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A Summer Concert, Twilight or No Light

August 12, 1996|ANN CONWAY

The power outage that swept across the Western seaboard on Saturday had symphony lovers wondering if the show would go on at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.

The lights went out about the time supporters of the Pacific Symphony were preparing to attend a twilight picnic and the Mozart-in-the-Meadows concert.

"I knew the orchestra couldn't perform without lights," said symphony buff Mel Dultz, who was an hour late for the event. "And I knew its amplifying system was electric. We really didn't know if we were going to come."

When the power returned, "we decided to take a chance," said Dultz, owner of a Newport Beach travel agency. "We weren't sure if [the lights] were going to stay on."

Les and Peggy Cotton of Newport Beach didn't let the power failure stop them as they prepared to attend one of their favorite outings. "I had no problem getting ready," said Peggy Cotton, as she sipped champagne chilled in a silver bucket. "I can do anything in the dark. I was raised in a convent where they turned the lights off at 9 p.m."

Susan St.Clair--wife of Pacific Symphony maestro Carl St.Clair--arrived at the concert with a coif less stylish than she would have liked. "I couldn't blow-dry my hair!" she said, laughing. "So I thought, maybe when I get to the concert, I can use Carl's dressing room to get ready." (She did.)

Setting up the picnic tables was a challenge for event organizers, said orchestra spokeswoman Sharlene Strawbridge. With traffic lights out, commuters crawled along surface roads and freeways. "The catering truck was late," Strawbridge said. "But as you can see, we made it. Just in time."

Indeed. Twenty-six tables erected next to the stage were set with crisp white linens, gold-edged China and votive lights. Crystal champagne flutes gleamed at each place setting.

"We love these events," said Peggy Cotton about the orchestra's Summer Series. "Everything is here for you. You just waltz in and your champagne is cold and your dinner is served."

Luckily, chef Pascal Olhats of Newport Beach had prepared chilled fare for the concert/picnic, one of six such events staged by the orchestra each summer.

Up for tasting before the orchestra accompanied Xiang-Dong Kong in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 26: spinach salad with roasted peppers and goat cheese, rotisserie chicken and lemon tarts.

And champagne. "The champagne is important," Olhats said last week. "It makes every picnic the ultimate picnic."


Dining alfresco was also in store for supporters of the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton on Friday night.

Seated at tables overlooking the grounds of what was once a private estate, more than 100 guests dined on braised lamb and Chantilly cake before they watched the British comedy "Move Over, Mrs. Markham," in the center amphitheater.

Among guests was Harold Muckenthaler, who was raised at the Italian Renaissance-style estate by his parents, Walter and Adella Muckenthaler.

"It's wonderful to see so many people enjoying themselves here," said Harold, who, along with his mother, deeded the estate to the city of Fullerton in 1965.

The mansion, which was built in 1924, is used to stage art exhibits, children's art activities, lectures, films, workshops and theater performances.

Friday night's event was part of the center's annual Theater on the Green summer series. Guests can dine, picnic-style, before attending the opening-night performance.

"Sitting outside is delightful," said Shirley Muckenthaler, wife of Harold, as she sampled the first course, a lettuce salad with citrus vinaigrette. "I love the weather. The breeze is cool. But then, we always have a breeze in Fullerton."

Guests dressed in everything from casual cottons to cocktail attire. "Some of the men are wearing ties, some are not," Shirley noted. "I'm glad they are comfortable the way they are."

During the festivities, Harold reminisced about his childhood.

As a little boy and an only child, he found the 8 1/2-acre estate "large and a little lonesome," he said, "but I had friends in the neighborhood, so everything went along fine."

His favorite place to play was the basement, where a pool table was set up, he said. "You'd usually find me there."

And while Harold enjoyed Friday's fare, whipped up by Colette's Cakes and Catering, it would be tough to beat the barbecue dinners his dad once prepared.

"We'd barbecue out back," Harold said, smiling. "My father loved to barbecue, and he did a great job of it."

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