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Applause for Opera's Major Donors

May 14, 1987|DAVID NELSON

RANCHO SANTA FE — After savoring a sip of California Chardonnay, composer Gian Carlo Menotti mentioned that, after dinner, he just might discuss the ghosts--a host of ghosts who, he insisted, share his home in Scotland.

But something (perhaps the warm hills that roll gently away from the terrace of the Maurice and Charmaine Kaplan home, where Menotti was guest of honor Friday) apparently exorcised any thought of spirits from the composer's consciousness, because when the meal concluded, he discussed opera instead.

The topic seemed more appropriate, as Menotti is one of the most prolific opera composers of the century, and because he was speaking to an assemblage that included many of the San Diego Opera's most generous donors.

In town for the opera's production, at the Old Globe Theatre, of his two chamber operas, "The Medium" and "The Telephone," Menotti further carbonated an evening that was arranged as a sparkling entertainment for those benefactors who contributed $10,000 or more during the 1986-87 season.

Just 40 guests were present--several major donors were out of town--and those 40 were treated to music, a lavish, candlelit dinner, and kudos from the composer and from opera director Ian Campbell.

Perhaps because the meal was to be served on the terrace at the moment the sun slipped below the horizon, the dinner was accompanied by music from Mozart's otherworldly "The Magic Flute." (And yes, some guests hummed along.) Pensive movements accompanied the duck gallettes and salmon en croute , but the stately overture was chosen as an introduction to the berry tart. This caused Estelle Herman, whose husband, Ed, provided major underwriting for the opera's recent presentation of "Porgy and Bess," to remark: "This must be music for pastry."

After the meal, Menotti applauded the guests for their generosity. "I think composers should be heard but not seen, but I must say that I wish my board of directors (at the festivals he runs in Spoleto, Italy, and elsewhere) were so glamorous as you," he said. "You should be proud to give your money to the opera. I don't think enough people realize how important it is."

Of course, no one present had any difficulty agreeing with the composer, most notably Campbell, who reported that the San Diego Opera is in good health and has averaged 93% attendance in its last two seasons.

Among the Kaplans' other guests were Francis Menotti, who is acting in his father's "The Medium"; opera President Bill Nelson and his wife, Lollie; President-elect Esther Burnham, escorted by Jack Lasher; philanthropist Muriel Gluck; Molly Sheppard with Chris McKellar; Sally and John Thornton; Lee and Frank Goldberg; Marian and Ralph Staver; Dallas socialite Marion Bateson, a new opera benefactor; Harriet and Dick Levi; Ingrid and Joe Hibben; Elizabeth Hannah with the Parker Foundation's Kenneth Rearwin; Sandy Shand and John Phillips.

LA JOLLA--The Kaplan dinner was in some respects the nightcap of a San Diego Opera double header, because, on Wednesday, the organization sponsored "The Rolls-Royce of Garage Sales" as an underwriting party for the October gala that will open the 1987-88 season.

Organized by gala chairman Dorene Whitney as a relatively painless way of extracting underwriting from prospective gala patrons, the sale and auction took place in the Symbolic Motors showrooms, which had been largely emptied of Rolls-Royces and Ferraris for the evening. (The displaced autos, parked in a classy row outside the showroom, nearly caused a traffic jam on La Jolla Boulevard as passing motorists paused to gawk.)

A fair portion of the crowd of 400 showed up early, just to stand outside the windows and appraise the variety of merchandise being arranged for sale and auction. The star item, not surprisingly, was the 1948 Rolls-Royce Sedanca de Ville, which netted the auction a $1,000 profit (out of its $36,000 sale price); a Puccini love letter fetched $1,500, and a calypso party, to be catered by the membership of the La Jolla Opera Guild, brought $3,750. All told, the evening's proceeds added up to a handsome $40,000.

Besides such extravagant items as the Rolls-Royce and a variety of trips, there were those imbued with whimsy, such as a box, autographed by George Burns, of El Producto cigars; a napkin signed by Beverly Sills, Dame Joan Sutherland, and others; a massive crystal chandelier, and a somewhat less massive but nonetheless large Lindy's cheesecake, to be delivered from New York upon demand.

The guests took so joyfully to the sales that the scene at times seemed reminiscent of a department store on the day after Christmas. They also gave enthusiastic patronage to the pasta and roast beef buffets, and proved thirstier than the bar caterer evidently had anticipated; John Whitney had to slip out to a nearby convenience store for an armload of plastic cups.

Dorene Whitney said the auction will provide substantial underwriting for the Oct. 10 gala, which will be given the night of the season-opening performance of "Rigoletto." Dorene Whitney has planned a reprise of the high-toned slumber party she gave last year; gala patrons will attend parties at the Westgate Hotel before and after the performance, and will spend the night at the hotel. The event will end with a champagne brunch the next morning.

The auction committee included Sandra Brokaw, Ann Campbell, Ruth Carpenter, Serena Silva, Carol Tuggey, Lee Maturo, Lael Kovtun, Joy Furby, Traudl Stangl, Lilo Miller and Nancy Hafner.

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