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Gala Greeting of Pharoahs and Sphinxes

September 12, 2000|PATT DIROLL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Performing Arts Center Plaza was transformed into Egypt's Valley of the Kings and Queens for the gala opening of the L.A. Opera's spectacular production of Verdi's "Aida" last Wednesday. The evening also marked Placido Domingo's debut as artistic director of the company, and Ian White-Thomson's first official duty as executive director.

Carol Henry and Alyce Williamson, who co-chaired the black-tie evening, produced a setting almost as spectacular as the sets of ancient Memphis on the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage. Following multiple curtain calls for the stars, Deborah Voigt and Johan Botha, the more than 700 guests walked through a pyramid and onto a palm tree-lined red carpet leading to the outdoor ballroom. There, beneath the plaza fountain, Nile-blue lighting illuminated a beady-eyed mummy in an open sarcophagus. "Now that's what I call hospitality," muttered one startled first-nighter. "I feel like a dress extra in a Boris Karloff movie."

Golden statues of the pharaohs bathed in colored lights bordered the plaza, where dinner was served at tables decorated with miniature sphinxes and pyramids nestled in ginger and protea.

The glitzy glad rags on opening night are always as notable as the performance. Among the belles were Henry in Marion Clayden's gold and black velvet; Williamson in red silk Escada; Tara Colburn, in a white Cinderella gown; Leslie Dorman in deep blue with a bustle; Alisa Camberlin in a column of red sequins; Helma Bloomberg in strapless gold lace; Kathleen Wiltsey in pearl-encrusted gold; Kelly Day in black with a sheer midriff; and Patricia Kennedy in hot pink from head to toe.

The highlight of the evening is always the traditional entrance of the production's stars, this year introduced by Domingo, who also paid tribute to L.A. Opera's principal benefactors including its newest angel, Alberto Vilar, who underwrote the production of "Aida." Vilar has donated millions to opera houses and music festivals around the world.

Among the longtime L.A. Opera supporters were Leonard Green, Flora Thornton, Richard Colburn, Alice and Joe Coulombe, Em Green, Mary Hayley and Selim Zilkha, Eva and Marc Stern, Sally and John Thornton, Joan and John Hotchkis, Dorothy and Leonard Straus, Dorothy Forman, Lenore and Bernie Greenberg, and the Richard Seaver clan.

The Tinseltown contingent included Pat and Michael York, James Woods, Timothy Bottoms, Stephanie Zimbalist, Angela Bassett and Courtney B. Vance, Cyd Charisse and Tony Martin, Jacqueline Bisset, Rosemary and Bob Stack and Jolene and George Schlatter.

So how was "Aida"? The voices, costumes and sets were magnificent. The dancing, however, in the Triumphal Scene was about as exciting as a half-time program in the Coliseum sans card stunts. And where were the live animals, a tradition of this epic?

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Hilary Clark called to share details of the always-elegant black-tie party hosted by Childrens Chain of Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. Proceeds from the Sept. 23 event, held annually at a private home in Hancock Park, Pasadena or West Los Angeles, will fund the hospital's $3-million Cardiology Endowment of the Heart Institute. Janet Starnes is chairing the event, set for the beautiful Tudor home of Drs. Barbara Coyne and Jeffrey Handel in Beverly Hills.

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Patt Diroll can be reached at pattdiroll@earthlink.net.

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