianna, 33. "It's just a wonderful feeling, to dedicate that time to do your nails and your hair and makeup. And then there is the possibility of meeting someone ... "

Prepping for an evening at McCaw Hall can be an all-day affair that starts with brunch with girlfriends in her Green Lake home. Her closet is fair game for anyone who can fit into one of her dresses: "They are more than welcome to borrow it. It's 10 bucks to dry clean, and then everybody's happy."

Marianna has a closetful of designer gowns because she loves dresses, and she loves to shop. She hunts for bargains at Loehmann's and Nordstrom Rack, and occasionally scores a great find on eBay. Of course, you don't have to be all hoity-toity or dress a certain way to go to the opera. Fancy is not required. But what girl doesn't want to be fancy?

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"It's not an easy task for people our age," she says. "We don't make that much money to buy the designer gowns. The opera is a great occasion to show how savvy we can be, to buy a Badgley Mischka on eBay for $500 instead of $10,000."

Sara Needleman-Carlton, 25, sat patiently as Marianna applied red lipstick and dressed her in a floor-length red evening gown, while a tuxedo-clad David Graves waited upstairs. She had attended her first Bravo Club event alone, telling herself to be brave and just talk to people. It worked.

"Marianna is my fairy godmother," she says, "and David is my Prince Charming."

Girl About Town appears every Sunday in Northwest Life. Pamela Sitt: 206-464-2376 or psitt@seattletimes.com

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