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Period Fashion a High Note at Benefit for Opera Pacific

November 18, 1986|ELLEN APPEL

Watching one's step was imperative at the Disneyland Hotel Saturday night. Extravagant gowns were in such abundance at the Opera Pacific Ball that it often took fancy footwork to avoid tripping on a train or bumping into a bustle.

"We encouraged everyone to wear period gowns," said Gayle Anderson, co-chairman of the event, which raised nearly $100,000 for Opera Pacific. She admitted, however, that no particular period was specified. She figured hers recalled the 1800s, with its voluminous sleeves and crystal beading on velvet.

Kathryn Rhynerson chose red lace and a pre-Renaissance period for the look of a lady truly in waiting--she is expecting a baby in two weeks.

"My designer just had a field day. She said, 'You're going to have them rolling in the aisles, honey,' " declared Rhynerson, who was taking appropriate precautions for her condition. "I put my bustle up so I wouldn't trip on the train," she said.

Arriving in a white ball gown with abundant skirts, the event's historian, Darlene Drummond, said she had finally figured out the fashions of previous eras. "I concluded that when women went to the ball, their carriages were very big because you need so much space to put your dress in," she explained.

Mary Sabatasso didn't have that problem. She skipped the cumbersome frocks in favor of a slink of sequins, sliced through with just enough peekaboo net to strike a perfect (albeit precarious) balance between high fashion and modesty.

Co-chair Donna Bunce, who showed up in Jezebel-red satin, said she was pleased at the ball's growing popularity. She counted the number of underwriters, those who paid the ball's expenses, up from 13 to 58 this year, and the proceeds at nearly $100,000.

The underwriters celebrated the Opera Pacific Ball with a party beforehand and then joined the others for cocktails. In time, Elizabethan trumpeters sounded a fanfare and the ballroom doors opened. ("Make it sound as classy as possible," whispered one musician in black tights.)

With decorations chair Charles Paap choosing roses for the theme, guests were greeted with the flowers at every turn: painted roses on the curtains, rose-filled centerpieces, laser-projected roses on the walls and napkin rings with freeze-dried roses--destined to last eight years, Paap claimed.

Not even dinner escaped the rose theme. Butter rosettes dotted each table, with one waiter unfortunately delivering his tray at the exact moment that the Beverly Hills Cotillion dancers waltzed onto the floor. Rather than obstruct the view of those behind him, he knelt through the exhibition but said he hardly minded the experience. "I've been standing all day," he said.

The evening's entertainment also included performances by internationally renowned soprano Wilhelmenia Fernandez and bass/baritone Mic Bell, a member of the Fifth Dimension, who together with Fernandez sneak-previewed the Opera Pacific's season with selections from "Porgy and Bess."

"There is nothing in Orange County to compare with this event," bubbled Rose Smedegaard, last year's ball chairman. "I said (to the new chairmen), 'You'll have to do better,' and they did. They brought in new blood and Ruth Ding has been hammering at the old blood for money."

Ding, the event's underwriting chairman, remembered the ball's origins. "I said, 'All the cities that have operas have opera balls. In Vienna some of the people have to reserve a year ahead because the ball is so popular," she said.

Executive board members also helping to make Orange County's ball popular included Donna Bunce, Gayle Anderson, Dori deKruif, Ruby Lloyd, Gloria Gae Shick and Wanda Gwodziowski. Also among those heading up committees were Joanne Sokolsi, Michael Lawler, Kay Gertz, Helen Lyons, Peggy Cotton and Lenore Robinson.

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