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David Nelson / Society

The Opera Season Opens With Performance On and Off Stage

October 15, 1987|DAVID NELSON

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Opera inaugurated its 1987-88 season Saturday with an engaging double bill that entertained some of its supporters right through to the following morning.

The program opened at the Civic Theatre with an engrossing performance of Verdi's "Rigoletto," and continued across the street with "Weekend at the Westgate," a giddy bedroom farce in three acts scripted and directed by Dorene Whitney.

The evening was one of those modern productions that demanded audience participation, not especially of the crowd at the Civic Theatre, but very much of the 300 or so who stayed on to attend the second half of the bill at the Westgate Hotel. These roles required several wardrobe changes, as well as the ability to stay up very late without yawning indiscreetly or showing other unseemly signs of fatigue.

Given as a reprise of the very successful gala held last year, and billed simply as "The Season Opening Night Celebration," the Westgate romp offered patrons (who paid a handsome $675 per couple for their fun) 18 hours of festivities, adventure and rest. By offering an evening that began with pre-theater champagne and continued with a midnight supper, dancing past 2 a.m., a deluxe bedroom and a lazy Sunday brunch, the Opera added a tidy $100,000 to its coffers.

Gala chairman Whitney, who repeated the role she played in 1986, said that her chief desire in staging the event was to establish an Opera tradition. Crafting a tradition meant investing the party with a certain grandeur, a Whitney specialty that was helped along by such serendipitous details as the fact that the date coincided with the 174th anniversary of composer Verdi's birth. (At the end of the meal, candle-laden cakes were carved and served to the strains of "Happy Birthday," a particular thrill for those guests who never had felt any special closeness with a composer of note. Or notes, for that matter.)

'Biggest Artistic Pajama Party'

Opera director Ian Campbell took an entirely pleased view of the proceedings, which helped his company to remain one of the relatively few local performing arts groups to operate in the black.

"This sleep-over is the biggest artistic pajama party in San Diego," Campbell said, smiling broadly and adding: "These are the people you've always wanted to see in pajamas."

Of course, the guests didn't wear their jammies during the festivities, although a future party planner might consider the option as a rather breezy way of launching a truly different tradition. And a survey of potential sleep accouterments brought along by the guests failed to turn up a single teddy bear; in fact, when asked what special necessities they had brought for their overnight stay, most husbands (the wiser ones, anyway) responded, "My wife."

In any case, sleep was but a reward for a long evening of entertainment both sybaritic and tragic. Since dinner would not commence until nearly 11 p.m., Whitney arranged for heavy hors d'oeuvres during the pre-performance reception. (Given the "Rigoletto" story line, which is just about as tragic as opera gets, the evening followed the plot rather nicely by beginning mirthfully, reaching a dramatic climax at the end of the performance, and then continuing with a celebration that nicely banished the opera's heavier themes.)

The moment of return to the hotel was marked by an almost Graustarkian gesture: Guests found the grand staircase flanked from bottom to top by servers bearing trays of champagne, and ascended as liveried trumpeters blasted out the grand march from "Aida."

More Fanfares

Both the Versailles ballroom and the Fontainebleau dining room were used for the gala, and it took little enough time for the guests to settle in at the pampas grass-centered tables for a dinner of pasta alla putanesca (literally "harlot's pasta," a cold dish of tortellini with olives and a spicy tomato sauce), roast veal and the special Verdi cake.

Early in the meal, further trumpet fanfares announced the arrival of "Rigoletto" principals, who showed not the least reluctance to tuck into the meal. Among these were title performer John Rawnsley, soprano Hei-Kyung Hong and tenor Diego D'Auria. (Baritone Jeffrey Wells, a Baton Rouge native who sang the role of the assassin, Sparafucile, mentioned that he had been a Creole chef before he took to the stage; earlier in the day, he cooked up a batch of red beans and rice for himself and his wife, Jo Ellen, as a snack.)

Among those who trundled their toothbrushes to the Westgate were Barbara and Neil Kjos, John Whitney, Opera President Esther Burnham, Lee and P.J. Maturo, Patricia and Bob Lijewski, Renee and Bill Jenkins, Pat and Hugh Carter, Lee and Frank Goldberg, Eleanor and Art Herzman, Athena and Charles May, Lollie and Bill Nelson, Wanda and Fred Kaufman, Sandra and Doug Pay, Vicki and Haley Rogers, Carol and Bob Tuggey, Kay and Bill Rippee, Georgette and Jack McGregor, and Kay and Donald Stone.

LA JOLLA--It had to happen sooner or later.

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