A Tradition Begins With Opera League

Times Staff Writer

Since World War II, more than 20 opera companies have failed in Los Angeles. If social courtesies are a cure, the Music Center Opera League will turn that statistic around.

At the Beverly Wilshire over cocktails in the Burgundy Room and dinner in the Champagne Room, the league launched "The Tradition Begins," its inaugural season subscription campaign. That campaign calls for a series of grass-roots parties to widen opera's horizons beyond the traditional Music Center social circles. Before March 24, 17 buffet receptions, cocktail parties, desserts, teas and a few dinners will have been held.

Said John Howlett, director of public affairs: "We need a strong base of support to begin the new tradition of opera at the Music Center. We're plowing new territory. We're trying to make this opera Los Angeles' opera."

League president Lorraine Saunders and her husband Joe joined with Peter Hemmings, the executive director of Los Angeles Music Center Opera, for the Beverly Wilshire affair. Opera board president Tom Wachtell was there. Edward Carter, who is chairman, had a conflicting engagement.

A key guest was Mrs. William Forman, who has just given the opera association $1 million to provide financial stability for the new efforts. Peter Hemmings and the association board will honor her again Sunday at the Hemmings' new residence in Pasadena.

'An Inspiration'

Originally, according to Howlett, Dorothy Forman wished to have her gift (through the Forman Family Fund) remain anonymous, "but we convinced her it would be an inspiration to others." She "has been involved with opera for years and has worked quietly behind the scenes."

Bass baritone Rodney Gilfry, just returned from the Hamburg Opera where he sang in "Marriage of Figaro," entertained the other evening. He also will appear in the Los Angeles Music Center Opera's inaugural season opening Oct. 7 with "Otello."

Meanwhile, the numerous parties will seek to gather charter opera subscriptions, ranging from $55-$275 for the season, which includes "Salome," "Madama Butterfly" and "Otello" at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and "Alcina" and "Porgy and Bess" at the Wiltern Theater. A major goal--gala subscriptions of $1,000. The latter are guaranteed top seats and post-performance parties.

Muriel Feinstein of Beverly Hills and John Spear of Cerritos have already entertained. Tuesday, Mr. and Mrs. Warner Henry hosted a cocktail buffet at their home in Hancock Park. Friday, Dr. and Mrs. Frank Thompson and the Saunders entertain at a "light supper" at the Thompson residence in Pasadena.

Saturday, the Don Franzens of Westwood host cocktails, Arthur Heinemann and George Schleder of West Hollywood plan cocktails, and both the J. D. Weisses of Woodland Hills and the James Miscolls host dinners.

Sunday, Milah Wermer invites friends for tea, the Boyd Hights of Santa Monica friends for cocktails. Later parties are planned by the Michael Bunkins of Thousand Oaks, Ruth Belzer of Encino, the William Birds of Flintridge, Shirley Berk of Malibu, the Joseph Coulombes of San Marino and the David Ingalls of Santa Monica.

In all, about 700 are invited. The idea is that many will, in turn, invite others to buy opera subscriptions--or to give.

KUDOS: Architect Charles Luckman has been elected chairman of the national board of trustees of the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge (President Reagan served as a trustee 16 years). . . .

Shirley C. Burden has been named chairman of the trustees of Art Center College of Design, according to new president David R. Brown. . . .

St. Mary's Hospital Guild presented a check for $130,625 to St. Mary Medical Center's administrator Sister Mary Lucille Desmond. Outgoing president Pat Hines did the honors at the Virginia Country Club in Long Beach. . . .

The Inner Circle, the Los Angeles Children's Museum premiere support group, kicked off the year with an installation luncheon and a check for $30,000 for museum director Jack Armstrong. Susan Antebi is accepting a second term as president. Carole Bayer Sager was guest speaker, talking on the importance of taking chances in life. She and husband Burt Bacharach recently adopted a baby, Christopher. . . .

A tuneful time was had by all when Westridge School Glee Club friends and alumnae gathered to honor Howard S. Swan, choral conductor, lecturer and writer and the school's Glee Club director between 1938-1968. . . .

Friends of Vieilles Maisons Francaises held its annual meeting at Bullocks Wilshire and then celebrated the opening of the Genny Boutique with a champagne luncheon and reception hosted by Jerome Nemiro of Bullocks Wilshire. Mrs. Christian Frere conducted the meeting. Last year the luncheon netted more than $3,000 for restoration of the central staircase at Chateau Lafox in France. . . .

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