SAN DIEGO — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart himself would have had a fine old time at Friday's "An Irish Cabaret," the 1986 version of the San Diego Opera Assn.'s annual "Fanfare" gala.
The whole point of Fanfare is to bid adieu to the opera season just past, and this year, about 200 of the Opera's most loyal buddies gathered at the Sheraton Harbor Island East's Champagne Ballroom to wave a fond farewell to a record-breaking season which saw average performance attendance rise to 93%.
The announcement of that figure was cause for smiles all around, and at least a few guests looked ready to break into jigs. The Irish whiskey that flavored the after-dinner coffee only added to the cheerfulness.
If "An Irish Cabaret" seems a slightly unlikely name for a tribute to a musical genre in which the major compositions have names like "Don Giovanni" and "Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail," consider the party's proximity to St. Patrick's Day. Consider, too, that party chairman Kay Rippee's grandparents were named Cavanaugh. Rippee's daughter, Lynn Silva, assisted as co-chairman, and their husbands, Bill Rippee and Frank Silva, were present to cheer them on. Longtime San Diego journalist Eileen Dwyer Jackson (whose 80th birthday will be celebrated April 15) served as honorary chairman.
Naturally, this trio had something of a leprechaun touch, so that everything about the party was as green as the lakes of Killarney. The balloons that rose from the centerpieces were shamrock green, the carnations at their bases were tinged blue-green, many of the women wore Kelly green, and some of the guests turned green with envy when they saw how well a few of their fellow guests danced to--what else?--the Bill Green Orchestra.
Given the emerald complexion that spread over the party, it should be noted that Kay Rippee pulled something of a fast one. Party chairmen always like to stand out at their own affairs (and who can blame them?), and Rippee, knowing full well that most of the women would arrive in shamrock shades, wore white.
Mim Sally headed the dinner committee, which fed its guests well with a menu that avoided corned beef and cabbage in favor of Dublin Bay prawn soup, Irish salmon, tenderloin of beef in Irish whiskey sauce, and colcannon potatoes. Pastry swans filled with a minted (and therefore green) mousse, rounded out the repast.
Since this was an Irish cabaret, the entertainment unfolded nightclub-style. First up was a group, called not inappropriately the Irish Dancers, that jigged through such complicated, eye-engaging numbers as "The Reels of Ireland." Singer Deborah Aramendia-Shevlin followed with "An Irish Lullaby," and next came tenor Danny Leal, whose repertoire included "Harrigan" and, not surprisingly, "Oh, Danny Boy." A few of the guests--rather to their surprise--were recruited to the stage, so that Everett Gee Jackson found himself singing to Bob Thompson's piano accompaniment, while the audience hummed along.
Harriet and Bud Levi took charge of the host committee. They had just returned from a long sweep through New Zealand, Fiji and Australia, and they spent five nights in Sydney, of which three were consumed by excursions to that city's famous opera house.
While in Australia, the Levis caught up with San Diego Opera director Ian Campbell and his wife, Opera development director Ann Spira, who were making a pilgrimage to Campbell's homeland. They, too, attended "An Irish Cabaret," of which Campbell said, "In light of the current pessimism about the arts, it's great to see so many people turn out in support of an arts organization in this city. But," he added, with perhaps a touch of a twinkle in his eyes, "I wish it had been a party honoring Aussies, because I'm not Irish."
Opera President Bill Nelson and his wife, Lollie, headlined a guest list of core Opera supporters that included Barbara and Neil Kjos, Eleanor and Art Herzman, Lee and Peter Maturo, Sandra and Douglas Pay, Sally and John Thornton, Victor Vilaplana, Dorene and John Whitney, B.J. and Hal Williams, Trudy and Barney Meade, Rita and Josiah Neeper, and Audrey and John Morava, who won the evening's grand prize, a trip to London.
Also attending were Athena and Charles May, Marge and Jim Agnew, Janie and John Pendleton, Georgia Borthwick with Tom Fleming, Eleanor and Al Mikkelsen, Martha and George Gafford, Jane and Frank Rice, Vicki and Haley Rogers, Barbara and Al Denniston, Jerry and Tom Williamson, Connie Hedges, Justine Fenton, and Joan and Irwin Jacobs.
The Irish, as well as those who might like to be, certainly had their pick of parties over the weekend.
Several people made it to both "An Irish Cabaret" and to Saturday's "Emerald Evening," among them John Pentelei-Molnar. His credentials as an Irishman might seem a little shaky, since he was born and raised in Hungary, but his wife, Jane, is Irish, reason enough to put these twin tributes to the Emerald Isle on the weekend schedule.