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Opera Opener Sets Tone for Social Season

Let women in other cities wear dresses out to there. On opening night of the Los Angeles Music Center Opera’s fourth season Wednesday, the formal wear was decidedly low key. Surfaces that sparkled were left at home; no, this didn’t look anything like the Academy Awards. Gowns were long, straight and even somewhat practical.

“Frankly, a slender dress fits into the seat better,” noted Joan Hotchkis, gala co-chair with Nancy Vreeland. Both women wore narrow columns--Vreeland’s designed by Bill Blass, Hotchkis’ from Stanley Platos. “It’s difficult to manipulate all that dress when you’re sitting,” echoed Giorgiana Montalban.

When the curtain went up for this new, modernized-by-a-century production of “Tosca,” it was clear that opera, and the benefit party that ushers in a new season, are already starting to feel like they’ve been around a while.

“I’ve been here many times,” said producer and former 20th Century Fox President Leonard Goldberg during an elbow-to-elbow intermission crush in the Founders Room of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, “and tonight you can sense the excitement in this room. This is really impressive,” he added before launching into yet another discourse about the opera with architect Tim Vreeland.

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“I mean, the torturers are so well dressed,” noted Goldberg.

“Yeah,” nodded Vreeland. “It’s a rather perverse idea.”

Alas, all evening long, dialogues continued on Giacomo Puccini’s melodrama of love and political repression--with various levels of connoisseurship. “You’re going to love the third act,” cracked one cogniscento. “It’s murder.” Some, like artist David Hockney, had seen “Tosca” performed all over the world. “I even saw one in Mexico City once,” he said.

But for others, the opera was an awakening. Barbara Davis, whose husband, Marvin, has now joined the ranks of restaurateurs with his new Carnegie Deli, enthused: “I just sat there and thought, this is the most inspiring, beautiful opera I’ve ever seen, and being able to read the screen I could feel everything Tosca was feeling.”

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After the ovations, some 750 supporters paying $600 apiece trekked over a red carpet across the street to the Los Angeles County Mall for dancing and dining, trattoria style. With both the performance and dinner underwritten by Merrill Lynch, proceeds from the party are expected to be in the neighborhood of $300,000.

Taking a cue from the opera’s Roman setting, the mall was rather miraculously transformed into an Italian piazza complete with outdoor cafe lights strung from end to end. “We even have the fountain,” pointed out Joan Hotchkis. No, not the Trevi--this particular fountain belongs to Los Angeles, although no one could recall its name. “It’s probably called ‘Supervisor Edelman’s fountain.’ I don’t know,” shrugged Hotchkis.

“Tosca” star Maria Ewing, dressed diva-like in silver sequined gown and rhinestone-studded shoes, made a late entrance to the party with her 7-year-old daughter, Rebecca Hall, as did stars Justino Diaz, Neil Shicoff and conductor Placido Domingo with his wife, Marta.

Domingo, having arrived from a performance at the Salzburg festival in Austria, and scheduled to open in “Aida” at the Metropolitan Sept. 25, seemed no worse for the wear. “People only write when you fly. They don’t write when you rest,” he maintained.

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Seated at nearby tables were the glamorous Tara Colburn, a major opera donor; Gordon Getty (also in town for a Getty Museum meeting, he said); Swifty Lazar, who said he will be heading off to the New York opening of “Aida” as Domingo’s guest; Georgia Frontiere; Michael and Laurie Milken; Betsy Bloomingdale and Martin Manulis; Music Center Opera general director Peter Hemmings; Sir John Tooley, former head of the Royal Opera of Covent Garden; Lenore and Bernard Greenberg (she’s president of the Museum of Contemporary Art, he’s president of the opera); Merrill Lynch’s Stephen and Enid Koffler; Giorgiana and Ricardo Montalban; Fred Hayman; Peter and Annette O’Malley; Gordon and Judi Davidson, and Gerald and Robin Parsky.

At one point, producer Doug Cramer took a look around the mall and surmised that if the opening night of the opera hasn’t yet become the official start of the fall social season, “it’s getting there.” “If we go as fast as we’ve gone,” he added, “in two more years it’ll be the most impossible ticket in town to get.” He may just be right.


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