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Expert Takes the Mystery Out of Opera

January 21, 1987|ELLEN APPEL

"A Morning at the Opera" turned into a day to remember. Dr. David DiChiera, director of Opera Pacific, visited Bullock's Santa Ana last week and delivered an entertaining, opera-simplifying talk to the Crescendo chapter of the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

For the event, the department store's Tea Room restaurant became a theater, complete with singers, pianist and hand-painted Moulin Rouge backdrops--all wisely recycled from the center's "Founder's Night" fete staged last year. As DiChiera spoke, the Opera Pacific Overture Company illustrated his points with selections from the center's upcoming series: "Porgy and Bess," "West Side Story" and "La Boheme."

"His explanation made opera seem so simple," said Barbara Kneeshaw, the group's publicity chairman. "I think 85% of these women are in the same boat I am. They think opera is complicated and mysterious."

At the podium, DiChiera had emphasized three features of opera: Songs express a character's emotion; music suggests action or evokes a character, and duets reveal the feelings of two characters simultaneously.

'Learned a Lot'

"I loved the way he was able to capsulize the stories and explain the emotions of the characters," said Crescendo president Jan Martens. "I'll look at opera differently now." Lorraine Poliquin said: "I learned a lot because I didn't know anything!" She admitted her first opera experience had occurred that very same week when she saw "Carmen."

But other Crescendo members knew a great deal about opera. Many, in fact, helped in 1961 to found Laguna's Lyric Opera, the group that evolved into Opera Pacific.

And as Gloria Nord told several in attendance, "My grandfather was an opera star." No stranger to the arts herself, Nord also revealed that as an ice skater in the 1950s, she had given a command performance for Queen Elizabeth.

Over the years, the group has been host to a variety of speakers at its Celebrity Series. But each of the quarterly programs this year--from Aida Grey's opening night makeup tips to DiChiera's opera lecture--had related to the Arts Center.

Mingled With Performers

When the presentation ended, many members remained to sip wine or mingle with performers Kimberly Allman, Bob Lauder and Mitchell Hanlon. Still others, including Rose Smedegaard, Minette Parret, Jane Lodge (Gen. Curtis LeMay's daughter) and Celebrity Series originator Harriette Erickson, stayed on to sample the Tea Room's famous chicken salad and popover lunch, possibly for the last time. (After the store's remodeling efforts are completed, the Tea Room, which has played host to Crescendo programs for five years and Santa Ana society for nearly 30, will close forever.)

But a few surprises remained for the ladies who lunched. Dessert was birthday cake for Donna Bunce and Ruth Ann Segerstrom Moriarty.

Crescendo members were no match for the morning's opera singers, but they sang a tuneful "Happy Birthday." And when Moriarty was out of earshot, Joanne Sokolski--who selected the speakers for the 1986-87 Celebrity Speaker series--whispered that the surprises weren't over. Many of the group would reconvene Saturday night, she said, at Newport Beach's Magic Island, where Moriarty's daughter Jeannie was tossing a party for her mother.

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