MALIBU SEEN

THERE’S SOMETHING IN THE AIR-IA

It was a packed house at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion as opera buffs gathered for the fab opening-night performance of “Lucia di Lammermoor.” The production, with its dramatic rainstorms, fog-filled forests and imposing Scottish castles, was truly transporting. But despite the amazing scenery, the biggest star of the show was the incomparable Anna Netrebko in the title role.

The Russian beauty, who hails from the famed Kirov Opera, created a sensation. During intermission, she was all anyone could talk about. Even veteran season ticket holders were singing her praises. “This is one of the best productions I’ve seen,” one opera-loving Donizetti devotee said. “And let me tell you, I’ve seen quite a few.”

The tragic tale of a young damsel who loses her true love as well as her mind had the audience riveted. They gave a standing ovation for Netrebko that seemed longer than her legendary death scene.

Following the performance, tuxedo-and designer-clad VIPs made their way upstairs for a little post-performance cocktail bash and cast party. They sipped chocolate martinis and snacked on goat cheese canapes, chicken skewers and traditional Scottish shortbread cookies while buzzing about the upcoming season.

There was also a big bravo for Artistic Director Placido Domingo, who goes into 2004 on a high note. “I am very pleased,” PD said matter-of-factly. “So far so good.”

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The opera takes a break during the month of January, but returns to the stage on Feb. 12 with 14 performances of Giacomo Puccini’s perennial favorite “Madama Butterfly.” Another don’t-miss could be Strauss’ fairy tale opera “Die Frau Ohne Shatten” with lavish stage sets by artistic genius David Hockney. Two more favorites round up the year. “The Marriage of Figaro” returns in March with Veronique Gens making her company debut. The season wraps up with Giuseppe Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” giving us lots to sing about.

THE ENVELOPE PLEASE…

Bleary-eyed journalists will be up at the crack of dawn on Jan. 27 as the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announces this year’s Oscar nominees. There are 254 flicks from around the world vying for best picture, with “Cold Mountain,” “Master and Commander,” “Lord of the Rings” and “Mystic River” said to be among the rave favs. The winners will be announced at the Kodak Theater on Feb. 29.

STANGE BEDFELLOWS

While we’re all gearing up to honor motion pictures at their best, don’t overlook those on the other side of the spectrum – yes, it’s time to name the world’s worst love scenes. Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone hit the jackpot in the best of the worst for their lusty romp in “Casino.” Readers of Film magazine cast their votes for the most painful pair-ups ever. “Entrapment” snagged the number two spot with its liaison between a 30-year old Catherine Zeta-Jones and septuagenarian Sean Connery. Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider waltzed into the number three spot with “Last Tango in Paris.” Well, what can one say but keep up the good work!

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