RSVP : Dinner Party Guests Sing Praises of Pavarotti : Party Guests Sing Praises of Pavarotti

With their hearts prominently displayed on their sleeves, 800 opera buffs--including a wide-eyed Ernest Borgnine--gathered on Monday night to honor Luciano Pavarotti following his sellout benefit concert for Opera Pacific at the Performing Arts Center.

At $500 per ticket, half of which was plunked into OP coffers, net proceeds were estimated at $175,000 to $200,000.

Arriving at the Red Lion Inn in Costa Mesa in a blur of black ties and glitter gowns, concertgoers oohed over an ice-sculpture bust of the earthy tenor before floating down twin escalators to sip Andre Brut champagne, queue up to six buffet stations and politely await the superstar. His name "will live in the minds of men for hundreds of years," gushed guest Ben Harris.

A raised dais set with white rose bouquets and sprinkled with silver dust, crystal baubles and beads was set up for Pavarotti, his entourage, and Opera Pacific dignitaries, including David DiChiera, general director, and board chairwoman Floss Schumacher.

As guests dined at tables laid with souvenir photos of the opera singer (for the autograph session to come) they rhapsodized about the legend to whom they had given five standing ovations.

"He is something out of this world," said Ernest Borgnine, attending with his wife Tova, actor Richard Thomas, and Ambrose and Florence Pasquini (owners of Cafe Pasquini at South Coast Plaza). "You can't really describe Luciano Pavarotti. He is beyond description, the essence of perfection."

Said Ambrose Pasquini: "He was good. But the people were good. Orange County gave Pavarotti one of his warmest receptions. And I've been to many of his concerts, including Europe."

Actor Richard Thomas, a close friend of Pavarotti's, thought the opera singer was "in beautiful voice. Very free. Very open. It was one of the finest concerts I've heard."

Janice Johnson, attending with her husband Roger, pronounced the hirsute Italian "sexy. When he sings Puccini, you have to fall in love with him."

"I was in bed for two years after a terrible automobile accident," recounted Nancy Hodson. "And if I hadn't had Pavarotti to listen to, I don't think I would be totally sane today."

Gen. William Lyon dubbed the concert the best he and his wife Willa Dean had heard. "Outstanding," he said, smiling. "We'd never seen him before. We were virgins."

Clothing designer Mr. Blackwell, attending with good friends Donna and John Crean, adored the concert, he said, then launched into a fashion statement for 1988. "We've got to get rid of what we had in 1987," he moaned. "The mini skirt's got to go."

A hush fell over the crowd when Pavarotti arrived about 11 p.m. Strolling merrily but wearily toward the ballroom, his stop-light red chemise draped with a multi-color scarf, Pavarotti was approached by a few guests who shoved their food-piled plates toward him. "Would he like a bite?" their eyes begged. "Ciao!" Pavarotti piped, nodding as he blithely plucked a grape from a plate.

When he strode into the ballroom, Murray Korda's Monseigneur strings struck up "Vesti la giubba" from Leoncavallo's "I Pagliacci."

Guests gulped. Flash bulbs popped. And a blushing Pavarotti received his sixth standing ovation.

Excepting a few sips of Cabernet Sauvignon, the superstar was faithful to his stringent diet, tossing down Schweppes soda with lime and picking at salad and antipasto during dinner.

After welcome speeches from DiChiera and Schumacher--who said she hadn't seen "so much love poured out since the opening of the Performing Arts Center"--Pavarotti stood to thank guests for the "opportunity to begin 1988 by making music in your beautiful theater ...

"With the applause you gave me tonight, it's hard for me to know what to say," he said. Also on the guest list: Nancy and James Baldwin and Pat and Dick Allen (co-chairs of Opera Pacific's Impresario Circle support group, party hosts), Henry and Renee Segerstrom, Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom, Michelle and Frederick Rohe, Ed Schumacher, Barbara Harris, Lillie Hinde, Joanne and Michael Sokolski, Judie and George Argyros, Diane and Harry Rinker, Dori DeKruif with her daughter, Lisa, Trish and John O' Donnell, Barbara Harris, Judy Morr and Thomas R. Kendrick, Elaine and Bill Redfield, Susan and Timothy Strader, Tom and Elizabeth Tierney, and Gus Owen with Kathryn Thompson.

On Sunday, members of Opera Pacific's prestigious Impresario Circle planned to host Pavarotti aboard a luxury yacht for brunch.

But gunmetal skies can play havoc with golden throats, so the superstar was forced to cancel.

Not to worry. A mega-blowup of the tenor's countenance kept Circle members (donors to Opera Pacific of $5,000 annually) company as they dined on crab in puff-pastry shells and motored along Newport Bay.

Always the fund-raisers, Circle members auctioned off the huge likeness, with member Lillie Hinde anteeing up the winning $310. "I got it for the opera shop," she said, giggling. "I figure we can loan it out to Italian restaurants and make some money!"

Then, it was off to the Red Lion Inn, where Pavarotti was lodging, for a reception with the tenor. Circle members presented him with the outfit he was to have worn aboard ship: a dashing captain's hat and chef's apron (there had been high hopes that Pavarotti would toss pasta).

"It's turned out to be a wonderful, all-day affair," said Floss Schumacher. "Pavarotti is so giving and gracious."

On board: Opera Pacific general director David DiChiera, Pat and Dick Allen, Jim and Nancy Baldwin, Zee Allred, George Weston, Arlene and Dr. George Cheng, Michelle and Frederick Rohe, Cherry and Vern Spitaleri, Jean and Robert Lucas, Laila and William Conlin, and Dotti and Glen Stillwell.

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