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ANN CONWAY

Celebrating in Lap of Luxor-y

October 03, 1994|ANN CONWAY

Sporting tuxes and furs fresh from the vault, the opera crowd celebrated the opening of the season on Saturday when they swept into the IBM Plaza in Costa Mesa for a "Supper on the Nile" following the production of "Aida" at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

Hundreds of Opera Pacific supporters gathered under the stars to dine on "Nile Valley greens" and "Cairo pasta" at tables draped in black cloths and festooned with white orchids and gilded palm fronds. Even the black dining chairs had an Egyptian motif--their tall backs were fluted, like lotus blossoms.

Overhead, a gold and black image of King Tut smiled at the throng--who compared operatic notes and danced to the Clark Keen Orchestra.

(Minutes before guests arrived, Keen, who has played for "everybody from the Queen of England to Jimmy Stewart," he said, discussed with his band members which tunes he could theme toward the Nile-flavored event. "Let's do 'You Belong to Me,' " said one musician, singing, "See the Pyramids along the Nile . . . " They did.)

Guests included arts philanthropist Zee Allred (wearing mink over a pink Chanel), who returned recently from a trip to Egypt with the Orange County Protocol Foundation.

"We had lots of suppers on the Nile there," she said. " But we had to watch everything we ate and drank."

Opera buff Susie Meindl--Opera Pacific's Guild Alliance Tours chairwoman--spoke of her plan to take 14 guests to Egypt in November to watch an opening night performance of "Aida" at the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut in Luxor.

"We're even going to a black-tie gala with the president of Egypt that night," she said. "It is a dream come true for 'Aida' lovers."

Speaking of "Aida" lovers, arts activist Elaine Redfield, who has seen the Verdi masterpiece in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, pronounced the Costa Mesa version "the best ever."

Maggie Price, a self-proclaimed opera critic, "loved it," she said. "It was a very hung-together performance."

Anybody who thought there would be elephants or camels in the production came away disappointed. Not one beast marched across the stage at Segerstrom Hall.

"This production doesn't call for it," said Opera Pacific spokesman Tim Dunn. "We have loads of people on stage and incredible sets. Animals are rarely used on stage in opera these days."

("Animal-rights activists go nuts," confided one guest. "Not to mention how expensive it is to feed, transport, protect and train the animals.")

Making her "Supper on the Nile" entrance with her daughter, Sally, was Jeanette Segerstrom, who underwrote the production with a hefty donation made in the memory of her late husband, Hal Segerstrom Jr.

"All of that blood and thunder in 'Aida' tonight," Jeanette Segerstrom said, smiling. "All of that pageantry! Hal would have loved it."

Also among guests were gala co-chairwomen Karen Hardin and Marla Patterson; Gayle Widyolar (who is co-chairwoman of Opera Pacific's Impresario Circle with Segerstrom); David DiChiera, executive director of Opera Pacific; Gloria Gae Gellman, president of Opera Pacific's Guild Alliance; Eugenia and Don Thompson, who underwrote the performance's sur-titles; Connie and Karl Bergstrom, who underwrote the youth-night dress rehearsal for "Aida"; and voice teacher Maurice Allard.

*

St. Joseph Hospital benefit: The more than 600 guests at Saturday night's "Renaissance Ball" on behalf of St. Joseph Hospital in Orange got two desserts instead of one at the event held at the Anaheim Hilton & Towers.

First up: cappuccino mousse served with edible chocolate cup and spoon.

Second: songbird Melissa Manchester, who thrilled the black-tie crowd with mega-hits that included "Midnight Blue," "Theme from Ice Castles," "Whenever I Call You Friend," and "Come In from the Rain."

Gala guest Patty Mears, for one, was ecstatic. "The 'Theme from Ice Castles' is my favorite Manchester song," she said. "Whenever I think of that movie and that lovely blind girl twirling and twirling on her skates, I get motivated," she said.

Headliners who charge thousands of dollars for their performances have been the hallmark of the St. Joseph Hospital gala since it was founded in 1973. Bob Hope was the first to entertain guests. In the following years, Dionne Warwick, Tony Bennett, Davis Gaines, Pam Dawber and the Pointer Sisters have taken their turns on the benefit stage.

"We select the entertainer by committee," said Phil Schimmel, event chairman. "People love great entertainment and we want to give them what they want."

Net proceeds of $150,000 from the $300-per-person gala will go toward the renovation and expansion of the hospital's emergency room.

"We have a fund-raising goal of $5 million for the emergency room expansion," Schimmel said. "We reached the $4-million mark in June. Now, we're shooting for five."

Tickets were an easy sell for this year's event. And so was underwriting, Schimmel said. "I don't know if that means the economy is getting better or not. But I do know it was a great event last year (featuring Davis Gaines and Pam Dawber) and people couldn't wait to come back."

Serving on the committee were Robert Armen, Kitty Bellis, Tania Bridgeman, Patricia Buttress, Beth Collins, Deborah Dickson and George Holmes.

Other committee members were Amy Johnston, Donald Kiely, Melvyn Lieberman, Dennis Monge, Cindy Moore, Carol Richmond and Eugene Spiritus.

* CRITICAL COMMENT

"Aida" wasn't a good choice to open the season. F2

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