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PARTY LINES : HITTING THE HIGH NOTES FOR `TRAVIATA'S' SAKE.

Byline: Barbara De Witt

Parties on the social circuit are beginning to look like scenes from Marta Domingo's flashy production of Giuseppe Verdi's ``La Traviata'' at the Music Center.

All over town - including the L.A. Opera's opening night gala for ``La Traviata'' - ballrooms have been decorated lavishly with gold-leafed cupids and tall vases of flowers spilling over with sprays of orchids and roses, setting the stage for promenades of women in opulent red and pink gowns.

At the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Grand Hall was decorated like the formal French garden in the opera's opening scene, and ``La Traviata'' star Carol Vaness reigned over it with as much fashion savvy as she did on the stage.

To stand out among the colorful gowns of other cast members, the opera star wore a billowy white ball gown by costume designer Giovanni Agostinucci, but she went for Hollywood glam at the opening night gala. Sure, she could have picked something Italian by Armani, but the California State University, Northridge, grad went for Hollywood glam with a slinky white gown and dramatic white fox-trimmed stole by costume designer Nolan Miller.

As opera fans know, ``La Traviata'' was written by an Italian but takes place in France, so the party saluted both countries with Italian singers and a French menu. Thanks to event chairmen Mary Hayley and Selim K. Zilkha and the Restaurant Associates, we dined on foie gras, mushroom-and-chicken pates, veloute of celery root with smoked salmon, lamb with lavender honey sauce and a tours des douceur dessert (otherwise known as a chocolate cylinder filled with sponge cake and strawberries).

The event was underwritten by United Airlines and raised $200,000 for future opera productions.

It was another trip to Paris at the French Ball held at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel in Pasadena that raised $275,000 for the Pasadena Symphony.

Fete chairman Jim Watterson got us all in a Parisian party mood, beginning with trumpets heralding la grande promenade of musicians, magicians, mimes, dancers, harlequins and showgirls a la Folies-Bergere. Their dazzling costumes were designed by students at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, followed by a parade of fabulous gowns by French designer Christian Lacroix from the new Saks Fifth Avenue store in Pasadena.

After the divertissement, guests dined on salmon, prawns and caviar, danced to the music of the Art Deco Band and bid on a number of French luxuries, including a black poodle puppy that was auctioned off for $3,000.

Another excuse to wear red was the 11th annual Colleagues luncheon and fashion show at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills. Not only is the posh party always held near Valentine's Day, but Nancy Reagan - who has a passion for red - is the honorary chairwoman, so numerous guests followed suit.

Looking around the room, it was clearly a big day for Chanel and St. John knit suits, but former first lady Reagan confided to me that her stunning braid-trimmed suit was ``an old Valentino.''

Former first lady of California Gayle Wilson opted for pink, a color that we later saw often in Carolina Herrera's spring collection on the runway. The Venezuelan designer's fashions were young and fresh, with pedal pushers, crop tops and ball gowns that had pockets. Younger women loved them and commented they looked perfect for L.A.'s casual lifestyle, but some of the older society matrons were disappointed.

Among the fans was ``Down and Out in Beverly Hills'' director Paul Mazursky, who told me the show and the designer were great. But he was clearly more impressed with the attractive designer. As we finished our chicken entrees and devoured our ice cream-filled chocolate heart-shaped boxes, he commented, ``Carolina has a good figure, elegance and a sense of humor.''

All the food and fashion aside, author Sidney Sheldon, who received the Champion of the Children Award for his work with literacy and programs for the homeless, reminded us that the event was a fund-raiser for Children's Institute International. As he and his wife, Alexandra, accepted the award, he told us, ``The money the Colleagues raise (it was $220,000) is for the best cause in the world, which is abused children ... and there are 31 million reported cases of child abuse in the U.S.''

For those not familiar with the group, C.I.I. was founded in 1906 to help prevent child and drug abuse and works closely to protect at-risk infants, children and their families. The annual event is underwritten by Saks Fifth Avenue.

CAPTION(S):

5 Photos

Photo: (1) Honorary chairwoman Nancy Reagan shares a moment with fashion designer Carolina Herrera, who presented her spring collection at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

Andy Holzman/Daily News

(2--3) Above, Sheila Murphy Nelson of Reseda, left, and Amanda Payatt of Santa Barbara add ambience to the Pasadena Symphony's French Ball at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel. At left, schmoozing at the Colleagues luncheon are event co-chairwoman Betsy Bloomingdale, left, and former first lady of California Gayle Wilson.

Lee Salem

Andy Holzman/Daily News

(4) Opera diva Carol Vaness, left, does the party scene with opera icon Placido Domingo and his wife, ``La Traviata'' director Marta Domingo, at the Music Center.

(5) Donna and Ronald Slates of Studio City were among the many Valley guests who celebrated Valentine's Day at the L.A. Opera dinner-dance.

Lee Salem
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 21, 1999
Words:898
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