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R S V P / ORANGE COUNTY : An Ooh-La-La Soiree for Opera Pacific

February 28, 1995|KATHRYN BOLD

Francophiles, those enamored with all things French, were in their element Saturday when the Opera League of Laguna Beach staged a "Soiree in Paris."

French food, opera music and style were celebrated at the black-tie dinner, which drew 150 to the Sutton Place Hotel (formerly Le Meridien) in Newport Beach. The $85-per- person French gala was expected to net about $30,000 for Opera Pacific.

We'll (Almost) Always Have Paris

To capture the romantic spirit of Gay Paree, organizers decked the ballroom with a Parisian flower cart, gas lamps, park benches, a kiosk plastered with French posters and a miniature Eiffel Tower.

"We're trying to keep this as French as possible," said Joan Simonoff, event co-chairwoman and league president.

The night began with guests bidding on paintings, trips, meals and other items at a silent auction. Attracting attention (but few takers) was the "Mile-High Adventure," billed as a "fantasy flight" aboard a twin-engine plane equipped with all of the romantic amenities for a moonlight rendezvous-- including a "cloud-like featherbed."

"You don't need a degree to figure what this is about," said Diane Kolodziejski, who bid $125 for the trip.

Later, at tables adorned with blue vases filled with long-stemmed irises, guests were served a French meal that included duck pate grilled chicken with fresh herbs, and marinated berries in Chambord with vanilla ice cream.

"In California, whenever you speak about France there's this sparkle of interest," said Beatrice Le Fraper Du Hellen, French consul for cultural affairs in Los Angeles and honorary chairwoman, sporting a chic black velvet dress with a silk green embroidered scarf. She offered this suggestion to Americans the next time they squabble with the French: "If you really want to punish us after one of our skirmishes, ignore us," she joked.

Diva Sings French Favorites

For this group of opera buffs, the highlight of the evening came after dinner when opera star Carol Neblett took the stage to sing selections from French operas.

The statuesque soprano, dressed in an emerald-green chiffon gown, proved that her powerful voice did not require any help from a microphone, which was soon banished from the stage. In between performing works by Ravel, Debussy and others, Neblett shared funny stories about her career. Before launching into a selection from "Carmen," she said:

"I have been kissed, thrown on the floor--well, all sorts of things by Placido Domingo. But I've neve been murdered by him. So now he thinks I should do 'Carmen.' "

Neblett is scheduled to star Opera Pacific performance of "Regina" in March, 1996.

The 100-member Opera League, the oldest support group of Opera Pacific, plans to honor different countries at future dinners.

"We're attempting to have an ethnic evening every year," said Samuel Bisgay, event co-chairman.

Among the guests were David DiChiera, executive director of Opera Pacific; Gloria Gellman, president of the Opera Pacific Guild Alliance, and her husband Irv; Gayle Widyolar; Gerald and Petrina Friede; Donald and Eugenia Thompson; Michelle Rohe; Richard and Jacquelin Meredith; Peter and Jackie Annand; Richard Owens; Bill and Laila Conlin; Richard and Joyce Norwood; Bill Roberts; Tom and Karla Hammond, and Gloria Green.

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