L.A. Opera benefit raises nearly $1 million

Times Staff Writer

Score a slam-dunk for the lorgnette set: A benefit concert by legendary tenor Luciano Pavarotti at Staples Center made close to $1 million for Los Angeles Opera.

Attended by 10,000 opera buffs -- including members of the superstar's Tokyo fan club, a smattering of celebs, and 5-year-old twins who were attending their second Pavarotti concert -- the Tuesday night sellout marked what may be the final L.A performance by the 67-year-old singer.

Even razor-tongued comedian Don Rickles gushed. "Pavarotti's the greatest! Except I get tired with the ovations -- too much standing," he said.

Along with Michael Caine, Barbara Sinatra, Dustin Hoffman and Jackie Collins, Rickles was among the 500 guests enjoying the $750-per-ticket premium package: a dinner in the sports center's tony Arena Club, primo orchestra seating and a dessert reception with Pavarotti.

The party buzz: Concert costs were underwritten by a donor who wished to remain anonymous, but who everyone seemed to know was reclusive L.A. billionaire A. Jerrold Perenchio. (L.A. Opera wasn't talking.) Later, Pavarotti tipped off the crowd to the media magnate's involvement when, complimenting its sing-a-long ability, he invited attendees to "go backstage -- Mr. Perenchio has $100 for each of you." He also dedicated an aria to Perenchio's wife, Marge, calling her "the soul of the concert."

Seated for dinner with Caine and his wife, Shakira, Frank Sinatra's widow laughed as she recounted her favorite Pavarotti/Sinatra story. "Frank was opening at Radio City Music Hall and Pavarotti, who could barely speak English, called, wanting to see him perform. Afterward, Pavarotti said he wanted to go backstage," Sinatra said. "So Frank came out from his dressing room and Pavarotti dropped to his knees and kissed his ring! He asked Frank if there was anything he could do for him and Frank said he needed help with how to end a song. Pavarotti told him, 'Attsa easy! You just shudda uppa your mouth!' "

Dining nearby was comedian Dom DeLuise, who acknowledged that he has a cockatiel named after the tenor. "I love Pavarotti. He drives me nuts! The thrilling part about him is that, when he finishes a song, his eyes still retain the feeling of that song. That makes me weep," he said. Commented Collins: "Pavarotti's a legend. I always come out to see legends."

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