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David Nelson / Society

Slumber Party Was High Note for Opera

October 16, 1986|DAVID NELSON

SAN DIEGO — Leave it to Dorene Whitney to turn the opening night of "Tosca" into a 1986 version of "The Pajama Game."

It isn't that Whitney intended the Saturday gala that opened the San Diego Opera's current season to become a rather glamorous slumber party, but she did specifically instruct her 330 guests to bring along their jammies and toothbrushes. The result was a party (a party, to be sure!) that continued through the night on the august premises of the Westgate Hotel.

Whitney and her committee had 3 1/2 months to plan this giddy romp through the fund-raising stratosphere (tickets cost $500 per couple), a rather meager amount of time which nonetheless allowed them to come up with a whale of an idea. To give the barest-bones description of the program, it still is necessary to mention that the event began with an elaborate cocktail hour, broke for the performance of "Tosca," and returned to the Westgate for dinner, dancing, an overnight stay and a farewell Sunday brunch. Eighteen hours of revelry, in other words, with several hours allowed for well-deserved rest.

And such revelry! Since no one needed to drive home, the group stayed at the party quite a bit later than is customary in this town, giving the Steven Spencer Orchestra ample encouragement to get a little wild with its dance-music vocabulary. Thus, guests who were stepping out to "42nd Street" suddenly found themselves hopping unrestrainedly to "Dixie," which segued most astonishingly into a conga version of the same tune. The guests took to it like ducks to orange sauce, forming a conga line that snaked around the hotel's second-floor foyer.

To backtrack a bit, it should be mentioned that the event commenced in the Westgate lobby, a setting rarely employed for major gatherings, but an elegant milieu for the champagne and hors d'oeuvres prelude. The use of this area was feasible that night, however, because the entire hotel was given over to the party, from the garage to the penthouse suites. From this staging area, the guests were politely but firmly shooed at 6:30 p.m., so that they could meet an early curtain (devised to get the show on the road, as it were) that would enable them to return to the hotel for further merrymaking.

The plan worked quite well, with guests sitting down in the Versailles and Fontainebleau rooms at 10 p.m. for a dinner of beef filet in truffle sauce followed by a hazelnut souffle glace . (The Holding family, which owns the Westgate, participated quite fully in the evening, and not just by underwriting it. When the dinner service bogged down a bit, proprietress Anne Holding repaired to the kitchen, where she was observed transferring steaks from saute pans to plates. All this in a white gown, no less.) The rooms were decorated in an understated--but, by consensus, smashing--way that relied primarily upon graceful arrangements of exotic white blooms tucked into glass tubes of various dimensions.

As a final, glamorous grace note, the "Tosca" principals arrived at the party less than an hour after taking their final curtain calls. Chairman Whitney, who herself looked something of a diva in a Mae West-style gown of cascading crimson ruffles, led the stars one by one into the supper rooms, where each was received with a continuation of the applause that had echoed through the Civic Theatre. Soprano Marilyn Zschau made quite a hit, and later earned a second accolade when she careened around the dance floor with Dan Dudas. Another favorite was baritone George Fortune, who played the bad guy, Baron Scarpia, and complained most ingenuously that the audience had failed to cheer when the heroine jammed a knife between his ribs.

Opera director Ian Campbell remarked that the evening was "not only the most spectacular opening night the opera has ever had, but also, in terms of fund-raising, the most successful." The gala replaces the former Fanfare ball and will be held annually.

The guest list included opera board President Bill Nelson and his wife, Lollie; Lee and P.J. Maturo; "Tosca" stage director Sam Wanamaker; Harriett and Dick Levi; Fran and Ken Golden; Elsie and Frank Weston; John Whitney and daughters Kim, Kathy and Joan; Ellen and Roger Revelle; Rachel and Judson Grosvenor; Dale Whitt; Elizabeth and George Blackshaw; Barbara and Neil Kjos; Judy and Barry McComic; Janie and John Pendleton; Barbara and Al Denniston; Carol and Bob Tuggey, and Marjorie and Jim Toillion.

Also present were Emma Lee and Jack Powell, Sandra and Douglas Pay, Davilynn and Bill Furlow, Terrie and Paul Mershon, Jane and Frank Rice, B.J. and Hal Williams, Darlene and Jim Milligan, Kathy and Ned Buoymaster, Emmy and Ray Cote, Connie Hedges, Ingrid and Joe Hibben, Wanda and Fred Kaufman, and Shirley and David Rubel.

LA JOLLA--Never heard of the "high-heel" test? Well, don't feel bad, because this simple little exam isn't in the same league as the SATs.

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