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ANN CONWAY

A Meal With a View, That's the Ticket

December 22, 1988|ANN CONWAY

So many vistas, so little time.

Serious party hoppers this past weekend could choose between everything from suppers in private homes with breathtaking views to brunches in restaurants with breathtaking views. . . .

"We're at the tippy top of the north end!" said Cherry Spitaleri, surveying the glittering lights from her hilltop home in Laguna Beach on Sunday night.

Members of the Laguna Beach Opera League were grateful, thank you very much, for the "North Pole"-esque locale. With a party menu that offered individual beef Wellingtons and rum-loaded trifle, the trek up the manse's steep walkway was welcome exercise.

About 50 guests gathered at the sprawling Spitaleri home for "An Old-Fashioned English Christmas Party," a $75-per-person benefit that, along with crab-stuffed mushrooms and sesame chicken, featured harpist Kathy Kavanaugh strumming Christmas carols during the champagne hour. ("I drove the harp up," said Kathy to a guest who inquired how she had ever gotten that gorgeous instrument up the ladderlike driveway.)

Naturally, the buzz was about opera, something Cherry and Verne Spitaleri said was part of their childhoods. "I didn't know there was any other music until high school," said Cherry, elegant in a flowing skirt and silvery chemise. "That's the only music we had at home."

"My father courted my mother at the Met in New York," said Verne, dashing in black tie and obsidian cuff links. "In fact, the year dad died marked the 50th year he'd had a box there."

But the big buzz was about bringing opera back to Laguna Beach. "Since we gave birth to Opera Pacific, we've had an empty-nest syndrome," said Tom O'Keefe, league president. O'Keefe explained that the league was formerly Lyric Opera, a group that for years had staged operatic productions in the Laguna area. When the Orange County Performing Arts Center opened, Opera Pacific was established to produce opera there.

"And now, we plan to bring opera back here," O'Keefe said. "We'll use talent from Opera Pacific's overture company and retired voices. We want to produce the kind of grass-roots opera that Opera Pacific can't do."

In February, the league will stage "The Barber of Seville" at Laguna Beach High School, O'Keefe said. "It will be a low-price night out--opera that is not intimidating; $10 for the show and $25 for dinner. People are getting tired of high-priced benefits."

On the scene: David DiChiera, director of Opera Pacific; Norma Shepard; Gabrielle and Sam Bisgay; Helen Lawler; Phyllis Willats; Alan and Nancy Gordon; Martin Weil; Richard Owens, and Claudie and Maurice Tachet.

Brunch at the Rex: The straw potatoes (and the ocean view) are enough to keep you coming back to the annual American Red Cross Champagne Brunch at the seaside Rex restaurant in Newport Beach. They arrive at your table steaming hot and as light and skinny as their name implies. Throw in salmon eggs Benedict, fresh fruit and bubbly--all for $30--and you've got the benefit steal of the season.

"And it's all done by volunteers," said George Chitty, chief executive officer of the Orange County Chapter of the American Red Cross, at the Rex on Sunday. "The food is donated by purveyors and the staff--right down to the men who park your car--donate their time."

About 300 people made reservations for the brunch, which is expected to bring $8,000 to the chapter's Disaster Relief Services.

On the scene (a holiday vision with crisp white linens, pewter plates and centerpieces of anthurium in a deep burgundy shade): Susan and Rex Chandler, the restaurant's owner and namesake; Mary and Jim Roosevelt; Melinda and Tony Moiso; Richard Moriarty; Mary Lou and Scott Hornsby: Sandy and Dr. Gerald Brodie; Lon and Mary Ann Wells; Joe Perricone; Nora and Charles Hester, and Edna and Bill Blurock.

Roll over, Beethoven: How do you say "Happy Birthday, dear Ludwig, happy 218th birthday to you"? By dining on German food and listening to some Beethoven, of course. Pianist Wendy Prober and violinist Harry Cykman performed a haunting Romance and the Sonata No. 1 by the German composer at the hillside Santa Ana home of Skip and Joan Keyzers on Sunday.

The affair, which drew 100 guests, was sponsored by the Orange County Chamber Orchestra. Among the guests was Micah Levy, the orchestra's music director and conductor, who orchestrated a Beethoven trivia quiz (won by Bob Fritz). The orchestra performs Sundays at the St. Joseph Center in Orange and Mondays at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa.

Brunch at the Newporter Resort: On Saturday, the Newporter Resort held its annual brunch on behalf of the physically disabled children who participate in the Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp Program at Saddleback College. The camp is sponsored annually by the National Foundation of Wheelchair Tennis.

About 100 children and their guests enjoyed a visit by Santa in a ballroom-turned-Santa's workshop before digging into turkey with the trimmings. Hope Von Herzen was chairwoman. Among the guests: Judie Argyros (who donated $5,000 to the foundation on the spot); Nora and Charles Hester, and Wendy and Brad Parks, founder of the National Foundation of Wheelchair Tennis.

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