R S V P / ORANGE COUNTY : Dialing the Aria Code for Seville : Opera Pacific boosters celebrate 'Carmen' opening with a bash set in 19th-Century Spain.

The cast of Opera Pacific's production of "Carmen," including the dangerous and feisty lady herself, joined 300 party-goers for Una Noche en Sevilla, the opera company's 10th season opening-night gala.

Jewel Court of South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, was transformed into Lillas Pastia's tavern from Act II of "Carmen" for the late-night dinner that took place Saturday after the opera at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Opera Pacific supporters paid $75 each to attend the party.

On the Streets of Seville

Party-goers found themselves transported into 19th-Century Spain thanks to glowing lanterns that were set up throughout Jewel Court and tables decorated with wine bottles, playing cards, ornate fans and roses.

As cast members made their way into the makeshift tavern following their performance, guests gave them standing ovations.

"Carmen is young and likes to play with dangerous things," said Graciela Araya, a Chilean mezzo-soprano who had traded in Carmen's Gypsy costume (she's alternating in the role with Irina Mishura) for a sophisticated black pantsuit. "She's too honest, and society has to punish a person who's too honest."

When not singing, Araya indulges in a quiet pastime:

"I like to read--especially books on physics," she says.

Opera supporters John Crean, who'd been invited onstage to play the mayor of Seville, and Barbara Venezia, who played the mayor's wife, showed up fresh from their debut. Their performance involved no singing--just a lot of waving to their subjects.

"We practiced every night for two weeks. This gives you a whole new appreciation for opera. Everyone works really hard," Venezia said. "Next time, though, we're going to sing."

Spanish Serenade

Throughout the evening, the New Renaissance Guitar Quartet entertained the crowd by strumming Spanish love songs. Anaheim Marriott created an "After the Opera" four-act dinner featuring Spanish cuisine: chilled tomato basil broth, sliced sirloin with bell peppers on a pastry shell, paella with saffron rice, and orange flan with chocolate shavings.

"Opening night of the opera season is a big night all over the world," said Gloria Gellman, event co-chairwoman and president of the Opera Pacific Guild Alliance, who attended with her husband Irv. "It's the traditional start of the social season."

Gellman, a former opera singer, has a long history with "Carmen." She has seen the opera at least 10 times. Her first voice teacher tried to groom her for the starring role.

"He saw my dark hair and tried to make me a mezzo soprano, but I turned out to be a lyric soprano," Gellman said.

Laila Conlin, gala co-chairwoman, was on hand to tout Opera Pacific's next big bash--the Spanish Serenade Opera Ball Nov. 18.

Others attending the gala were David DiChiera, general director of Opera Pacific; Mark Gibson, "Carmen" conductor; Gayle Widyolar, Opera Pacific board president, and her husband, David Scott; cast member Robin Follman of Coto de Caza and her parents, Robert and Carol Follman; Niles Gates, honorary chairman of Opera Pacific; Victor and Karen Hardin; Jerry and Petrina Friede; Tom and Karla Hammond; George and Arlene Cheng; Barbara and Bill Roberts; Elaine Redfield, and Ed and Floss Schumacher.

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