A crowd of 250 people gathered Saturday night at the Sainte Claire Hotel to honor and say farewell to Irene Dalis, who is retiring as general director of Opera San Jose, the company she founded and kept on sure footing for three decades.

Everyone there wanted to give their best to Miss Dalis -- as everyone still calls her -- and that included former company singers Chris Bengochea, Dan Montez, Eilana Lappalainen and Doug Nagel, who served as master of ceremonies for the evening. Mary Elizabeth Enmann, who was one of Opera San Jose's first artists in residence, opened the festivities by singing an appropriate number from "Phantom," "This Place is Mine."

Among the others paying tribute to Dalis were San Jose State Director of Opera Theater Layna Chianakas, as well as board members Laurie Warner, Frank Fiscalini and Jeanne McCann (who also served as event chair).

The tribute dinner immediately followed the eighth annual Irene Dalis Vocal Competition, held at the nearby California Theater. Nagel, Montez and Lappalainen served as judges for the contest, which had 10 finalists vying for $50,000 in prize money. The $15,000 first prize went to soprano Cecilia Violetta López, a member of Opera San Jose's resident ensemble who also won the $5,000 audience favorite award. Runners-up were tenor Robert Watson and mezzo-soprano Nicole Birkland.


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SPOTLIGHT ON SOCIAL JUSTICE: A high-powered panel assembled by the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art will on Wednesday explore the issue of social justice and where it currently stands in American society. The event was inspired by the ICA's current exhibition, "Wendy Maruyama: Executive Order 9066: The Tag Project," which tackles the injustice when Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps during World War II.

The panel, moderated by Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone, will include U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren; Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen; Maha Elgenaidi, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Islamic Network Group; and playwright Luis Valdez. They're expected to touch on issues of immigration reform, privacy and racial profiling -- while asking just how far we've come since World War II.

The 7 p.m. panel at San Jose Stage, 490 S. First St., will be preceded by a 6 p.m. wine reception at the ICA Gallery about a block away. Tickets are $20 for nonmembers, with discounts for members and students, and can be purchased online at www.sjica.org or by calling 408-283-8155.

"The Tag Project" will be on display at the ICA through May 24.

Contact Sal Pizarro at spizarro@mercurynews.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/spizarro.