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ANN CONWAY

Full Measure of Offerings for a Diva

February 02, 1989|ANN CONWAY

It was a G'Day Sunday when Opera Pacific welcomed Aussies Dame Joan Sutherland and her dashing husband, Richard Bonynge, to Orange County.

"It's terribly like Sydney," said Bonynge, drinking in a sun-dappled Newport Bay from a locale most countians only dream of: the emerald knoll that fronts the bay-front Harbor Island manse of Martha and Dr. Hansel Benvenuti.

Such is life for members of the Impresario Circle--opera buffs who each donate $5,000 annually to Opera Pacific.

Last year, after a yacht glide-cum-brunch on the bay, they got to hobnob with Luciano Pavarotti in his posh hotel suite.

This year, it was food on land with the diva and her husband for guests such as Renee Segerstrom (impeccably turned out in a floral Yves Saint Laurent suit and lapis lazuli baubles)--hubby Henry could not attend--and OP board chairwoman Floss Schumacher.

After a champagne reception that included favorites plinked on a baby grand (and the chance to ogle the Benvenutis' Baccarat and Lalique collection), guests swept into the dining room for brunch. The artful array of breads, fruits, eggs in puff pastry and potatoes tossed with caramelized onions was worthy of a still life. Dessert? A tangerine souffle poked with white chocolate curls and crystallized tangerine zest.

Sutherland, attired in a frilly silk, dined al fresco beside Glenn and Dottie Stillwell, co-chairwoman with Jean Lucas of Impresario Circle.

Of "Norma," the opera in which she will make her Orange County debut in the title role Feb. 11 at the Performing Arts Center, Sutherland said: "It's a difficult role, but one I love doing. I think I've sung more performances of it than any other singer in this century. It's rather like a comfortable pair of old shoes."

Also on the social agenda for Impresario Circle: a black-tie reception with Sutherland and her conductor husband at the Center Club after their premiere performance.

Faces in the brunch crowd: Ed Schumacher; David Di Chiera; Jeanette and Harold Segerstrom; Frederick and Michelle Rohe (chic in a navy Chanel coatdress); Walter Henry with artist Maria del Carmen Calvo; John and Kathleen Rhynerson; Jolene and Richard Engel, and Jean Cronin Whitney.

(Note for opera buffs who want to meet the diva: She will attend an autograph session Feb. 12 at 2 p.m. at the Rizzoli bookstore in South Coast Plaza.)

Teed off: "That little white ball took precedence," said singer Diahann Carroll, pretending to pout on Friday night at her post-performance bash at the Four Seasons hotel.

Carroll, looking frankly sensual in see-through midnight lace, was talking to about 60 guests gathered to celebrate her and husband Vic Damone's show at the Performing Arts Center.

Damone, she explained, couldn't attend the supper party hosted by boutique wizard Amen Wardy because he'd "made the cut" that day at the AT&T golf tourney in Pebble Beach.

And he had a plane to catch back to golf country before John Wayne Airport closed at 10:45 p.m.

No problem. Carroll, a bouncy charmer, made enough music for both of them. "Your Center is so wonderful!" she gushed. "Whoever designed it should create them all over the country!"

And besides, Damone had made it up to Wardy in the show. He'd talked about the super salesman almost as much as he'd talked about Irving Berlin.

"Isn't she beautiful?" Damone asked theatergoers as Carroll appeared in a frosted lace gown. "Diahann buys her clothes at Amen Wardy. She takes me shopping there and we spend soooooo much money!"

And, later, after Carroll again stunned the audience in yet another bespangled Bob Mackie: "Amen Wardy. I wish I'd never met him!"

Spicing up supper were other members of the starry set who'd bused down from the Hills of Beverly: Jackie Collins (yup, Joan's sis, who said they were late for the gig because their bus had to make a "Stolichnaya stop"), in siren red and Hollywood smiles; zany Allan Carr, producer of this year's Academy Awards ("You're going to see more stars than ever," he promised. "Everybody from Alice Fay to River Phoenix!"); Hollywood Reporter columnist George Christy, rakish in a jaunty hat and white silk stole ("Everybody keeps asking me if I'm Truman Capote," he said. "Don't they know he's dead?") and clothing designer Nolan Miller ("Dynasty") who had this advice for women who want to look simply fabulous: "Don't try quite so hard. You'll look like you dressed for Halloween."

Also among the guests: Susan and Tim Strader, who had just attended the Commerce Bank bash across the hall; Lillian Fluor; Willa Dean and William Lyon; Maria Crutcher; Alex and Barbara Bowie, and Kit and Stephen Toth.

An Olympic affair: "Let's just say it's been an experience, " said a weary Bruce McLean of the chairmanship he shared with his wife, Deborah, for Friday night's "Golden Gala" on behalf of the American Diabetes Assn. "Something you're not sure you want to have more than once."

McLean was kidding. Really, he said, he volunteered to chair the affair, held at Le Meridien, because it was "needed."

"I think I've twisted the arm of every friend I've got."

It paid off. Friday's party drew more than 200 guests and a netted more than $40,000. Johnny Grant was emcee. Jose Feliciano entertained. And a bevy of 1988 Olympic medalists from Orange County were honored at the event. Among them: Janet Evans, Gregg Barton, Brett Barberie, Jimmy Kim, Doug Kimbell, Norman Bellingham and James Bergeson.

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