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SOCIAL CLIMES

First hell, then heaven

September 21, 2003|Ann Conway | Times Staff Writer

"When you want to go to hell, Warner and Carol Henry can throw a real party!" Marc Stern quipped as he welcomed the lorgnette set to the gala launching Los Angeles Opera's season opener, Berlioz's "The Damnation of Faust."

From the "flames" licking the perimeter of the Music Center Plaza to the devil-red dyed sunflower centerpieces, this was the party from Hades. Well, almost. Hundreds of opera buffs dined under the stars at tables topped with shimmering, fire-colored cloths, washing down roasted lamb sirloin and spicy devil cake with estate wines from Laetitia Vineyard. "Truth is, I hope people feel like they're in heaven," said Carol Henry, who with her husband, Warner, chaired the gala.

Invited to sport black or red tie, some wore rouge from head to toe. "I feel devilish," said Cat Pollon as she floated to her seat at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in a cloud of crimson taffeta. "I made it myself."

Snubbing the dress code -- and the post-performance gala -- Jack Nicholson wore a dark dress suit, sky-blue tie and shades to the opening-night production. The actor, who brought Diane Keaton ("We made a movie together"), was invited to the Sept. 9 performance by Placido Domingo, general director of the opera company. Rushing out the door after the avant-garde staging by European artist Achim Freyer, Nicholson called the work "completely arresting and imaginative." Observed Domingo: "The great music of Berlioz is not done so often, and this production has no point of reference -- it's just pure Freyer."

Also among the guests: Anne Bogart, stage director for the original opera "Nicholas and Alexandra," which L.A. Opera opened at the pavilion on Sept. 14. "This 'Faust' and 'Nicholas and Alexandra' couldn't be more different in their approaches," said Bogart as she lounged on a gold dining chair. "Freyer's work is Expressionist, which is created by building pressure, then explosion. 'Nicholas and Alexandra' is Impressionist, a softer way of describing the human experience."

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