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Ole! 'Carmen' Crowd Just Wants to Have Fun

After the Opera, Patrons Conga and Disco Their Way Back to 20th Century

September 10, 1998|BRIDGET BYRNE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There was the moon above, blood red orchids, Euro-trash disco music, smoke machines, a bevy of drag queens with mantillas in their wigs, disposable cameras as table favors. . . .

Que esta pasando?

The gala celebration after the Tuesday night performance--and the premiere production of the L.A. Opera's 13th season--of "Carmen," starring Jennifer Larmore and Placido Domingo.

Although some longtime patrons seemed a little startled stepping straight from applauding Georges Bizet's passionate 19th century tragedy into a 1970s party atmosphere--described as "Studio 'Seville' 54," most of the 1,000 who gathered on the Music Center Plaza seemed willing to buy into the fun.

Jude Green, gala chairwoman, who devised the disco theme, said the point was not to be snooty and elitist.

"This is what's important, to see Pasadena and the Westside and Hollywood meet, to all come out and have a bit of fun," she exclaimed as the drag queens finally arrived to strut their stuff after "getting a bit lost" on the way downtown.

"Not like the Studio 54 I remember," murmured movie art director Richard Sylbert, who knows something about creating great backdrops.

But never mind. The crowd seemed happy enough dancing to Mediterranean mood music, mingling across city zones and munching on the assorted tapas served as a first course.

"It looks like a scene out of 'Darling,' " noted an observer as a chain of revelers briefly executed some sort of Greek conga. However, he didn't ask John Schlesinger--director of that '60s movie about European high life--if he felt the same way.

Schlesinger, a longtime opera devotee, was one of several Hollywood faces present, along with John and Mary Lithgow, Candice Bergen and her mother, Frances, Olivia Newton-John, honorary chairwoman of the event, who brought her daughter Chloe, and Stephanie Zimbalist, who was escorted by Jim Morphesis.

Faithful patrons helping to raise $962,000 to benefit the L.A. Opera and its education and community programs included Leonard Green, CEO of the group's board of directors, energetically dancing with wife Jude to her favorite disco tunes, Martin Gross, Em Green, Tara Colburn, John and Bridget Martens, Ginny Mancini, Vidal and Ronnie Sassoon and Marcia Israel with James Curley.

Peter Hemmings, the L.A. Opera's general director, performed the emcee duties with his accustomed, to-the-point skill, welcoming the "Carmen" cast as it paraded into the party arena.

Domingo was accompanied by two grandsons, Dominic and Christian, and many other family members, including his wife, Marta. The free cameras brought out the fans in the crowd, and Domingo, as gracious as ever, posed for a lot of amateur snapshots as well as being heavily flashed by the pros.

An avid baseball fan who may sing the national anthem for the Yankees if the New York team makes it to the World Series, Domingo said, "I missed seeing Mark McGwire hit the record home run live, but when I came off stage after Act 1, I was told about it and able to see the replay." Joe Mantegna had been luckier. Before "slipping down the hill" to reach the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in time for Act 1, he managed to witness the broadcast of No. 62.

Why does he love "Carmen"?

"I'm Italian," the actor said, by way of explanation of his appreciation of a Spanish story, sung in French with English subtitles.

It was that sort of night.

* 'CARMEN' REVIEW

Jennifer Larmore sings title role as L.A. Opera begins its 13th season. Calendar Weekend Page 50

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