Gowns, glorious gowns--demurely embroidered, grandly glitzed, poufed and streamlined--were on view at the Disneyland Hotel on Saturday night when Opera Pacific staged its Oriental-themed gala, "An Evening in Cathay."
But wait. Two of those glorious gowns, slinky back silks by Leonard of Paris, looked suspiciously similar. A closer look by their wearers, Opera Pacific board chairwoman Floss Schumacher and gala underwriter Gerry Schroeder, revealed they were alike.
"When did you get yours?" Schroeder asked Schumacher, who had stopped dead in her tracks. "I've had mine since hmmmmmmmm!"
Schumacher began to giggle. " Awhile ," she admitted. "It was so perfectly Oriental I couldn't see going out and buying a new one."
"Perfectly Oriental" was the sartorial choice for most of the women who, after a cocktail reception in the foyer, swept into a ballroom filled with twinkling ficus trees, snow-white orchids and Chinese-red palace lanterns. Shirley McCoy looked super chic in a black suede ensemble inset with the embroidered fabric of a favorite kimono. Joanne Sokolski, ball co-chairwoman with Ruth Ding, wore an antique Oriental gown and carved cinnabar ear bobs. Milli Wieseneck wowed the crowd in last year's metallic ball gown with a this-year touch: The peacock blue sequins glittering at her neckline matched the pagoda-like headpiece designed for her by Gildas of Newport Beach.
Ruth Ding wore a black and gold beaded gown from New York sent to her by Nordstrom. "Nordstrom sent me the dress to wear when I posed for a cover on Newport 714 (a glossy society tabloid)," Ding said. "And when I saw it, I knew I had to buy it. It had a Mandarin collar, and it was roomy enough for me to actually eat in!" Ding's husband, Dr. Lock Gee Ding, wore a Chinese ensemble "suitable for a crown prince," he said.
Perhaps Mary and Tom Lee were the most perfectly Oriental of all. Both sported breathtakingly beautiful Chinese costumes purchased on a trip to Shanghai. Mary's satin number shimmered with multicolored silk embroidery and teal blue tassels. Tom's emperor's robe featured metallic Chinese dragons spitting gilt-drenched flames. Interestingly, the sleeves on their silhouettes were about as long as the gowns themselves. "Important people wore these," Mary explained. "Members of the luxury class who didn't have to work."
As guests feasted on one of the loveliest dinners to ever hit a gala (crisp "jade green" watercress salad with Mandarin orange sections, Cantonese dragon prawn bisque, broiled Mongolian filet of beef, "dragon's fire" baked Alaska and Jasmine tea), they were treated to a groaning board of entertainment selections.
First, a presentation of Imperial Dynasty costumes, detailed replicas of the ancient robes of China, shown through the courtesy of the Coordination Council for Northern American Affairs in Los Angeles. Then the performances of a "Chinese Classical Ribbon Dance" by the Los Angeles Chinese Folk Dancers, a "Feather Fan Dance" by the Irvine Chinese Performing Arts School and a "Peacock Dance" by the Hwa Yi Chinese Ethnic Dance Co. Highlighting the entertainment was a vocal solo by soprano Young-Ae Cho.
During the festivities, ultra-generous opera buff Ed McGrath was awarded the Niles Gates Leadership Award. "I love opera," McGrath had said during the cocktail reception. "The first job I ever had in New York City was being an usher at the New York Met." The equally generous Donna and John Crean, who were unable to attend, received Opera Pacific's prestigious Impresario Award.
The inspiration for the gala's Chinoiserie theme, Schumacher said, was the Puccini opera "Turandot," which will be presented by Opera Pacific at the Orange County Performing Arts Center beginning Feb. 16.
"It's a gorgeous opera," she said. "But the story is evil. In it, a woman gets the heads of all of these men who don't bow to her wishes and, well, let's just say its very dramatic." Opera Pacific will also present Verdi's "La Traviata" beginning on Jan. 13 and Mozart's "Don Giovanni" beginning on Feb. 21.
Faces in the crowd: Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom in a sapphire Scaasi (the Segerstroms' first date was a performance of "Madame Butterfly" when they were students at USC), Opera Pacific director David DiChiera, Susan Bartlett, Niles Gates, Maxine and Robert Gibson, Peggy and Les Cotton, Isabel and Jean-Paul Montupet, Carolyn and Charles Paap, Norman and Rose Smedegaard, Erich Vollmer, Michael Sokolski, Walter Schroeder, Ed Schumacher, Doug and Donna Bunce, Gayle and Robert Anderson, Herb Wieseneck and Laila and Bill Conlin.