"I can't find a cloakroom," lamented Shirley Verrett in a plaintively pretty soprano. James McCracken, facing the same problem, took another approach, waving his red-lined coat like a bullfighter and adapting his tenor voice to the baritone "Toreador Song."
They were at a California garden party with several hundred other guests who had paid $300 or more each for last night's gala at the Kennedy Center, and apparently California garden parties do not have cloakrooms, even when they are held in November at the Shoreham in Washington. What they do have is white wrought-iron lawn furniture, green-and-white checked tablecloths and lots of green-and-white balloons, four hero sandwiches six feet long, a choice buffet that includes smoked salmon, and an array of pastries to break a weight-watcher's heart.
"All the food was flown in from Los Angeles," said Patrick Terrail, host of the party, proprietor of Ma Maison restaurant in Los Angeles and heir apparent to the Tour d'Argent in Paris. "I did it all myself, brought in the furniture from the pool and arranged the flowers. There's a lot of love in every flower arrangement in this room."
Terrail is a nephew of George and Nora London, who were the beneficiaries of last night's gala, and his contribution put the crowning touch on the evening -- after a concert for a full house in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, and dinner at the home of Roger Stevens or William McCormick Blair Jr. for those who had bought $1,000 tickets. "When the idea of this evening came up," said Terrail, "they asked me, 'Can you do anything?' and I said, 'Yes, I'll cater the party.' It wouldn't really be complete without something like this." He looked proudly across the room at the brightly colored tables, some protected from the Shoreham's ceiling by parasols decorated with the name of Perrier.
In one corner, an incredible array of soprano talent was sitting at a single table: Shirley Verrett, Tatiana Troyanos, Carol Neblett and Beverly Sills, who was the hostess at the concert. At the other end of the room, Gerson Nordlinger of the National Symphony Orchestra's board of directors was nibbling pastries at a small table with Alice Tully, the only woman at the party to have a hall at Lincoln Center named after her -- perhaps the only person, since Avery Fisher was unable to attend. In the middle of the room Joan Sutherland was playing with a green balloon, letting it float upward and making a little leap, as though she hoped it would carry her away, but smiling with resignation when it didn't.
"If they ever make a musical about the life of Spencer Tracy, you should sing the title role," a fan was telling McCracken, a Tracy look-alike who smiled at the thought. "I don't know who we could get for Katharine Hepburn," the fan continued. "I'll work on that," McCracken said.
A piano sat quietly in the corner, minding its own business. There had been singing from 8:30 till midnight, and an accordion playing mostly French popular tunes supplied all the music anyone needed at that point.
As the party approached its climax, Patrick Hayes tapped on a glass with a piece of silverware, stood on a chair and began offering toasts: "To the artists of the day, to Bill Blair, to Christine Hunter, Roger Stevens and George London . . . " Stevens smiled quietly; Blair, a co-chairman of the gala, had already departed, and London, still seriously ill, was unable to attend. Hunter, co-chair with Blair, was there, surrounded by a knot of friends who applauded when Hayes mentioned her name, radiant with the success of the evening. "We sold all but 20 seats in the concert hall and came close to grossing $300,000," she said. "It was a lot of work picking the day, juggling schedules and getting it all together, but finally it just began to flow. I have never seen anyone give so much of themselves as these singers gave tonight. We have it all on videotape, and I just wish I could be there to see George's reaction when they play it for him."
The rest of the world, reportedly, will have to wait until spring to see the gala on television, but George London will be watching it today.