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A Night at the Opera Pacific Society Gala

June 29, 1993|KATHRYN BOLD

With a stunning hilltop estate as the setting and a cast of characters in lavish turn-of-the-century costumes, the Opera Pacific Society of Founders' gala lived up to its billing as "A Night of Nights."

About 300 guests, under orders to leave their black-tie attire at home, attended the dinner at the Lemon Heights mansion of Ellie Cortese, widow of Leisure World founder Ross Cortese. The $125-per-person gala raised about $63,000 for Opera Pacific.

Opulent Digs

"Each year we've always found an outstanding property to hold outdoor parties," said Ellie Faber, gala co-chairwoman.

Guests were driven by shuttle up the estate's winding driveway and through elaborate wrought-iron gates embellished with gold leaf. Many were awed by the 2.5-acre property with its 360-degree view and a pool, spa and fountains surrounding a towering 12-foot statue of Venus.

During the champagne reception, they were free to wander through the 12,000-square-foot residence, from the marbled grand entry with its stained-glass dome to the massive master bedroom.

"I could live in the closet," joked one guest.

Many ogled the home's museum-quality artifacts, including lush Oriental rugs, Straus crystal chandelier, a crucifix from Rome and a black onyx Buddha.

"This is a set not to be believed," said Ann McLean, event chairwoman. "The kitchen is more beautiful than most people's living rooms."

Old World Ambience

Organizers borrowed the "Night of Nights" theme from the libretto of the operetta "The Merry Widow," which Opera Pacific will perform at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in January.

"The opera is like this--there's a sense of glamour. It takes place at the turn of the century in Paris," said David DiChiera, director of Opera Pacific.

In keeping with the theme, many guests wore vintage costumes, a few of the men in top hats and long coats and the women in Parisian cancan dresses or beaded sheaths, feathered hats and boas.

"This was my Easter hat 40 years ago," said Bobbie Polley, who wore a peach-colored chapeau covered in feathers.

Nora Jorgensen-Johnson, wearing a black beaded sheath and wielding a flaming red boa, wore a Mae West-style hat trimmed in ostrich feathers.

"I found it in the thrift shop where I work as a volunteer," she said.

Dinner on the Courts

Following a champagne reception and informal modeling of fashions from Chanel that took place on the home's wraparound terrace, guests adjourned to the tennis courts, where they were served dinner at tables draped in black and white and decorated with fuchsia flowers.

The fare, provided by Turnip Rose, included salad Nicoise, peppercorn filet, chicken Marsala and white chocolate cheesecake with raspberry coulis.

After dinner, guests were entertained by cancan dancers. Vignettes from "The Merry Widow" were presented by members of the Opera Pacific's Overture Company.

"I took voice lessons from age 16 to 22," said Diane Osgood, event co-chairwoman. "I know what it takes to get those sounds."

The evening was held in honor of Robert and Maxine Gibson, who organized the Society of Founders to raise money for the opera company in 1985. They will be stepping down as chairmen, with Mary Raymond taking their place.

"This has been part of our lives for eight years, but we feel good about turning it over to Mary. It's in good hands," said Maxine Gibson.

Among the guests were: Joseph and Theresa Baia, Linda Cassuto, Robert and LaDorna Eichenberg, James and Velma Emmi, Eugene and Meredith Gratz, Faust Grijalva, Jerry and Maralou Harrington, Michael and Ann Howard, Russell and Ann Margaret Pange, Lauren Perotti, Arthur and Barbara Powell, Maggie Price, George and Anne Schopick, Walter and Geraldine Schroeder, Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom, Anwar Shah, Ralph and Georgene Smith, Nancy Sorosky, Gayle Widyolar and Phyllis Willats.

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