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Opera Night Is a Bright Note After Quake

January 24, 1994|BRIDGET BYRNE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"It's so good to see what we in Britain call 'the blitz syndrome' present here," said Peter Hemmings, the Los Angeles Music Center Opera's general director, as he surveyed the party scene following the gala opening night of "El Gato Montes" at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Hemmings thanked the opera supporters who had come from their wrecked homes to the Music Center to enjoy the company's first Spanish-language opera and "to keep life going on."

About 350 guests turned out for the Wednesday performance and party. There were only 30 cancellations.

"I'm glad we decided to go ahead with this evening. We are not forgetting the tragedies so many have suffered, but we felt we needed this," said Ruth Shannon, co-chair with her husband, Ed, of the evening's fund-raiser. She surveyed the crowd, spirits lifted by the camaraderie of friends and the comforts of a pretty setting and good food.

In the Grand Hall, multicolored banners hung above the dinner tables, covered with bright cloths and adorned with flowers surrounding statues of bullfighters and flamenco dancers. The sangria and traditional paella dinner, created by Pavilion Catering's new chef, Thomas Tomkins, also featured tomato basil soup and caramel poached pears in puff pastry with rum raisin ice cream.

"El Gato Montes" co-star, Placido Domingo, feted for his 53rd birthday two days early, resisted the further temptation of a slice of the chocolate cake presented to him.

"A matador needs to be thin, and I am always fighting to be so," he said, perhaps recalling the tight suit of lights he wore onstage earlier as the heroic Rafael Ruiz, whose love for Solea, portrayed by lyric soprano Veronica Villarroel, proves fatal.

At every table stories were swapped about earthquake damage. But vitality and hope clearly weren't shattered as everyone enjoyed a night of song and friendship, which included entertainment by the Carla Luna Flamenco Dance Ensemble, accompanied by Benjamin Shearer's guitar.

Charlton and Lydia Heston, Tom and Patti Skouras, Dennis and Terry Stanfill, Fred Hayman and Betty Endo, Nancy and Tim Vreeland, Lalo and Donna Schifrin, Edward and Madeleine Landry (whose Northridge home has been severely damaged), and the Consul General of Spain, Victor Ibanez-Martin and his wife, Rosa, were among those cheered by what Hemmings termed "the necessity and willingness for self-help."

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