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Benjamin Epstein

Guests Revel at Elizabethan Feast

June 12, 1986|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN

Members and supporters of John Alexander's Pacific Chorale know how to use not only their voices but also their dulcimers, sackbuts--that's a medieval trombone--and, yes, even their noses.

Spring Revels II, a $100-per-plate celebration of Elizabethan ribaldry at the Westin South Coast Plaza on Sunday night, was without doubt one of the most raucous, unusual parties of the year.

When was the last time you saw Irvine Co. President Thomas H. Nielsen on his knees? Or heard a fool in a pig mask play Christmas carols in June through his nose?

The bounds of good taste were almost always within sight.

"This may start to rival the chili cook-off," noted Erich Vollmer, executive director of the Orange County Philharmonic Society, referring to the annual Balboa Bay Club chili competition.

The 200 revelers assembled in the hotel's foyer. Spotted nearby was Florence Henderson, but it turned out she was in town to sing with the other chorale (the Master Chorale of Orange County).

The pig-faced jester--musician Bob Johnston in a mask--led another animal, which he called "Ratty-Ratty," around on a leash. The little rodent looked real enough. Guests were relieved to find out it was mechanical.

A herald, Dennis Houser, announced each arriving lord and lady. Entertaining and mingling among them was Elizabeth's "court," composed entirely of past and present members of the 105-voice Pacific Chorale. The Corona-based ensemble "Andrea's Consort of Early Music" provided continuous ancient music.

The pageant, in fact, was as full of music as the fool's nose. Between courses, he blew it to the tune of "Jingle Bells"--his faltering high notes notwithstanding, an amazing feat. When the fool made his rounds of the tables, snorting and pressing tomatoes between his teeth, one diner finally cried: " Off with his nose!" Her plea was ignored.

Dinner was authentic, sort of.

Chorale member Betsy Moulton, a caterer, did the research for the feast, which was prepared by Westin chef Maurizio Binotto.

"I used a book from the Metropolitan Museum of Art--'To the King's Taste,' " Moulton explained. "Never mind that it was about Richard II, who lived 200 years before Elizabeth--things didn't change very rapidly in those days."

Chicken legs were served--"for people to throw at each other," she said, (they didn't)--and stuffed smallebriddes (game hens). Guests ate Brie tarte with their hands. Also on the table--"though the Queen would have considered it ground-up leftovers"--was "livering pate."

"We fudged a little to make the dinner palatable," Moulton admitted. "I found out cheesecakes, for instance, were in fashion. But we couldn't find elder flowers. . . . I told the chef fine, go ahead and make New York-style cheesecake."

Presentation was also important. "Cows eat twice so they get enough!" proclaimed Sir Robert Dudley (Beau Palmer), apropos of nothing, as he brought out a stuffed black swan on a platter. (It wasn't eaten.)

After dessert, Sir Robert announced that some of the guests needed forgiveness.

"On your knees!" he commanded Erich Vollmer, developer James Rodgers, UC Irvine Chancellor Jack Peltason--"truly swine," Irvine Co. director of community relations Mike Manahan--"he was out in the community, doing relations . . . and the public reaction was negative," Chorale supporter Martha Wetzel--"for her prudish ways," Chorale board chairman Mary Lyons' husband Phil--"his crimes as a building contractor make the sum of this trash look pure," Chorale member Shari Cole, and others.

"Such good company!" Cole said good-naturedly, joining her fellows on the floor.

In the end, the Queen (Meg Morrison, who also made most of the costumes) pardoned all for their sins against the crown.

Possibly unfamiliar with the honorees, Sir Robert introduced the Chorale's 1986 Keynote Award recipients as "Tony" and Marilyn Nielsen. (He also lauded the Orange "Coast" Philharmonic for its efforts.) Kneeling before the Queen, the Nielsens were pronounced Guild Master and Mistress.

Chorale director Alexander, relaxed and tanned, thanked "Tony" for being such a good sport, to huzzahs all around.

"The Irvine Co. not only supports us, but the company president and his wife appear at all of our concerts," Alexander said. "There is no greater gift you can give musicians than to come to their concerts."

According to Alexander, his Chorale will present its own three-concert season and appear on seven additional programs, at the Center. The Chorale will be one of three groups performing opening night, scheduled for Sept. 29.

The party, which raised $10,000, wasn't over.

"You came in here tonight. You sucked down legs of fowl. You gorged your fat faces on cake. Do you have no shame? Have you not heard of the sin of gluttony?" chided Master of Revels Dudley. "You'd sit there like lard, with your bellies stuffed. . . . It's time to work off all that food."

Then the guests, among them event chairman Anne Nutt, were all taught to dance the "brawle."

The 25th-annual Adoption Guild Doubles Tennis Tournament attracted nearly 1,300 participants this year, according to guild president Carlyn Steiner.

Fifty members and associate members of the guild gathered Monday at the Pacific Club in Newport Beach for a celebration lunch and to turn over proceeds of $70,000--which included investor L.D. Christiano's gift of $25,000 in honor of the event's 25 years--to Sister Bertile of Holy Family Services Counseling and Adoption.

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