Plácido, ‘Oye Como Va’ and the Barrio

oscardelarenta2 getty Plácido, ‘Oye Como Va’ and the Barrio El Museo del Barrio held its annual gala on the rainy evening of May 27. The cathedral-like entrance of Cipriani’s, just across from Grand Central, signaled right away that the soiree was a far cry from the barrio, not to mention the 40-year-old museum’s earliest fund-raisers, held on its roof on the Upper East Side. Still, the museum’s mission is to celebrate Latino art, and designer Christian Cota was confident that at least one element of Hispanic culture would be represented at the party.

“What’s wonderful about this party is most people dance,” Mr. Cota told the Transom. “I go to all of the galas and they’re all glamorous, but at the Latin one, it’s a guarantee that before the end everyone is going to be salsa-ing.”

The Transom asked Citgroup’s imposing chairman, Dick Parsons, whether he would be among the salsa-ers? “We’ll see how late the evening goes,” said Mr. Parsons.

Museum trustee and event chair Yaz Hernandez drew our attention to the skinny white carpet that ran all the way to the back of the room.

“This year we wanted to have the white carpet because we’re honoring Plácido Domingo and there’s so much red in opera,” she said excitedly, fanning her fingernails in the direction of the strip. “He’s probably tired of red.”

Mr. Domingo made his entrance, looking every bit the opera don with a scarf draped over his shoulders. A resident of Washington, D.C., he was a fresh addition to the New York social scene. Perhaps a little too fresh. “Wait, who is that?” whispered one of the waiters trailing him.

At the back of the room, Mr. Domingo and his family were greeted by emcee Oscar De La Renta. The two men embraced, igniting a fresh wave of photographic flares.

“Bueno, bueno,” Mr. Domingo sighed as he heartily slapped the designer on the back.

“No single person, ever in the history of el canto, has sung as many roles as Plácido Domingo has,” Mr. De La Renta told the Transom. He then confided that he’d have to avoid the dance floor, due to an upcoming hip replacement.

As attendees dined on grilled scallops in a black bean salsa, the speeches garnered their share of laughs, and Harper’s Bazaar editor Glenda Bailey could be seen chatting excitedly with tablemate Narciso Rodriguez, whose clothes are favored by Michelle Obama.

Accepting his honor, Mr. Domingo thanked the museum and his wife, Marta, noting that the two celebrate their 48th anniversary this year. “If you ask Marta how it feels, 48 years, she’d say it’s like five minutes.” He paused a beat. “With your head under the water.”

Back at their table, Mrs. Domingo just shook her head.

“Plácido’s all about the partying,” said composer Marcos Galvany, confirming the gossip at the Transom’s table about the primo uomo’s famed D.C. fetes. Mr. Galvany happens to be Mr. Domingo’s neighbor at the Watergate hotel. “He loves beautiful women, I can tell you that.”

One diner seated near the guests of honor noticed that Mr. De La Renta departed during the meal. “Christian Cota sat in his seat after Oscar left. He was an Oscar seat-filler, no pun intended.” 

Prior to his exit, Mr. De La Renta could be seen smiling distantly as he was photographed with a group of sombrero-topped mariachis dressed in white. Just before desert, the mariachis ambushed the stage for a feliz cumpleaños serenade of Ms. Hernandez, whose birthday happened to coincide with the event.

“Yaz is just infectious in her desire to make you want to be around her and support her,” said Alexandra Lebenthal, founder of the wealth-management firm Alexandra and James Inc. “She makes me want to be Latin.”

After dinner, Ms. Hernandez’s white carpet remained unsullied, and the dance floor was robust as advertised. The remaining guests crowded the black tiles for the band’s rendition of “Oye Como Va” as museum trustees cha-cha’d with the party’s younger guests. True to an earlier promise she’d made to us, Ms. Lebenthal pranced the floor, unhindered by her elaborate feathery gown.

The revelers showed no signs of tiring as the Transom headed to the subway. In Grand Central, the Transom encountered a group of sailors that had just arrived from a submarine base in Connecticut for Fleet Week. They stood around a pile of duffel bags on the marble floor, making plans for the evening.

“We still don’t have a place to stay,” said one, adding that if worse came to worse they would sleep on a bench in Central Park. “Hopefully the newspapers in this town are warm.”