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Napoleon comes to dinner

The Citrus County Art League hosted an evening with the ''little corporal.'' Proceeds benefited the league's scholarship fund.

By JORGE SANCHEZ

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 26, 2001


HERNANDO -- He stood a little taller than the real Napoleon Bonaparte, but the guy strutting around in the emperor's clothes Saturday night was still a big hit with the ladies.

Not only was his beautiful wife, Josephine, mingling with the guests, but his diva girlfriend and a bawdy camp follower were also milling around. His personal chef stood nearby, ready to flambe at a moment's notice.

Saturday night's "Dinner With Napoleon" was a fundraiser for the Citrus County Art League's annual scholarship fund. It was also a lot of fun, produced with the irreverence only the art league can muster.

As guests arrived at the $25-a-plate dinner, they were greeted by Napoleon (Randy Skaling) dressed in the French emperor's trademark military costume. Playing his wife, Josephine, was Skaling's real-life wife, Jude Caborn Skaling. She didn't seem to mind sharing her man with a mistress or two; in fact, she gladly introduced them.

There was Mademoiselle Giuseppina Grassini (Anna Sandoval), an aristocratic songbird, and Germaine (Fran Barg), a "camp follower."

Sandoval, wearing a flowing, wispy lavender evening gown, performed two classical songs, accompanied by Catherine Snyder on piano. A trained opera singer, Sandoval showed excellent range, tone and breathing control, particularly with the vibrato at the end of Anytime, Anywhere, an adaptation of a classical piece recorded by Sarah Brightman.

Barg was entertaining as a Romanian gypsy. She thrilled the audience of about 75 with a Yiddish folk song, Rumania.

The audience enjoyed a slide presentation, The Lives and Loves of Napoleon Bonaparte, by Marian Fox, a member of the art league's scholarship committee. She thought up the "Dinner With Napoleon" theme. A retired humanities educator, Fox has a collection of about 30,000 slides.

"It pretty much covers the entire story of humanity," she said.

Fox and her husband, Gene, also cooked the night's entree, chicken Marengo. It was Napoleon's signature meal, served up by his traveling chef after a military victory.

"It was sort of difficult, because our recipe was for eight servings, but we had to make it for 70, so Gene had to figure out all the conversions," Fox said.

But even Napoleon had some worries.

"I was a little nervous because my French is not that great," Skaling said. "But it turned out that a lot of people there don't know French that well either."

Tony Oddo portrayed Napoleon's chef, but didn't actually toil in the kitchen Saturday. Rather, he strolled around waving a rubber hen and mangling French phrases.

The dinner helps to raise the $3,000 in scholarships the art league gives out each year to two recipients, one for visual and another for performing arts.

"It didn't raise all the money, but it helped," Fox said. "We also have a Spring Fling art show to get more funds."

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