At a recent Manhattan party in a deluxe apartment overlooking Central Park, Meredith Greenberg and Leora Perlman – who happens to be the daughter of violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman – introduce themselves with their standard number. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” they sing to a cluster of rather delighted upper-crust guests. “We’re your culinary opera stars.” Next comes a piece from Verdi’s La Traviata.
In matching sleeveless tuxedo-ruffled shirts – one red, one blue – the two petite women captivate the small cocktail crowd while the living room’s large picture windows quiver. “Short, loud, and high” is the divas’ motto; their song is all three.
After the applause the two women walk through the crowd, fielding compliments and passing hors d’oeuvres before heading back into the kitchen.
“Hear that? They’re all yapping,” says Perlman, her face lighting up with what looks like more than just the heat coming off the oven.
Greenberg replies that the singing makes people eat. “I don’t know about Leora, but after we sing for the first time, I’m so much more relaxed,” she says.
“Now I’m, like, pumped!” Perlman replies, lighting the frying oil for the sweet-potato latkes. It’s important to the divas that people know they’re the chefs and not just the hired entertainment. “It makes everything taste better and everything sound better,” says Greenberg.
From intimate dinners to cocktails and full-meal buffets, Greenberg and Perlman, a.k.a. Divas’ Delite, have catered more than 50 parties in the greater New York area, pairing fine music and gourmet food, all of which they create themselves. Special guests even get a personalized song – an aria that Greenberg writes just for the occasion. Combining hors d’oeuvres and opera makes the party more exciting for the guests, she explains, adding, “We’re much more magical in their eyes.”
Performance is a key component of every party the divas cater. Though they do all the singing, their friends – fellow actors and singers – do the serving. When she’s not singing, Perlman sees herself as the stage manager calling cues from backstage in the kitchen. “Here. Now. Go out with the tuna,” she says, coaching the servers on the specific names and ingredients of each dish before it goes out.
The divas stumbled across their idea for operatic catering in the summer of 1999. Both had just graduated, Perlman from Juilliard and Greenberg from the Manhattan School of Music. They went to Santa Fe, N.M., to take voice lessons from a renowned teacher there and shared a job scooping Italian ices on artsy Canyon Road. (Not wanting to be separated, the two split a single salary.)
When the boss found out they were opera singers, he brought them a giant tip jar and asked them to serenade while they scooped. “We said, ‘Are you kidding?'” Greenberg recalls. “We were frightened to sing this close to people. We needed the fourth wall.”
But once they started, crowds gathered to hear their a cappella opera. “We lived off our tips that summer, singing and scooping,” Greenberg continues. There was no mistaking the power of their combined talents, and thus was born the union of “La Ci Darem La Mano” and Thai chicken and leek skewers with peanut jam.
The nearly inseparable divas have their roles pretty well divided. “I’m in charge of making everything taste good,” says Perlman. “Meredith makes the plates look amazing and works with the host and the staff.” The two have had some time to work out the kinks. They’ve known each other for eight years and been a couple for five. They just got married last October. “We went to Key West with 103 of our nearest and dearest,” says Meredith. “It was lavish. Our parents paid for it.”
Speaking of parents, Perlman says her father’s renown has helped the Divas score new business. But she has only recently gotten more comfortable with his fame. “I’ve been very stubborn about not letting him open doors for me,” Perlman explains. “I like to be judged on my own merits.”
Soon it’s time to head back out for another song – an Italian love song originally written for a man and a woman. “Ours is sung by two women for two women, thank you very much,” says Perlman, who was recently cast in her first professional role by Opera Providence. (She’ll play Clorinda, the wicked stepsister in La Cenerentola by Rossini.)
“Let me get a bunch of stuff in the oven before we go out and sing,” Perlman says, filling a pan with skewers of pink chicken. Greenberg plates up a dish of white bean crostini with mango salsa.
“OK, let’s go,” Greenberg prompts.
“With your bra showing? No,” Perlman replies, tucking in the strap as Greenberg fishes a pitch pipe from her pocket and blows. The two women head for the door, humming the note together as they go.