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Opera's Mood Extends Into a Setting Worthy of All the Finery

September 05, 1997|BILL HIGGINS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There were two czars--one real, the other metaphorical--at the Music Center when the L.A. Opera began its 12th season Wednesday night with Umberto Giordani's "Fedora." The symbolic taste of Russian royalty came from the opera's Romanov-era theme, which carried into the al fresco black-tie after-party.

The 820 guests exited the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion onto the plaza where they passed through black gates embossed with an imperial eagle and were seated at tables set with gold lame tablecloths, cobalt blue plates and football-size, faux Faberge egg centerpieces brimming with roses.

The idea, said co-chairwoman Jennifer Diener, was "to take people from the mood created by the opera and have a gala that keeps that feeling going. The party has to be theatrical. It's a night for people to get dressed up as much as they want, have fabulous entertainment and then go to a party in a setting that's worthy of the clothes they're wearing."

Accompanying the decor was a feast prepared by Piero Selvaggio with Restaurant Associates. The menu included red and yellow borscht, filet mignon and salmon skewers and, of course, caviar.

In this case it was 000 Beluga--the finest possible--but only a small portion. The gala was, after all, a fund-raiser. "If we serve too much caviar," joked co-chair Diane Keith, "the opera would be having a much shorter season."

After seeing "Fedora," a diminished season was not what the guests would want. Shirley MacLaine called the La Scala production "short, good and light." Priscilla Presley described it as "poetic, sad and tragic."

The evening's in-the-flesh czar, artistic advisor Placido Domingo, reigned from a table beside the dance floor. He stood for most of the evening as guests, who included general director Peter Hemmings, Nancy Livingston, Lenore and Bernie Greenberg, Frank Gehry, Alice Coulombe and Kelly Day, came to pay their respects.

"People like 'Fedora' because it's a thriller, a little like a police mystery," Domingo said. "I cannot say all the music is great, but the part of the tenor is very good."

Among others who heard Domingo sing the tenor role to soprano Maria Ewing were Mercedes and Sid Bass, Richard Seaver, Paul Miller, Mary Hayley and Selim Zilkha, John and Andrea Van de Kamp, Roy and Lila Ash, and Peter and Annette O'Malley.

All seemed elated by what John Lithgow called "a fabulous night of great Italian soap opera."

* OPERA REVIEW: Critic Mark Swed finds an odd timeliness in "Fedora." F1

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