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After 'Faust,' Opera Buffs Give Devil His Due

September 13, 1993|ANN CONWAY

When Laila Conlin said she was "firing things up" for the Opera Pacific Guild Alliance bash that followed the opening of "Faust" on Saturday night, pals didn't realize it would be right down to her opera gown.

But there she was, black velvet flames licking at her Diablo -red jacket, as she rubbed elbows with the hundreds of opera buffs who gathered at Noguchi Garden in Costa Mesa to toast the opening of Orange County's opera season.

Such are the lengths that Conlin--founder of the 1,100-member alliance that raises more than $500,000 annually for Opera Pacific--will go to drum up excitement for a season that will also feature productions "El Gato Montes" starring Placido Domingo, "The Merry Widow," "Lucia Di Lammermoor" and "Die Walkure."

"A lot of Orange County is finding they love opera, but we still need to draw more people in," said Conlin, who attended with her husband, Bill (who was resplendent in red tie and a crimson cape.)

A threesome of costumed demons bearing flaming torches led theatergoers from the Orange County Performing Arts Center to the surreal Noguchi Garden, where a meandering stream trimmed with red twinkle lights served as the River Styx. Food vendors dished up red-hot chicken wings, penne pasta and baron of beef. Strawberry margaritas were served up with dry ice. Hot jazz provided the musical backdrop.

The buzz? Mephistophelean-centered, of course. "The way this was staged, it really displayed the all-out effort by Mephistopheles to win the soul of Marguerite," said "Faust" conductor John DeMain, who is music director of the Houston Grand Opera. "His little helpers were everywhere. During the Crucifixion scene, those were devils on the crosses, the little creeps."

David DiChiera, Opera Pacific's general director, explained that, after Bizet's "Carmen," Gounod's "Faust" is the most popular French opera. "It is the opera that came in the middle of the 19th Century and set the tone for Grand Opera for the rest of the century," he said. "It's a story about good versus evil, the sacrifices people will make to achieve youth and sexuality.

"Mephistopheles sings a song about the Golden Calf, how everybody worships it. Today, it all boils down to the same thing. There will always be a struggle between good and evil in either religious or political terms."

L.A. Rams owner Georgia Frontiere, herself a soprano, loved the production. "Wonderful," she said. " 'Faust' is a favorite of mine. The arias are so beautiful. I've sung some of them."

Said Henry Segerstrom: "I loved the fact that it was all staged on one set--very effective." (Picture a huge round wood track that becomes everything from a demon's lair to a blooming prayer garden.)

"I've seen 'Faust' before, but I confess it was a very stodgy production compared to this one," said Dr. Walter Henry, who attended with his wife, Maria Carmen del Calvo.

"I love 'Faust,' " said Opera Pacific founder Floss Schumacher. "It has some of the most beautiful arias ever written. And I know them all from watching the New York Met auditions right here in Orange County."

The Conlins weren't the only opera buffs to theme-dress. Paris-born Jackie Meredith wore a red moire taffeta gown and devil's horns. "There's a little she-devil in me," she confessed, laughing. "It was wonderful having the opera sung in French because I speak the language," she said. "But I still had to watch the super-titles. When they sing, you sometimes miss a few words."

Also among guests: party co-chairwomen (with Laila Conlin) Gloria Gellman and Karla Hammond; Tom Hammond, president of the Opera Pacific board; Gayle Anderson, Orange County chief of protocol; Thomas Kendrick, center president; Judy Morr, center general manager; William Hall, director of the Master Chorale; Maurice Allard ("I am a real fan of Vincent Cole," who played Faust, he said); Mary Roosevelt; Michele Rohe; Elaine Redfield; Gail and Ron Soderling; Shari and Harry Esayian; Barbara and Ben Harris; Arlene and George Cheng and Roger Martin.

* REVIEW: Opera Pacific's "Faust" has chills and thrills. Reviewed by Daniel Cariaga. F1

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