At around 5:30 p.m. on Monday, May 18, a procession of women in billowing gowns was making its way in the courtyard of the Metropolitan Opera House for the American Ballet’s spring gala.
“I cannot wait to see Michelle Obama!” said the fit morning-talk-show host Kelly Ripa, adding that she was wearing fake eyelashes for the occasion. “I love her whole physicality—she’s so tall and statuesque and good-looking!”
Ms. Ripa was wearing a strapless navy Alberta Ferretti gown with a taut bodice. “I chose it because—I know this will sound silly—but I thought it made me look busty!” she said. Asked whether her bare arms were a sartorial tribute to the first lady, Ms. Ripa giggled. “Let me tell you about the arms,” she said. “It’s springtime, but it’s very cold tonight and it’s very hard finding anything with a sleeve. Trust me!”
The actress Lindsay Price arrived in a mermaid-style dress designed by Carolina Herrera, an honorary co-chair of the evening along with Ms. Obama, Caroline Kennedy, socialite Blaine Trump and actress Renée Zellweger.
“I’m over the moon!” Ms. Price said about the sheer possibility of being near the first lady. “I think I’ll be too shy to go out of my way to meet her, but I’m happy to just be in her company.”
Behind her, be-furred Vogue editor Anna Wintour, arms crossed and sunglasses in place, was being escorted inside. Vanity Fair’s Amy Fine Collins was close behind. “I’m very excited. Not only do we have ballet tonight, but we have politics, too,” said Ms. Collins, whose upper arms were also exposed.
Calvin Klein designer Francisco Costa arrived with model Dree Hemingway, granddaughter of Ernest, on one arm and socialite Amanda Brooks on the other, each outfitted in one of his minimalist dresses. Is he hoping to woo Ms. Obama?
“Why do you think I’m here? I bought a tuxedo for this!” Mr. Costa said. “She’s proven she has a great sensibility. She’s figuring her own way out and doing an amazing job.”
Actress Mariska Hargitay proclaimed herself above all this fashion flim-flam. “I’m not obsessed with what she wears, I’m obsessed with Michelle Obama,” she said firmly before ducking inside.
Meanwhile, Lynda Carter, the original Wonder Woman, recalled the year she attended the ballet in the company of another first lady: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
“She was so chic,” Ms. Carter said. “I am excited to meet Michelle Obama. She’s just killer. And tall!”
As guests took their seats, Senator Chuck Schumer welcomed Caroline Kennedy to the stage. Ms. Kennedy in turn welcomed the much-awaited first lady, who (having snuck in through an underground entrance) appeared from behind the gold curtain in a sparkly black Azzedine Alaïa cocktail dress. A standing ovation ensued. (Real estate developer Janna Bullock even put her BlackBerry away for a moment to clap.)
After a few gracious words about the importance of “learning through the arts,” Ms. Obama headed to a private box containing Jill Biden, Ms. Kennedy and the White House social secretary, Desirée Rogers.
During the intermission, the VIPs thronged a roped-off reception area. Ripa chatted with Caryn Zucker, wife of NBC president Jeff Zucker; Ms. Wintour greeted billionaire David Koch; and Ms. Rogers huddled with anchors Al Roker and Deborah Roberts.
“There’s just something kind of special about this night to begin with, and then you add Michelle Obama on top of that and …” Mr. Roker gushed.
“You’ll really stay awake,” Ms. Roberts said.
“Yeah, normally I look at this as a good shot at napping,” admitted Mr. Roker. “But I’m thinking this is actually something I should probably stay awake for.”
Wearing a formal belted black dress, Ms. Rogers told the Daily Transom that she and Ms. Obama were enjoying the show.
“It is a great night for America, really,” she said. “To see this lovely ballet, to see these children from the Jackie Kennedy Onassis school perform for the first time, it just brings everything full circle and we’re just delighted to be here.”
Alas, there was no sign of the first lady at the glitzy intermission. And as Mr. Roker pointed out, it would be fairly difficult to clink champagne flutes with her anyway.
“There’s this little thing called the Secret Service that I think will keep everyone from flocking to her,” he said.