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Valentine's Day Has Party-Goers Getting to the Heart of the Matter

February 16, 1989|ANN CONWAY

Cupid, you're such a cutie. Nothing like a few well-placed arrows to get the party scene crammed with candlelight suppers and women decked out to halt heartbeats. . . .

It all began Saturday night with the gala opening of Opera Pacific's "Norma," starring Dame Joan Sutherland, one of the most heartbreakingly romantic operas ever to hit the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

Before the show, more than 200 members of Opera Pacific's Guild Alliance swept into a sold-out gourmet supper at Ambrosia restaurant, just a heartbeat away from the Center, to dine on a Druid-theme feast. (Norma, you see, was a Druid priestess who had the rotten luck to fall hopelessly, madly, gaga in love with a confused cad.)

On the menu: English country salad with hearts (what else?) of palm, prime ribs of beef, La Scala baked potato and a candy-box array of chocolates.

Presiding were co-chairwomen Carole Follman, in a poufy black dress aglow with glitter, and Nancy Sorosky, seductive in swirls of red on black satin.

David DiChiera, general director of Opera Pacific, acknowledged feeling "just a little bit nervous" about opening night. "In opera, there are so many things going on; it's almost like trying to balance a mathematics equation," he said.

But he didn't seem at all concerned about the diva's Orange County debut. "Dame Joan Sutherland is probably the great bel canto artist of the century. I don't think there is anybody who has had such an illustrious, significant career who is alive today."

Other sartorial showstoppers: Regina McGrath, whose regal opera gown was inlaid with zillions of black and gold sparklers (and whose crown of braids was dotted with gold beads); Gayle Dvorak, a walking valentine in a dress smothered with flirty red spangles; and Helen Reinsch, who kept her ankle-length chinchilla coat draped over the back of her wing-back chair. ("I'm not letting it out of my sight," she said, adding that the breathtaker was a surprise from husband Harry. "He's so good to me!")

Also in the crowd: Ed and Floss Schumacher, chairwoman of the OP board; Erich Vollmer, executive director of the Orange County Philharmonic Society, and gala committee chairwomen Laila Conlin (guild president), Susan Beechner, Wanda Gwozdziowski, Ruby Lloyd, Louise Prell, Connie Quarre and Jean Whitney.

Bleeding hearts: Across town that night, former New York Yankees manager Billy Martin was swinging on the dance floor with his wife, Jill, at a party keyed to the Valentine's Day Massacre rather than to lace-edged valentines.

The highlight of "Godfather VIII," this year's blast (fake guns were all over the place) at the Balboa Bay Club, came when Martin, a BBC resident, transferred his "Godfather" status to Santa Margarita Co. VIP Tony Moiso, who was attending with his moll Melinda.

Jill eschewed hearts and flowers for the mob, choosing to spin around the dance floor in a backless black leather sheath and a veiled cocktail hat the size of a caviar tin.

Billy (who kept trilling "Vooooolare! Ohhhhhh! Oh!") was the life of the party, which featured such candlelight fare as veal Marengo, tutti-frutti and Florentine cookies.

"Men just love this party," said Ileane Doolin, there with her husband Nick. "They're such little boys!"

Puttin' on the Ritz: It was two days until their first anniversary, but Lois and former astronaut Buzz Aldrin were beaming like newlyweds when they strolled into the Ritz restaurant in Newport Beach on Sunday for the Ritz Brothers' (a tribe of Ritz regulars) Valentine's Day dinner.

Their secret for a successful first year? "Love!" Lois said.

"Love?" Buzz said. "That's not very original."

"Well, I just love you!" Lois said, smiling.

Buzz said he needed a minute to think about it. "You know how I like to come up with thoughtful quotes," he said with a wink. Eyes glued to the floor, he pondered the question for a few seconds, then looked up and said: "The secret to a good first year is mellow glitter. Yes, mel-low glit-ter."

At the Ritz, red tapers lit up the faces of guests such as Mary and James Roosevelt; Dori and Jack deKruif; Marilyn and Dick Hausman; Charlene and Hans Prager; Diane and Jim Slemons; June and Bob Wian (he founded Bob's Big Boy), Ron Soderling with Gail Showalter, Noddie and Bill Weltner, and Norman and Candy Suits, who said she had already gotten her valentine: "Today! A new red Jaguar!"

Date with an Angel: Ask an angel how to celebrate one of the year's most romantic days and she'll tell you: "Take a trip to Venice!" Or so it seemed on Monday when members of the Angels of the Arts, the all-female support group of the Orange County Performing Arts Center, and their spouses floated into the Four Seasons Hotel to celebrate Valentine's Day with fare prepared by chefs from the Hotel Cipriani in Venice.

In town to cook up a storm all week at the hotel's Pavilion restaurant, the chefs--including some from Italy's Splendido and Villa San Michele hotels--performed their culinary premiere for the Angels.

And such a performance. Out of the kitchen: scampi salad, eggplant tortellini, veal rosette with baby artichokes, puree of potatoes with white truffles--all served with Santa Sofia Valpolicello Classico (1985), of course.

Overseeing it all: Natale Rusconi, the suave managing director of Hotel Cipriani in Venice, the Hotel Villa San Michele in Florence and the Hotel Splendido in Portofino; and Peter Hinzmann, manager of the Pavilion restaurant.

Among those on the guest list: Judy and David Threshie; Pat and Dick Allen; Kit and Stephen Toth; Susan and Timothy Strader; Dotti and Glenn Stillwell, and Ygal and Sheila Prell Sonenshine.

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