At 8:28 p.m., the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion's Founders Room, with its soaring coffered ceiling, walls of Australian black bean tree wood and gold drapes of silk, is eerily quiet. L.A. Opera staffers stand stoically by the doorway, hands folded, awaiting intermission of tonight's program, "Dido & Aeneas" and "Bluebeard's Castle."
At exactly 8:30, the doors swing open, letting in uproarious applause from the auditorium. A crowd in dark suits and fitted cocktail dresses streams in.
The guests are high-level patrons, which under the current donor package means they have paid or pledged at least $100,000 to the Music Center or its resident companies for the privilege of using the lounge. It's a place to relax before shows and during intermission; tonight many of them dine on blackened mahi mahi, mushroom-stuffed chicken and Caesar salad from Patina. Others recline on couches and armchairs, picking at cookies and mixed nuts, with drinks from the bar in hand, or they chitchat over silver trays of tea. The scene is more Downton Abbey than downtown L.A.
Architect Welton Becket designed the Music Center's three buildings, working closely with Tony Duquette on the interiors. Legend has it, however, that Dorothy Chandler requested her personal designer, Leonard Stanley, steer the look of the Founders Room, according to the Music Center — it was, after all, her personal entertaining oasis amid the buzz and glitz of the pavilion.
Over the years, most of the furniture has been replaced and fabrics freshened. But Chandler's original palette of emerald green and burgundy remains the same. A French tapestry from the 18th century, depicting an equestrian scene, looms over the bar. Two 18th century Chinese red-lacquered chests and an 18th century Venetian secretary also adorn the room. Chandler's towering portrait, an oil painting by William F. Draper, hangs in the center, above an always-fresh bouquet of flowers.
Two of the glittering, Venetian glass chandeliers are actually film set props from the 1938 MGM musical "The Great Waltz." Duquette procured them from an auction. A third chandelier was custom made to match. "One was hand-cut in Austria, the others made by artisans on a Hollywood back lot," said Music Center Chief Operating Officer Howard Sherman on a recent visit. "And you can't tell which is which!"
The Founders Room has hosted Grace Kelly and Emperor Hirohito of Japan. In 1983, Chandler entertained Queen Elizabeth II here. As they entered the reception, legend has it that Chandler turned to the queen and said: "Welcome to my palace."
Just before 9 this night, the lights blink for a second, signaling that intermission is almost over, prompting a chorus of glass-clinking and chair-screeching as guests finish their snacks. Then they file out and the room is once again still, Chandler's pleased face smiling down on the room.