From the place that gave America everything from drive-ins to date shakes, now comes opera.
And pretty grand too, looking at Friday night’s gala opening of the third season of the Los Angeles Music Center Opera.
Even in a town where long-established means that one personally remembers the Sylmar quake, three years sets no records. But when the curtain went down after some four hours of “Les Contes d’Hoffmann,” and the very elaborate ensemble of 700-plus guests made their way through the tunnel to party in the Los Angeles County Mall, it was clear how far those three years had brought the new company.
For those who have spent time in the mall adjacent to the county courts, it may not seem a festive location. Wrong. The massive, lighted and multipeaked see-through tent that Regal Rents erected was as magical as a stage set--set off by the turquoise and black tables topped with Archimbaldo-style centerpieces of greenery and apples done up by Milo Bixby.
In many ways, it resembled Venice, the scene of the fourth act of the opera. The food, by Gai Klass, was billed as “Venetian,” and, in parts, was both tasty and traditional, like the artichoke buttons in extra virgin olive oil and the Tiremisu, the rich custardy dessert consumed in vast amounts by Venetians. The main course, however, was chicken with sun-dried tomatoes and a wild rice pancake (leading one to believe that a wrong turn was made at the airport and the chef wound up in Venice, Calif). The caterer was not to be blamed for the chill on the chicken, since tradition demands that the main course be held until the arrival of the stars and cast.
Placido Domingo, straight from his successful singing of the National Anthem at a Dodgers playoff game and on his way to do the same in Oakland on Saturday, was his usual personable, wonderful self. L.A. loves a star--and, with Domingo, they’ve got one.
Thrilled at the black-tie turnout, Domingo nonetheless pronounced, “I don’t care the way the people come to the opera, as long as the people come.”
He, his wife, Marta, and his mother, Pepita Embil Domingo, joined Roy and Lila Ash (he’s the new chairman of the LAMOC), along with Gary Pudney.
At nearby tables, an evening co-chair Peggy Parker, in a black Ruth Hunter creation, with Walter Graumann was joined by Joanne and Roger Kozberg and Ruth March and Henry Hutchinson. Doug Cramer with Ames Cushing dined with Shirlee Fonda and Craig Johnson along with Nick and Felisa Vanoff. (She loves opera.) LAMOC President Bernie and Lennie Greenberg had a table that included Betty Freeman escorted by new CalArts President Steven Lavine (and Lennie, the daughter of the late MCA exec Taft Schreiber, pointed out the plethora of movie industry types scattered around the tent).
Sid and Shirley Levine chatted with Norman and Sadie Lee, while Nancy and Tim Vreeland gave great detail of their recent trip to the real Venice. On the dance floor, Venice addicts Terry and Dennis Stanfill and, taking bows, the evening’s chair, Carol Henry (the night netted $450,000) and her husband, Warner. Dr. Hal and Rosalyn Millstone chatted with major opera benefactor Tara Colburn.
The speeches from Roy Ash and opera company director Peter Hemmings were, considering the hour, thankful and thankfully short.
Gaining strength for the culture part of the evening meant it was between-acts standing-room-only Champagne in The Founders, the private club for major givers to the Music Center. (It is so fancy that the mixed nuts have no peanuts.) And a chance, between sips, to check out how gala the dressing gets when it’s opening night.
“You can’t eat for three days,” was how Joan Hotchkis explained her blue Vicki Teal gown from Giorgio. Seated a deux were Hannah and Ed Carter, who attended opening night, but not the gala. Musicologist Michael Kaye headed past in black-tie and toting his libretto.
Katherine Domyan said that “the darling Bill Blass” had whipped up her gown in “just three days.” An enormous ruffle set off her shoulders, as did the ruffle on the similar-but-not-exactly-the-same Bill Blass worn by Lila Ash.
Yet another Bill Blass made its debut on Giney Milner, but it was shiny and slinky and shows that Giney’s years of walking and walking have paid off, since the result of any extended sedentary activity would be a forced banishment of the dress to the back of the closet. Milner, with her date John Chandler, hosted San Francisco’s Ann Miller with Dr. Fred Halser.
A longtime opera supporter and lover, Alice Coulombe, was wearing a beautiful antique Chinese coat--which, she said, she got for almost nothing at a sale in Altadena. (She and her husband, Joe, hosted two tables at the party, since her frugality is equaled by the Coulombes’ generosity to the Music Center.)
“This is my wedding dress,” announced Music Center president Esther Wachtell, in pink with beaded top. “No, no--my mother-of-the-groom dress.” Her ascension to the Music Center presidency meant a “demotion” for husband Tom, who had to leave his post as chairman of the opera, he said, to avoid “perceived conflicts of interest.” He’s still on the board.
San Diego’s Jeanne Lawrence, with society florist David Jones, was filling in for out-of-town Los Angeles County protocol chief Sandra Ausman.
The crowd at the gala had either given $1,175, for the gala and for top Patron Night seats throughout the season plus two other parties--or had contributed $2,700 each, for the Patron Night advantages, plus goodies like a dress rehearsal and a special preview of next season’s events.
Lloyd Rigler gave the following advice to one scribe: “Be sure you list the people with money so they’ll keep giving.”