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A Grand Entrance for a Grande Dame of the Pasadena Symphony

February 15, 2000|PATT DIROLL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Having organized more charity balls than she can remember, Alyce de Roulet Williamson knows a thing or two about making an entrance. Over the years, she's dressed up as the Snow Queen, Peter Pan, Carmen Miranda, Cleopatra and Anne Boleyn, and in 1996, she donned tails to conduct the national anthem on the opening night of the Pasadena Symphony season.

But she'll never top her arrival at the Pasadena Symphony Ball 2000 on Saturday--on the back of 16-year-old Murphy, unflappable equine veteran of L.A. Opera productions. He wasn't quite the dashing steed she'd hoped for (she'd been advised that the gray Percheron she'd envisioned would never make it through the doors). So reliable old Murph got the glamour treatment, with a blanket of fresh white gardenias and non-skid hoof caps. As Art Deco's orchestra struck up "Mame," Williamson entered riding sidesaddle in a black Escada ball gown. She gingerly ducked chandeliers and gallantly blew kisses to the flabbergasted crowd.

After two turns around the ballroom, she dismounted and whispered to me with relief, "I love horses, but I think Murphy wants to get out of here . . . and I wanted to get off!"

Why the dramatic entrance?

Williamson was the evening's guest of honor, chosen for her longtime commitment to the symphony (she's served on the board since 1991 and has generated $50,000 a year in donations).

The idea came from event mastermind Jim Watterson, the former Robinsons-May exec, who chaired the gala attended by more than 600.

The long evening included a 20-minute musical biography of Williamson by entertainer Ina Lewis, and lavish praise from Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, symphony conductor Jorge Mester, Art Center College of Design President Richard Koshalek, artist Scott Medlock and the shortest, most eloquent tribute to her generosity, offered by Msgr. Clement Connolly: "Alyce is the prayer."

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It was bound to happen. The L.A. Opera folks will update Giuseppe Verdi's "Rigoletto" with a Hollywood twist. In their version, the Duke will be a lecherous studio boss. Gilda will be a starlet, and our boy Riggy, is a smarmy talent agent trying to save her from the casting couch.

Sort of "Day of the Locust: The Musical"?

And, we're told, the cast will sport duds by Armani.

Opera buffs heard all about it the other day from the new production's director, Bruce Beresford ("Driving Miss Daisy" and "Double Jeopardy"), at a cocktail party at the Armani boutique on Rodeo Drive.

Could the Tinseltown influence mar the opera classic? Will they mess with "Caro nome" or "La donna e mobile"? I doubt L.A. Opera executive director Peter Hemmings would allow that to happen. But we'll find out March 1, when it opens at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

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